But to beat Dwight Howard? And to hold off the horde of deadly 3-point shooters that surround him? Well, you need a lot of things.
The Celtics should be proud to have made it this far — they've vanquished LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, blazing a trail to their second Eastern Conference finals in three years. They're now four wins away from playing for a championship.
But to get those four wins, they've got to get by Howard and the Orlando Magic. So here's how:
Contain Dwight Howard straight up
No one's disputing that Howard's an absolute beast. And if you let him run free, he's going to dunk on every possession and absolutely bury you. But no matter how tempting it seems, you can't afford to waste a double-team on him. If you devote too much energy to Howard, you'll inevitably end up leaving one of Orlando's shooters wide open, and then you're giving up three easy points, not two.
So play him 1-on-1. That's where Kendrick Perkins comes in — Perk has got to keep a body on Howard on every position, never giving him a break. It's going to be a long series for the big fella.
This means not only no dunks for Howard, but no driving buckets inside for Jameer Nelson or Vince Carter. Make the Magic work hard for every single point. Make them settle for contested jump shots — they can't make them all. The best way to limit Orlando's prolific offense is to stay tough and hope to force a shooting slump out of them. It's not easy, and it's not guaranteed to work, but it's worth a shot. The C's can't give up any easy buckets.
Stay out of foul trouble
Howard gets to the free-throw line better than anyone. And lately the Celtics, especially their big men Perk and Rasheed Wallace, have been no strangers to early foul trouble. The Celtics will need big minutes from their star players if they want to beat the NBA's hottest team — so that means no picking up two quick fouls early. They've got to play tough, but they've also got to play smart. It's a delicate balancing act.
Control Jameer Nelson
You know how some teams have fast, athletic, aggressive, brilliantly instinctive point guards that can change the course of a game with their explosive play? Yeah, of course you do. Rajon Rondo is one of those point guards, and he's carried the Celtics in this postseason.
But the Magic have the same thing in Nelson, and they need to keep him under control. Don't let him change the game with his speed — stay with him, and make him work. The Celtics know better than anyone that you can't let an active point guard run wild.
Defend the 3 like there's no tomorrow
The Celtics can't afford to play like old, slow veterans (even if that's what they are). They've got to bolt out to that 3-point line every time a Magic shooter poses a threat. It's tedious, it's tiring and it's not a lot of fun, but against this Orlando team, it's absolutely necessary. Open jumpers can be deadly.
Take care of the basketball
In a slow, controlled halfcourt game, the Celtics are the better team, but they can't prove that if they turn the ball over and allow the Magic to get going in transition. When the Magic get on the fast break, every Howard dunk becomes easier. Every 3-point shot is open and uncontested. And as for Nelson, forget about it.
The Celtics can win this series. But they have to play smart, poised, selfless basketball.
That's what got them here. And if they keep it up, it can get them even further.
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