Maybe I am the only one that is unbelievably excited for this matchup. While a part of me wanted to see Dwyane Wade and LeBron James face off in the second round, there is little question that with the Boston Celtics facing off against the Cleveland Cavaliers, this is the series that will provide the most bang for our buck.
While these two teams failed to meet in last year’s postseason, it was only two years ago that Boston and Cleveland were involved in one of the most one-sided-star-studded, heated series in recent history. In 2008, when these squads faced off, it was basically LeBron James vs. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and LeBron James damn near won the battle. It was a true testament to what having the best player on the floor can do for a team’s ability to win. Still, the best player ultimately lost that series, and the Celtics are fresh off beating a team who also had the best player on the floor. So the question is, "What’s different about this matchup now as opposed to when it first went down in 2008?"
For starters, LeBron James won’t just be the best player on the court this time; he is the best player in the world. In 2008, even though I thought LeBron James should have won the MVP for his season, I was still in the belief that Kobe Bryant was the best basketball player in the world. My perception would quickly change by the end of the postseason, when Kobe lost to the Celtics in six games, after LeBron, with much less of a supporting cast, had taken the Celtics to being 5 minutes away from missing out on what wound up being a championship year for Boston. This time around, there is no questioning who the best player in the world is. It is the guy set to win his second straight MVP, and a man who happens to be on a mission.
Speaking of that mission, the Cavs are undoubtedly hungrier than the Boston Celtics are. All of Boston’s best players are two years closer to retiring and are much more satisfied with their careers than they were during this time in 2008. Let’s face it; the big three have their championship rings, Rajon Rondo is an all-star, and Rasheed Wallace hasn’t played meaningful basketball since he lost to the Celtics in 2008. While the Celtics have two guys in Garnett and Pierce whose intensity I would never want to question, their play this season, coupled with the play of their teammates, unequivocally proves the point that the Cavs are the much hungrier team this time around.
Not only are the Big Three less hungry, they are not as good as they used to be. Just looking at their efficiency numbers alone, both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are a tick below their efficiency levels from two years ago. And Kevin Garnett…wow! He has fallen off the earth. He was defensive MVP in 2008, and now he’s been a defensive liability at times, and his Player Efficiency Rating is six points below what it was two seasons ago.
Of course, this playoff series is about more than the four Hall of Famers. This series is also about the guys around them. As opposed to 2008, LeBron James has a lot more around him. This time, instead of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, he has Shaquille O’Neal down low. Instead of just Anderson Varejao, James can pass it to Antawn Jamison or J.J. Hickson at the four position. And at point guard, instead of Delonte West solely manning the one spot, West comes off the bench, and Mo Williams leads the team at the point.
There are some significant changes to the Celtics squad. As mentioned before, Rajon Rondo is no longer a liability for the Celtics. In fact, Rondo is probably the best player on that team. Not to mention, Kendrick Perkins is a much better player, Glen Davis is a much better player, and Tony Allen has kind of filled that “James Posey” spot, that the Celtics were missing last season.
But at the end of the day, this series is more about what the supporting casts do not to mess up their star player(s) ability to win this series. And for as much help as Boston’s Big Three has, as long as the Cavs supporting cast don’t mess this one up, there’s little question that LeBron James will enact his revenge upon a Boston Celtics team is a far cry from what they once were this time two years ago.
[[This article originally appared on The Sports Watchers]]