Asking Doc Rivers who he wants to face in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs is, to put it bluntly, an exercise in futility. Sure, he's got an answer, and no doubt, it's one he's researched thoroughly and thought very hard about. But there's absolutely no way he's sharing it with you.
There's pretty much no point in asking, really. But that didn't stop me.
When I asked Doc earlier this week whether he had a preference for a first-round opponent, I got an answer that was fairly simple yet fairly surprising:
Yes, Doc explained, he absolutely had a preference. But the team he had in mind wasn't going to make the postseason, so there was no point in sharing it.
OK, cop-out answer. But you can't blame Doc for giving it — his game plans for the postseason are his own business, and it'd be a tactical nightmare to tip his hand now. The Celtics' plans for late April and beyond are best left under wraps.
But just for fun, wouldn't it be nice to speculate?
Who do the Celtics want to face? Of the four likely playoff teams in the bottom half of the East bracket — Toronto, Charlotte, Miami and Milwaukee — none has had much success against the Celtics this season. Combined, the C's are 10-1 against the lot of them, with the only loss being two weeks ago on the road versus the Bucks.
In any of the four hypothetical series, the C's would be favored. No problem. But does that really mean Doc should have no preference?
No, probably not. Here's what Doc's probably thinking about each of the four:
Toronto (currently in eighth place, 34-34):
The Celtics are 3-0 so far this season against the Raptors, and there's a simple reason why: The team just can't defend anyone. Jay Triano really doesn't seem to have figured it out — it doesn't matter how much talent you have or how many different ways you can find to put the ball in the hole. If you can't get stops, you're not winning a thing in the playoffs. Plain and simple. The Raptors will go into the playoffs with a loaded frontcourt of Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu. Shut down just one of those three, and the Raptors won't have enough weapons to keep up.
Charlotte (seventh, 35-34);
Again, the C's are 3-0. And when they beat the Bobcats, it's via the blowout. You think Gerald Wallace is a franchise forward, but then he runs into Kevin Garnett. You think Stephen Jackson is an explosive scorer, but then you put him up against Paul Pierce. You think the Bobcats are a real East playoff team — defending well, taking smart shots, playing solid fundamental team basketball — but then you realize they're like the Celtics, only not as good. The C's have had better results than the 'Cats this season because they're a deeper, more talented version of the same team. They'd have no trouble in a playoff series.
Miami (sixth, 36-34):
Another 3-0 for the Celtics, but this one's tricky. Just looking at Boston's numbers against Miami this season, you can tell it's a fairly lopsided matchup. But this is the playoffs, and it's a totally different animal for a franchise superstar like Dwyane Wade. Wade will do absolutely anything to keep his team in the hunt, and he's going to give the Celtics everything he's got. The C's have enough skilled perimeter defenders between Pierce, Ray Allen and Marquis Daniels that they can slow him down and get the W's. But then what? Will the C's be tired for the next round after working to halt D-Wade's Herculean effort? It's a scary thought. Even if Boston dispatches Miami without much trouble in the first round, you still have to worry.
Milwaukee (fifth, 38-30):
The C's are 1-1 this year against a Bucks team that has had a tremendous comeback. They're not a lock to make the playoffs yet, but at this point, they're close. By winning 13 of their last 15 over the past month, they haven't just earned a playoff spot — they've proven that they're going to be a very tough out in the first round. All over the floor, they present matchup problems. Who's quick enough to contain Brandon Jennings? Who's man enough to take down Andrew Bogut? Who has the versatility to guard John Salmons, a wing guy that knock down the jumper or drive the lane, whichever his team needs? There are no easy answers to these questions, not for the Celtics or for anyone else. The Bucks are going to be scary.
Now you see why the Celtics are working so hard to win out from here to the end of the regular season.
These seeds do matter. The C's want to get a favorable matchup for round one, not only so they can win but also so they'll have the energy left over to take on the Clevelands, Orlandos and L.A.'s of the basketball world.
Getting the four seed could mean an opening matchup with Milwaukee. No one wants that.
Getting the three could mean starting off against D-Wade and the Heat. No fun for anyone.
The Celtics want to find the most favorable road possible to get through the East playoffs, and that road starts with earning a high seed, a three or perhaps a two, and playing their way up the ranks from there.
Doc may not be saying publicly who he wants in round one. But he definitely knows the best way there is by winning out and earning a high seed. That much is for sure, right?
As Doc would say, "Yeah."
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