Matchups to Watch: Celtics-Pacers
Despite all the hype and hoopla over Reggie Miller and his veteran bag o' tricks, the big question is who will guard Jermaine O'Neal.
There are five possibilities: Raef LaFrentz, Antoine Walker, Mark Blount, Kendrick Perkins, and Al Jefferson.
LaFrentz would quickly get into foul trouble. He would be terrific at drawing O'Neal out of the paint on the offensive end to defend his mid-range and long-range jump shots, but on defense, once O'Neal gets set in the paint, LaFrentz would have a hard time against his quickness and his strength. If he can force O'Neal into fadeaway shots, which O'Neal still can hit at a very high clip, that is probably the best he could do. His primary goal should be to prevent the ball from getting to O'Neal so that he (LaFrentz) could help out on weakside defense after the ball swings around.
If O'Neal were fully healthy, Walker would likely be no match for him. O'Neal jumps higher, pushes stronger, and runs faster. He's also taller. Walker's primary advantage is his excellent footwork. Walker can and will box out O'Neal from the offensive boards with one caveat: if he has to front or three-quarter O'Neal he will not be able to recover in time for the rebound. Otherwise, Walker will have his hands full but will probably be able to contain his fouls to remain in the game.
Blount is a big guy and a strong guy and a quick guy so it would see that he would be a good match to guard O'Neal, but he's not. Blount is a far better defender on picks and rolls than he is one-on-one on the block. Blount has excellent anticipation of when his man will back up and you can see him preparing for each bump, and it's precisely that preparation that O'Neal will expose. Bump once, bump twice, and just as Blount is steadying himself for the third bump, O'Neal will drive around him.
Now, Kendrick Perkins is a guy I've long written about. He is the only Celtic that can really stop O'Neal. He can block his fadeaway shots. He can stay with him on drives. He doesn't give an inch on post-ups. And he boxes out a large area of real estate. He's not going to do much to O'Neal on the offensive end except possibly outrun him and set picks forcing O'Neal into defending Paul Pierce or Ricky Davis, but he can be a real stopper. He is this year's Brandon Hunter but without the quick hook back to the bench.
Al Jefferson will just get too many fouls called against him. Perk might have the same problem but to a limited extent. Big Al's primary weakness might still be boxing out. O'Neal could potentially get a lot of offensive rebounds if Jefferson is on him.
Of the five, Walker and Perkins are probably the best bets.
Overall for the series, the Celtics should win. If anything at all can be predicted in sports, the Celtics should beat the Pacers.