By Gethin Coolbaugh
Rajon Rondo didn’t have another career night in Boston’s 120-88 victory in Game 5 over Cleveland. Neither did Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen.
Instead, it was a complete team effort that gave the Celtics a crucial 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 at TD Garden on Thursday night (8 p.m., TV/Radio: ESPN, WEEI).
All five of Boston’s starters scored in double-digits, and the Celtics’ bench contributed 30 points, one fourth of the team’s points in Game 5.
Ray Allen scored a game-high 25 points, Paul Pierce had 21 points and Kevin Garnett added 18 points. Rajon Rondo, coming off a 29-18-13 performance in Game 4, totaled 16 points, two rebounds and seven assists and Kendrick Perkins scored 10 points.
Glen Davis provided the Celtics’ biggest contribution off the bench, scoring 15 points while Tony Allen had six points and Sheldon Williams added five points.
Ever since their championship season in 2008, Boston has been most successful when the wealth is spread around.
There have been nights when a member of the Big Three have gone off for 40 points, but most of the Celtics’ success has come when Boston has more than three players score in double-digits.
By spreading shots around, the Celtics create a situation where the opposing team is forced to cover all five Boston starters and reserves on the court.
But even when the opponents, in this case Cleveland, are able to contain four of five players on the court, the Celtics have enough individual talent to get big numbers out of at least one of their four superstars.
Case and point, Rondo’s career night in Boston’s 97-87 win in Game 4. Paul Pierce was held to nine points in the game, and both Garnett and Allen had 18 points, but Rondo was able to exploit his match-up to come up with the big numbers that Boston needed to win.
The other Pièce de résistance of the Celtics’ game plan has been their lockdown defense. In the three games that Boston has won in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Cleveland, the Celtics have been able to effectively contain LeBron James’ supporting cast.
In Game 3, James was a non-factor, only scoring 15 points. Elbow injury or not, shutting down the NBA’s best player is no small feat.
With a large veteran presence, the Celtics realize that great players will put up great numbers in the majority of games. However, they cannot single-handedly win the game.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers knows that it may not be possible to contain James night in and night out, but it is possible to keep Mo WIlliams, Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal in check.
With the Eastern Conference Finals in sight, Boston has the chance to eliminate the Cavaliers for the second time in three postseason series.
In order to do so, the Celtics will need to shutdown LeBron’s teammates, as James will come out and play like a man on a mission.
But as the Celtics have shown us three times in five games, even the King and his minions have their weaknesses.
ROAD TO THE FINALS
With two chances to close out the Cavaliers, the Celtics may be peeking around the corner to see what’s in store in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The answer? One surging and very well-rested team in the Orlando Magic.
Orlando finished off a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference’s third-seeded Atlanta Hawks with a 98-84 win in Game 4 on Monday night.
Orlando outscored Atlanta by an average of 25.3 points per game, the biggest margin ever in a postseason series.
It’s not as if the Hawks were a pushover, either, as they emerged as one of the conference’s elite teams with a 53-29 record.
Another important fact to note is the Atlanta swept Boston in four regular season meetings.
Should the Celtics finish off the Cavaliers and advance, they will be up against the hottest team in the playoffs.
Kevin Garnett will guard Magic center Dwight Howard, and will most likely be the underdog in that match-up. Howard’s uncanny speed and athleticism for a big man his size will undoubtedly ware Garnett down as the series progresses.
But Howard isn’t the Celtics’ only concern. Orlando’s role players are a significant step up from that of Cleveland.
Rajon Rondo will have his hands full with point guard Jameer Nelson (who the Celtics had a chance to draft, but instead opted for Troy Bell, who they later traded for Marcus Banks). Nelson has the ability to get to the basket and hit the outside shot, making him a defender’s nightmare.
Rashard Lewis is also an incredibly talented outside shooter who will give the Celtics fits.
And let’s not forget the league’s biggest offseason addition, Vince Carter.
Carter will most likely match up against longtime division rival Paul Pierce, and that should prove to be a fun battle to watch.
Orlando brings a much more energetic team to the court than the Cavaliers do, while Cleveland has the better individual talent in James.
If Boston downs Cleveland in Game 6 or Game 7, don’t be fooled into thinking that Orlando will be a pushover. Far from it, rather, as Orlando will be the favorite to return to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season.
Gethin Coolbaugh is the Associate Editor of Boston Sports U18. He can be reached at 774-279-1995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit Gethin Coolbaugh’s official website and follow Gethin Coolbaugh on Twitter.