Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Center position is deciding Pistons-Celtics series


One game, it's Kendrick Perkins.

The next, it's Antonio McDyess and/or Jason Maxiell.

And so forth. If you're looking for simplicity in a dramatic Eastern Conference finals series that has had more twists and turns than a wending mountain road, look no further than the performance of these three players.

Talk all you want about Ray Allen regaining his shooting touch in Boston's 106-102 Game 5 victory Wednesday night, but the Celtics won the game thanks, primarily, to Perkins' dominant play against Detroit's McDyess and Maxiell -- and others.

Perkins set the tone from the outset, going after every rebound like his more renowned teammate, Kevin Garnett, is known for and scoring whenever his teammates passed him the ball. Detroit had a tough enough time stopping the hot-shooting Celtics on a normal possession, but when Perkins created extra scoring opportunities with five offensive rebounds, the Pistons had no chance.

The 6-foot-10, 280-pound center played precociously -- he's only 23 -- in scoring 18 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and making defensive plays with two steals and two blocks.


What was just as surprising was the non-performance by McDyess, who was the key in Detroit's Game 4 win. He was coming off a 21-point, 16-rebound showing in which he simply could not miss a midrange jump shot.

But for some unknown reason, the Pistons didn't even look for McDyess in their half-court offense. He air-balled his first shot, took just one more, battled foul trouble all night -- eventually fouling out -- and finished with a paltry four points, five rebounds and three turnovers in 28 minutes.

In other words, he would have been better off staying in Auburn Hills.

Maxiell, the other key cog in Detroit's 94-75, series-equalizing win Monday night, hardly even saw the court Wednesday. In a mere 11 minutes, he never was able to get revved up and scored six points with a single rebound on the side. It was a far cry from the 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting he put up in Game 4.

The team statistic that stands out from Boston's win: 42-25.

That was the Celtics' rebounding advantage. It was just 38-34 Boston the other night, an advantage that can be expected out of a K.G.-led frontline.

Prior to Game 5, there's no way I anticipated that Perkins would dominate his matchup against McDyess. Then again, that's how this series has gone -- back and forth, based on which starting center plays better.

Game 1 was the exception -- McDyess played better, but Boston still won. Look at the games since then, however:

Game 2: McDyess scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and snatched three steals in 39 minutes. Perkins was a non-factor. Detroit won, 103-97.

Game 3: Perkins had his second-best game of the series with 12 points (on 6-for-7 shooting) and 10 rebounds. McDyess was mediocre (8 points, 8 rebounds) and Maxiell didn't do much in 20 minutes.

And I've mentioned Games 4 and 5.

So as the series shifts back to The Palace, watch McDyess closely to see how he responds to his no-show in Boston. It is clear that of all the Pistons, he is the one itching the most for another shot at a championship. He lacks the title ring his teammates got in 2004, and at 33 years old his time is running out.

The Pistons would be smart to get McDyess involved early in the game, something they completely failed to do Wednesday. If he gets going in the first quarter, he'll likely have a big game.

Additionally, Maxiell -- as is the case with most young players -- tends to play better at home. So Flip Saunders would be well-advised to give him more minutes than offensive liability (not to mention quick-to-foul unnecessarily) Theo Ratliff.

As far as Perkins is concerned, it will be interesting to see how he follows up the game of his life. He'll definitely come out on the court with the same energy, but the key is harnessing it. Otherwise, he might find himself fouling out like he did in Game 4.

"I just played my game, no stress, no pressure," Perkins said of Wednesday's performance.

And now the pressure is squarely on his opponents' shoulders. I'd advise Chauncey Billups n' company to let McDyess share a good portion of the burden.

1 comment:

J-bo said...

You should be a coach, you are fantastic at identifying the key problems a team is having and how to fix them. I think Detroit still has a decent chance, if I had to guess I'll take the Celts in 7, but it'll be close.