They failed to put away the Orlando Magic last night, but the Boston Celtics have been playing exceptionally well during the 2010 playoffs. Led by long-armed and quick-footed point guard Rajon Rondo, they have epitomized balanced scoring and egoless team play.
But how well would they fare in a fantasy seven-game series against the 1986 Celtics, generally considered one of the best NBA teams ever?
The team stats are painfully lopsided:
The 1985-86 team won 67 games, losing just one at home. They averaged 114.1 points per game during the regular season, while allowing 104.7.
The 2009-10 team won just 50 games, averaging 99.2 points per game and allowing 95.6.
The player matchups are more interesting, but the 1986 team still comes out on top:
Point guard – Dennis Johnson vs. Rajon Rondo. Advantage? Tie. Rondo is quicker and dishes out more assists, but "D.J." was a brilliant defensive stopper and scorer.
Small forward – Larry Bird vs. Paul Pierce. Advantage? Bird. Both are clutch performers who won NBA three-point contests. But there's a good reason Bird won three straight MVP awards.
Center – Robert Parish vs. Kendrick Perkins. Advantage? Parish. Perkins is an underrated center, but "The Chief" had more tools in his belt.
Oh, and the 1986 team had Bill Walton – coming off the bench. 'Nuf said.
Finally, the style of play favors the 1986 team.
In the 1980s, NBA teams moved the ball around the perimeter quickly, looking for players to come off screens and cut to the basket. This pattern led to a lot of mid-range shots and lay-ups – and high scores.
Today's NBA teams have lapsed into a different offensive formula: pick and roll up high, penetrate the lane, then kick out for a three-point shot. No wonder scoring has dropped.
At their best, the 2010 Celtics have defied this pattern, moving the ball crisply around the arc like the 1986 squad. But in a seven-game series, there's nothing like the real thing.
Fantasy result: 1986 beats 2010, four games to two.