Celtics are battle tested, veteran team with a championship ring

May 15, 2012 3:10 AM

The opening round of the NBA Playoffs is already in the history books, and we’ve got some compelling matchups as Round 2 begins. 

The betting markets often struggle to accept that teams can change their stripes in the postseason, performing at a very different level than they did during the regular season. Philadelphia is a prime example; not the same team now that they were a month or two ago, when they struggled mightily to step up in class. 

Philly is healthy. They are confident after squeaking by the injury riddled Bulls in the first round. And they’re getting dramatically improved play from two key starters right now; the biggest reason why Boston is the single shortest favorite on the ‘series price’ futures betting board even after their Game 1 victory, rallying back from a double digit deficit to escape with the one point win.

The two biggest personnel differences for the 76ers now compared to the regular season are Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes. For the regular season this year, Turner averaged about 26 minutes per game, mostly coming off the bench. His stats certainly didn’t wow anyone: 9.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. 

In the postseason, Turner has morphed into the player that the Sixers thought was worthy of that No. 2 overall pick, posting improved numbers in every statistical category, despite facing a pair of elite defensive teams. His 16 point, 10 rebound, four steal performance is Game 1 is a real potential harbinger of things to come.

Hawes was playing the best basketball of his NBA career for the first month of the 2012 season, but he hurt his Achilles and was a non-factor for the better part of two months. It took him a while to get back into the same rhythm after returning to the lineup, but he’s been a low post difference maker for the Sixers here in the postseason: 77 points and 49 boards in his last five games heading into Game 2.

The Celtics are a battle tested, veteran team with a championship ring and two Finals appearances with their current core of players. Boston is tough, physical and resilient – they certainly deserve to be significant favorites in this series. The Celtics best role in this series may well be as a short road underdog in Philly, as opposed to laying points with a team struggling to win by margin at home.

Indiana’s Game 1 loss to the Heat wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the two blowout regular season losses they suffered at the hands of Miami: 118-83 and 105-90. Miami’s perimeter defense also had great success shutting down Indiana’s perimeter shooting threats, holding the Pacers to a combined 7-34 from three point range.

Miami played the better end game in Game 1 and shut down Indiana’s wings Danny Granger and Paul George (a combined 2-15 shooting between them). But make no mistake about it – the Pacers were in game from start to finish.

Heat power forward/center Chris Bosh went down early in Game 1 with a strained abdominal muscle; an injury that has the potential to sideline him for the entirety of the series. Without Bosh in the lineup, Miami is going to rely heavily on Joel Anthony and Rony Turiaf for low post minutes; neither of whom can come close to matching Bosh’s skill set.

LeBron and D-Wade certainly stepped up to the challenge in the second half of Game 1 without Bosh. They combined for 42 second half points, outscoring the Pacers by themselves. When the two were on the floor together in that second half, Miami outscored Indiana by 18 points. 

The Spurs-Clippers series has drawn a lot of attention in handicapping circles for one reason – a complete coaching mismatch. San Antonio’s Greg Popovich is a tactical genius, plain and simple, earning another ‘NBA Coach of the Year’ award in 2012. His veteran stars – Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan – all buy into Popovich’s preaching 110%. Parker, in particular, is as close to a ‘head coach on the floor’ as you’ll find in the NBA these days. 

The Clippers shocking Game 7 win in Memphis after blowing a fourth quarter Game 6 lead at home was a testament to their talent, not their coaching. Vinny Del Negro still has his job only because Clippers owner Donald Sterling was quite literally too cheap to fire him. In fact, that’s why Sterling hired him in the first place—because Chicago was still paying a big portion of his salary.

The Clippers are an extremely disjointed team to watch on a relatively consistent basis – there’s a reason they kept falling behind Memphis by double digit margins throughout the first round, before rallying back. 

Their offense during crunch time seems to consist of Chris Paul dribbling for a while, then trying to create something on his own. LA’s defense doesn’t have a consistent approach either; a team that relies exclusively on ‘star power’ to win games. There’s a reason this franchise has only won three series in their playoff history, without a single trip ever to the Western Conference Finals.

LA can match up with San Antonio talent wise, no question. Yet the Spurs are more than 20:1 favorites to win the series prior to Game 1. The coaching angle is certainly one element of that equation, but the Clippers injury situation is another key piece. Point guard Chris Paul has been undergoing ‘round-the-clock’ treatment on his strained right hip flexor. 

Their other superstar, Blake Griffin, is still hobbled by a left knee sprain. Coupled with the fact that the Clippers are the worst free throw shooting team remaining in the postseason, you can understand bettor’s reluctance to support them, even as double digit underdogs in Game 1.

The most hyped series of them all is this Lakers-Thunder showdown, a series where the general public and the wiseguys seem to be valuing these teams very differently. 

The public looks at LA and sees a team that won two recent championships with their current corps of players; a team with a rested and healthy Metta World Peace back in the lineup; a team that stepped up during crunch time of Game 7 in Round 1 thanks to passionate efforts from big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and a team that has gotten significantly better since acquiring point guard Ramon Sessions at the trading deadline.

Wiseguys look at the Lakers and see an older team that can’t match the Thunder’s youth and energy. Sharp bettors have pounded Oklahoma City on the series price, bet up as high as -460 prior to Game 1. They give OKC an edge in nearly every department, preferring Kevin Durant over Kobe, Russell Westbrook over Sessions and the Kendrick Perkins/Serge Ibaka/Nick Collison trio over LA’s inconsistent bigs. 

Defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha and NBA Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden match up well against LA, leading the Thunder to wins in two of the three regular season meetings between these two teams; LA’s only victory coming in a game when down 18 in the second half before furiously rallying back.