This postseason, Boston will neither surprise nor sneak up on its opponent. The entered the postseason with exposed flaws: Could they cope after trading their enforcer, center Kendrick Perkins? How would an unpredictable bench perform? And would ’s calf injury threaten his postseason?
The Celtics easily dispatched the for the franchise’s first postseason sweep in nearly two decades, wrapping up their first-round series with a 101-89 victory Sunday at Madison Square Garden. But four games into the postseason, the questions remain as Boston has a few days of rest before almost certainly facing the star-studded next.
O’Neal did not play in the series, and his status remains game to game. A center-by-committee of and Nenad Krstic will not engender much fear if the Celtics face the or the further down the line. Boston’s bench was shaky through much of the series, scoring a combined 35 points in the first three games before Glen Davis chipped in 14 on Sunday.
When asked how good his team was, Rivers suggested that time and perhaps a couple of games against Miami would tell.
“I love our team,” Rivers said. “We do some things that are a little nuts, but they have a way to play together and they trust each other and as a coach; that’s all you can ask for.”
The first round probably did not represent Boston’s steepest challenge, especially against a diminished version of the Knicks. The Celtics still handled them unevenly. They played down in the first two games, shot them out of the Garden in the third and portrayed their best and worst in Sunday’s Game 4 win by establishing a 23-point lead that was cut to 4 before Boston settled down.
“What you saw tonight was a microcosm of our season at times,” Rivers said. “We are playing well, we are playing well and then we go away for a little while.”
Still, the Celtics are a deep and tested team. Boston did not allow 100 points in any game of the series, a common occurrence during their regular season. The Celtics had a different leading scorer each game. On Sunday, scored 20 of his team-high 26 points in the second half.
“They got aggressive and made that run,” Garnett said. “I thought we kept that run very short and sustained it and then made a run of our own. We made shot after shot. We got into a rhythm and we got some stops, and that was it.”
The table-setting Rajon Rondo, perhaps Boston’s most indispensible component, completed his splendid series with 21 points and 12 assists.
“When he plays with that type of energy, we are almost unstoppable,” said Paul Pierce, who nearly proved it when Boston built a 55-38 halftime lead despite Pierce’s going 1 for 10 in the first half. “He has to carry a lot on his shoulders, but we know he is capable of that.”
With the threat of a lockout looming, Rivers debating his return and another year added to the legs of Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen, this postseason may be Boston’s last run before it needs to shuffle the core again.
Boston beat Miami the first three times the teams played this season. In the last game, Miami rolled past Boston, 100-77, causing the Celtics to concede the second seed to the Heat, and with it home-court advantage in the next round.
Pierce said the team enjoyed playing on the road. The matchup against the Heat — cemented with Miami’s next win — will unite two of the ’s power teams, with 63 All-Star appearances among the expected starters (not including Shaquille O’Neal’s 15). First, Boston will receive some extra rest, a benefit to an aging team hoping to scrap together another run.
“That is what we expected coming in,” Rondo said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We haven’t swept a team in a long time. It is a good feeling to get some rest.”