Now that the Celtics have performed the ultimate feat of prestidigitation by making the Magic disappear, they have returned to the Finals for the second time in three years. It's only natural, then, to compare this team with Boston's 2008 championship squad.
POINT GUARD: Rajon Rondo's game has made quantum leaps in two years. He's now both more controlled and more aggressive, and his jumper is vastly improved. Also, Rondo no longer forces nearly as many drives, shots or passes as he used to. Back then, Rondo was a wildly talented, and somewhat uncoachable, force of nature who only wanted to run, run, and keep on running. These days, he can pick his spots, and has the maturity and the know-how to masterfully orchestrate the Celtics' half-court offense.
Eddie House was the primary backup in 2008, and he was a one-trick pony. He couldn't pass, handle, defend or run the offense but, man, could he shoot! Not only that, but House specialized in hitting clutch shots.
Before Nate Robinson's emergence in Game 6, Ray Allen handled most of the backup duties. Allen's decision-making and shot-making are excellent, but he lacks the requisite quickness, defensive prowess, and ability to finish in a crowd.
Robinson certainly has the skills to excel at every aspect that the position requires, plus his athleticism and explosive scoring potential are off the charts. It's also quite interesting that Robinson has learned more about how to be a true point guard in a few months under Doc Rivers than he did while playing one season under Larry Brown, two seasons for Isiah Thomas, and one season-plus for Mike D'Antoni.
Because of Rondo's development, the current Celtics are much better at the point. If Robinson's performance in Game 6 is a harbinger of what he will do in the Finals, then the advantage is even greater.
SHOOTING GUARD: Ray Allen no longer has the quickness to get to the rim as he once had. He's still smart and plays extremely well without the ball, but he was a more electric player at age 33 than he is at 35.
Behind Ray Allen two years ago were Sam Cassell, who had nothing left, and Eddie House. Nowadays, Ray is backed primarily by Tony Allen, who was still recovering from a serious knee injury back then and was a half-step slow. Today, T. Allen is hobbled by a sore ankle, but if his defense is a bit more pestiferous, his jumper remains inadequate.
The edge at this spot goes to the 2008 champions.
SMALL FORWARD: Paul Pierce used to be significantly quicker and stronger. These days he has difficulty getting good looks against powerhouse defenders (like LeBron) whom he would have destroyed back then. But he still has the stuff to abuse lightweight defenders (like Vince Carter).
T. Allen usually subs for Pierce, but he can't hold a candle to James Posey, who was a clutch shooter and a lock-down defender. In fact, except for Rondo's improvement, Posey's absence is the most important difference in the two rosters.
Posey gives the 2008 Celtics a huge advantage here.
POWER FORWARD: Whatever the reason, aching wheels or the natural attrition of age, today's Kevin Garnett is barely a shadow of what he was only two years ago. The current KG is strictly a jump-shooter, who lacks the quickness, agility and defensive presence of his younger self. No contest here.
Glen Davis still has trouble finishing in a crowd and remains foul-prone, but has a more efficient jumper than he once had. This alone makes him better now than then.
However, in Leon Powe, the Celtics of yesteryear had a powerful and hard-working post-up scorer, something that the present team sorely lacks.
Again, the 2008 team has it over the 2010 team at this slot.
CENTER: Kendrick Perkins has refined and accepted his role. He no longer complains when he doesn't get sufficient touches in the low post, and is now content to set screens, rebound and play bullish defense.
At the ripe old age of 39, P. J. Brown's defense was highly overrated when he joined the Celtics in 2008. Yet he could still nail mid-range jumpers and navigate his way to the offensive glass. Rasheed Wallace is a huge upgrade, with his long-range shooting capable of stretching defenses, his tricky moves in the pivot, and his quick hands on defense.
In the middle, the modern-day version gets the nod.
Strictly in the realm of fantasy, should these two editions of the Boston Celtics face each other in a seven-game series, the comparatively young legs of the Big Three and the critical presence of Powe and especially Posey, would enable the 2008 squad to win in five games.