Without getting any recognition for it, the Boston Celtics are the team to beat in the NBA right now. With the Lakers losing a second game to the Hornets, and Kobe Bryant hobbling around with a sprained ankle, and the Heat and Bulls dropping game fours to the 76ers and Pacers, there remains only one team, and that team is about to get Shaq back.
The Celtics played better and better in every game of the opening round series against the Knicks, solving their only perceivable issue in game 4, with the Bench contributing 25 points. The only issue that is brought up now is their lack of a big man, and with extra rest because of the Heat’s lost, it is safe to assume they should have the presence of a 7 foot 1 inch, 325 pound monster during some of their second round series against in all likelihood, the Heat.
So, why aren’t they getting this credit? To be fair, the Lakers are the defending champions, (thanks to Joe Crawford, the ref that almost stole game two against the Knicks as well) and the Bulls had the best record in the NBA heading into the playoffs. The Heat are also for some reason put in this mix, even though they dropped a game against the 76ers where they had the lead with 1:32 left and missed a buzzer beater that would have won it, as well as losing three of four to the Celtics and all three to the Bulls in the regular season.
The Celtics have a history of not being credited with the favoritism they deserve. Last year, many had them figured to lose in the second round to the hugely favored then- LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. After they upset the Cavs, they were equally supposed to have met their match against the Orlando Magic. After beating them, it took a completely ridiculous Lakers referee advantage, (51 more free throws in the series, including 20 more in game seven, and 42 more over the last three games) for the Celtics to fall.
So, will they be given their due this year? Unless if Joe Crawford referees three games in the Finals again this year, including the 37 to 17 Free Throw travesty of a game seven, I have to believe the odds are pretty good. Adding Shaq to the Big Three and Rondo is hard for any team to guard, but a team like Miami, who are shallow on the bench and Chicago who don’t have a player that can adequately handle O’Neal could propel the Celtics into the Finals. Where the biggest concern for them might not be the Lakers, but their old friend Kendrick Perkins and the Oklahoma City Thunder.