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Talking to CelticsBlog’s Steve Weinman

There's no love lost between Celtics fans and Pistons fans, and it's been that way for decades. That said, I'd buy the guys at CelticsBlog a beer any day. I made a cameo answering a few questions over there earlier today, and CelticBlog's Steve Weinman returned the favor below.
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Matt Watson: The Celtics steamrolled just about everybody in the regular season before being taken to the limit the first two rounds. What do you attribute the difference to? Have you seen signs of fatigue?

Steve Weinman: Like most issues in basketball, the Celtics’ obstacles have been caused by a confluence of factors, and I’m not entirely sure how to sort them all out. There is an enormous difference between playing teams three or four times over a course of six months and spending two weeks locked in a best-of-seven for survival with the same opponent. Whereas this is a Celtics team that was going to win a lot of regular season games simply by coming out and playing harder than the opposition every night, opponents have had more time in the playoffs to break down film and make adjustments to the Celtics -- and, sad as it is to say, a lot of teams around the league were just starting to match the Celts season-long level of intensity when the playoffs were starting.

One of the team’s biggest problems – especially prior to Game 7 against Cleveland – was something we really subconsciously knew from day one: This is a jump-shooting team. As I wrote after Game 4 of that series, while not every team has a LeBron James, virtually every big deal playoff team has a go-to guy (or guys) who can get take the ball to the rack late in games for either easy buckets, fouls or kick-outs for great looks on the outside. Players like this can get themselves hot simply by getting to the rim and making things happen, whereas teams reliant on perimeter shooting are often going to be either hot or cold, and that’s the end of it. The remedy to being cold is waiting to get hot again, which doesn’t do much service at the end of games. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have made careers out of being perimeter and mid-range jump shooters respectively. Paul Pierce was the guy who had formerly led the league in free throws made and attempted and fourth-quarter scoring, but until late in that semifinal series, he too had fallen into the trap of settling for contested looks on the outside. When he started going to the rim at the end against Cleveland and early in the Detroit series, we saw a huge difference in the way this offense runs. That needs to continue in order for the Celtics to be successful.

Beyond that, it’s all just a combination of ‘little things.’ Ray Allen has gone through an incredibly prolonged slump. Sam Cassell hasn’t been the acquisition everyone hoped he would be. Rajon has had great games, and he has had games in which he looks just like the 22-year-old, second-year kid he is. Doc Rivers isn’t necessarily the Antichrist for everyone these days in Boston, but he has certainly made his share of mistakes as well.

I can’t for the life of me even begin to explain how the league’s best regular season road team became the playoffs’ most bipolar home-road unit.

MW: Rajon Rondo looks to me like he's a jump shot away from the All-Star game. How high is his ceiling?

SW: There are no shortage of Celts fans who align with your view, Matt. Collectively, we spent the year falling more and more in love with this kid, and no one really knows where the ceiling is. He progressed in virtually every aspect of the game throughout the season. His quickness up and down the floor is amazing. He has great hands defensively, though he still needs some seasoning as far as footwork and picking his spots with when to gamble for steals. He rebounds extraordinarily well for a point guard and has shown the abilities both to score the basketball and to be a dynamic playmaker when the offense is put in his hands.

As far as making the jump to that All-Star level, these playoffs have shown us both flashes of brilliance and evidence that Raj still has some work to do in a few areas of his game. You (and the rest of the world) note that the jump shot still needs some work, and that’s no doubt the case, although to his credit, it has come a long way from where it was prior to the season. Rondo also seems to have lost some confidence over the course of the playoffs in his ability to really attack the rim hard, and since having several lay-ups and dunk attempts blocked early in the playoffs, he has become increasingly reliant on the teardrop/floater variety of shots. While some of the game’s best point guards have perfected that shot (and Rondo certainly can hit it), I’d be much more comfortable with seeing him really take the ball to the cup hard. He has the speed and athleticism to do it effectively, and it’s a stronger play. Aside from all that, he occasionally has some decision-making issues, but what 22-year-old (pro ball player or otherwise) doesn’t? Despite the flaws mentioned here, label me entrenched in the "love the kid" camp, and I’m looking forward to seeing Raj continue to progress in the seasons to come.

MW: Help Doc out: Eddie House or Sam Cassell?

SW: I’ve been a bigger SamIAm fan than most throughout the postseason, and I still believe that he is going to have that game or games where he plays an enormous role in giving this team a chance to steal a game somewhere – which is really a big part of what he was brought in for. He was integral in taking games 1 and 2 over Cleveland, and I’m not ready to entirely throw in the towel on this guy.

But with all that said, if it’s my call, I’m going with Eddie in Game 5. Since Game 2 against Cleveland, Cassell has played in five contests (3-5 versus Cleveland, 3-4 against Detroit), and he has been incredibly inept in all of them. House has waited patiently for his turn throughout the playoffs and provided this team with energy and stability when called upon.

I’ll stand by amusement at the irony of the sequence of events at the back-up point spot for the C’s. As I wrote after Game 7 against Cleveland: "So let's get this sequence of events straight: Rondo and House play well all season. Concerns arise that House isn't enough of a true point guard to have as the only back-up on the roster in case Rondo falters. Celtics sign veteran point guard Sam Cassell. House's minutes completely evaporate come playoff time. Meanwhile, Cassell seems to shoot the rock every time he touches it. Rondo has some struggles in the biggest game of the season. Cassell goes ice cold. House comes off the bench instead of Cassell in Game 7 because he has played like more of a point guard and with a better semblance of control. House plays an integral role in winning that game. The bliss of shock strikes again."

That still about sums it up for me.

If Sam isn’t going to hit shots, he can’t be on the floor. Eddie tonight.

MW: If the Celtics don't win the title, was this season still a success? Or will the equivalent of another 18-1 be too much to bear?

I’m not sure how Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers and the fellows in the locker room will judge it, though I would sincerely hope that they continue the "nothing short of a title is acceptable" approach.

That said, what I know as a fan is this: Yes, I’ll be devastated if this team doesn’t win a championship, and I have no doubt that many of my Celts fan brethren will experience similar feelings. However, that by no means makes this season not ‘worth it’ or not a success. After years of misery for Celtics fans, this team provided us with a season full of magical moments, dominant performances and overall feeling of happiness that can’t be taken away no matter what the remainder of the playoffs brings.

Getting to watch this team interact and work together on the floor, getting to watch it bring true pride back to the green and white faithful, getting to joke that "We love this team because the players really do seem to care almost as much as we diehards do": It’s all been nothing short of an absolute pleasure. That can’t be undone.

MW: Just how wide open is this team's window for success after this season? In other words, Ray Allen's max contract for two more years after this has to be making fans in Boston a little nervous, huh?

SW: To be perfectly honest, I’ve managed to get through nearly this entire campaign with nary a thought to the future. It was clear back in July when the KG trade was made that the goal was to win right now, and the season has been such a coast-to-coast joy that I’ve put off the worrying about the future. Yes, there have been a lot of concerns espoused about how the next couple of years and beyond will shake out (a cursory look at the forums on CelticsBlog will illuminate plenty of discussions on hose topics), and I think the fan base as a collective whole is worried about what the future will bring. But for my part, when our boys’ season ends, we’ll have five months to think about how things went down and to start fretting about the future. Right now, I’m in the midst of a spectacular ride with the 2007-08 group, and I’m happy to keep enjoying that to the max.

MW: Some of the Celtics tried to paint themselves as the underdogs in this series? Do you think they ever were? Are they now?

SW: Call me a slave to the brains in Vegas, but the C’s have been favored in all three home games in this series thus far, and if we get to a seventh game, I would all but guarantee (barring injury) that the Celts would be giving the points. If I’ve learned anything in watching, writing about and occasionally trying to handicap professional sports, it’s that the fellows out in Nevada know a heck of a lot more than the rest of the media pundits -- and I -- do.

The Celts should tell themselves whatever they need to in order to get them to come out and beat this Pistons team. But they weren’t ever underdogs in this series, nor are they now.

MW: I'm going to copy your word association idea:

- Kendrick Perkins: Coattails
- Doc Rivers: Polarizing
- Big 3: Stalin, FDR, Churchill
- Jason Maxiell: Nasty
- Antonio McDyess: Professional
- Bandwagon: Part of the territory that comes with success
- Tommy Points: Homerism of the best sort

MW: Last but not least, score prediction?

SW: Celts take it, 93-85

Thanks a lot for having me on, Matt, and best of luck tonight and in the rest of the series.