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Coasting on Through

Posted By Michael Johnson On Oct 29 2010 @ 6:24 pm In Boston Celtics | No Comments

The Celtics were in fine form on opening night of the NBA season. The rested and retooled squad held the Heat to a mere 80 points on 36.5% shooting. Dwayne Wade was nowhere to be found, and it was apparent that Chris Bosh has the potential to become an afterthought in the newly designed “Big 3.” Aside from Lebron’s flurry of 15 points in the 3rd quarter, the Celtics truly dominated every facet of the game. Basketball fans everywhere rejoiced, as their dissatisfaction with King James had reached a fever pitch. The Celtics made it known once again the Eastern Conference is their’s, and someone is going to have to come and take it from them.

Fast forward to less than 24 hours later. The much pitied Lebron James-less Cavaliers opened their season at home, with what many figured to be an incredibly bleak outlook. The Cavaliers couldn’t even oust the Celtics in the playoffs with Lebron. How could they manage to defeat them with no discernible leader in his wake? Well the improbable happened. The Cavaliers snatched a 95-87 victory to start the season, leaving Celtics fans completely dumbfounded.

The Big 3 are no strangers to authoritative starts to the season. The Celtics have paced the competition at 23-5, 27-3, and 29-3 records to start the past three years. In those first two years the C’s showed no signs of letting up, carrying their record to one of the best in the league. Last year, however, something anomalous took place. The Celtics merely coasted to the close of the season, posting a pedestrian 27-27 record over the 2nd half of the year. Any infuriation this may have caused dissipated quickly, as the Celtics reverted back to form for the playoffs, making a fascinating run to the finals.

Unfortunately for Celtics nation, it seems as if the Celtics are primed to pick up right where they left off. As my colleague Mr. Fillyaw noted, this season could be one of great torment, as the C’s ride the rollercoaster up and down the NBA express. They will post impressive victories against formidable foes, but suppress any such excitement by playing down to the competition and letting substantial leads slip away into losses. I recognize this, and will do my best to cope with this reality. However, this does not mean I have to like it. For years the Spurs earned the reputation as the team that could just “turn it on” for their playoff runs. They would coast on through the season, plagued by countless injuries, and show their true colors when it came to “crunch time”. The Celtics seem to be plagued by the same troubles, injuries and age, and have now assumed this role of the “turn it on” squad since the Spurs have fallen from grace as title contenders.

My contention with this claim is that the teams are by no means comparable. Duncan and Gionobili are 34 and 33 years old respectively. That means they are, always have been, and always will be the same age as our three superstars in Garnett, Pierce, and Allen. They were already much younger than our big three when they earned this reputation. The Spurs WERE considered the turn it on team. No longer do they share any resemblance to the dynasty squad they once were. Over the past two seasons the Spurs have faced an early ousting in the playoffs and a continually slipping seed in the Western Conference totem pole. Previous to this recent stretch (when Duncan and Ginobili were on the right side of 30) the Spurs still amassed over 55 wins consistently from 2000-2008. For each of those 8 seasons they also landed the 3 seed or higher in an awfully competitive Western Conference. For two of the three championships they won in the 2000′s, they landed the 1 and 2 seed, maintaining home court advantage in 7 of those 8 series’ they played in route to the trophy. Awfully consistent for a team that earned the reputation as the turn it on team, don’t you think?

Though the Celtics have been together for a considerably less amount of time, they, like the Spurs, are unmistakably showing signs of a dip in production. Last season was no aberration. Three-quarters of the Celtics best players are aged 33 or higher. They finished 4th in the East last season, while the Spurs finished 7th in the West. Do not get me wrong, I still think the Celtics are a supremely talented ball club. Despite their age, they still have a great deal of young talented players who can handle the pressure in Rondo, Big Baby, Perk, and Nate Robinson. They, unlike the Spurs, still have a shot at the title. My underlying point here is not that the Celtics are doomed altogether, but that we must be guardedly optimistic about the future. I hate to think of myself as a curmudgeon already at the age of 22, although I will readily admit that many times I am overly critical of my teams. I see that as a far better and more realistic viewpoint than blind  faith. With that being said, I understand the problems that plague the Celtics. The problems, however, are no excuse for the lackluster performances that we got accustomed to seeing in the 2nd half of last season. If the Celtics have to play a majority of the postseason on the road again, they have no chance of becoming NBA Champions. Having played to their full potential for the entirety of last year, they may not have had to play games 6 and 7 in Los Angeles. I’m sure things would have gone differently had that been the case.

The fact of the matter is that home court advantage means everything in basketball. Much moreso than any other sport. In the last three seasons the home team has had a record of 169-73 in the playoffs. This includes an outstanding 57-18 record for the home team in 2008 playoffs. Altogether that roughly equals 7 wins out of every 10 games. If the Celtics decide that coasting through the season again to 50 wins is fine by them, they might as well not even play at all. In an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference, the Heat, Magic, Bulls, and Hawks all have the potential to win 50 games. This could leave the Celtics at the disadvantaged position of the 4 or 5 seed again, and the absence of home court advantage for ANY of the playoffs. While the health of the team is clearly more important than home court advantage, as evidenced by last season, coasting through the season simply because of fatigue is not acceptable. I have a modicum of respect for any team who wastes their talent throughout the season, as this usually catches up to them in post-season play. What is the old saying– practice like you play? Well in this case the Celtics better learn to play in the regular season like they hope to in the post-season. Only time will tell if the Celtics are going to let it slip away again this regular season. But if Wednesday nights game against the Cavs is any indicator, the Celtics look ready for more of the same. And I can almost guarantee that if they keep it up, they won’t be making a run to the finals any time soon.

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