For whatever reason, while the Cleveland Cavaliers turned the regular season into a six-month long pre-party for the playoffs, last year’s Eastern Conference champions flew under the radar.
Every so often Doc Rivers would throw out a quick memory-jogger, reminding people that Orlando was not only the team that beat the then defending-champion Celtics on their home floor, but also the one that knocked off the Cavs before falling to the Lakers in the Finals.
Now, Cleveland’s home early again, and the Celtics have the task of eliminating an Orlando team that’s as hungry to return to the Finals as they are.
“Like we told our guys, Cleveland wasn’t our goal and neither is Orlando,” Rivers said. “Having said that, Orlando was the team coming into the season where if you wanted to get out of the East, you had to beat Orlando. They’re the team that won the East last year, not Orlando, and I wanted to make sure our guys had focus on that.”
The Magic aren’t the same team as the one the bounced the Celtics last year. There’s a Vince Carter where a Hedo Turkoglu used to be, and Jameer Nelson is present and accounted for, scorching through the Magic’s first two rounds. The Celtics also have a huge piece that was missing from their puzzle a year ago in Kevin Garnett.
“As important as it is to have a guy guard Howard straight up, it’s probably as important for us to guard Jameer Nelson,” Rivers said. “His dribble penetration actually creates more 3s than their post game. So we’ve got to take that away as well.
“Obviously we have a go-to guy in Kevin, and they have their leader back. I think he’s their team leader. I think in a lot of way they get a lot their toughness from him. He makes big shots for them.”