We’ve expected it all along, but it’s finally official. The Pistons and the Celtics will be battling it out for the Eastern Conference championship and, despite all of the big names in the series, the real determining factor will likely come down to two former Kentucky players. Both Tayshaun Prince and Rajon Rondo ride in the backseat of their teams playoff-mobile, but really dictate the way that their teams perform in a lot of ways. I think this series will likely come down to which one of these former Cats is able to rise to the occasion.
There are few players – if any – that do their specific job better than Tayshaun Prince. Prince, over the past six seasons, has become the quintessential role player (and I mean that in the most complimentary way) with his shut-down defensive abilities and his inside-outside offensive game. I’ve championed this thought on this site before, but I think Tayshaun Prince is the most undervalued player in the NBA. When Joe Dumars decided on June 26, 2003 to select Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo Anthony because, partly, he had so much faith in Prince, it was the final crucial move that would take a solid group of players and turn them into a championship caliber team. That move, just as much, if not more, than trades that landed Rasheed Wallace Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, has made this team the force that it has been over the past 6 years. But, Tayshaun certainly was the benefactor of initially being a part of a team with other talented pieces. Playing the second (or fifth) fiddle allowed him to slowly develop his game and pick his spots. That’s very similar to the other team’s X-factor…
…Rajon Rondo, who is steering the star-studded, title hungry Celtics ship. Rajon Rondo, at this point in his career, is basically Tayshaun Prince Lite. Rondo’s defensive ability is at an All-Star level right now and he, along with Kevin Garnett, makes up for a lot of defensive mistakes by his teammates and has emerged as one of the on-ball defenders in the NBA. On the other hand, Rondo’s offensive game is still a work in progress, despite it being light years stronger than it was while he was in Lexington. At this point, the kid can get to the rack and finish, but he still has a spotty jumper. This is something that will develop in time but, unfortunately for Brian Scalabrine’s championship dreams, it is probably going to be what breaks the C’s back in this series. Both the Hawks and the Cavs showed that they were going to give Rondo the jumper before they gave him driving or passing lanes and, at times, this hurt the Celtics. The problem this time around, though, is that the Pistons have tons more talent and match-up ability than the other two pretenders.
That’s why, as much as I’m trying to ride the Rondo bandwagon, I’m taking Prince and the Pistons. Not only has he been there before, but he also does a little bit more on the court than Rondo at this point. The Pistons can thank the lanky Kobe-stopper for their most recent title, and I don’t think he will have much trouble using his length to give Paul Pierce fits on the defensive end. Couple that with his ability to do all of the right things on the offensive end and I think he gives the Pistons the extra little bit that they need to get past the Celtics. Rondo is getting there, but he’s not on Tayshaun’s level yet.
What say you? Is my anti-Boston sentiment blinding me from the truth?