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2nd Half Trepidation
Posted By Michael Johnson On Dec 27 2010 @ 11:18 pm In Boston Celtics | No Comments
So begins a new streak… at least that’s what the Boston Celtics hope. After giving us a whole month of holiday cheer free of blemish, the Celtics finally lost a game on Christmas Day to the retooled Orlando Magic. The Celtics look to start anew as they hit the road. Tuesday night in Indianapolis they will face a Pacers squad that is 4-8 in their last 12 against some pretty stiff competition. The Pacers have already defeated the Heat and Lakers this season and should not be underestimated. The Celtics concern should extend well beyond tomorrow evening. Simply staying in the heat of battle in the East should be their goal (see what I did there with the word Heat!). After finishing last season with an abysmal 27-27 record, the Celtics must prove that was simply an aberration, rather than a trend.
Winning nearly 15 games in a row doesn’t exactly foster ominous feelings. Until Christmas afternoon the Celtics were on a roll, with not a single doubt creeping into their collective consciousness. What might be even more impressive is how they did it. This recent streak of 14 games may be one of the most impressive strung together by this Celtics team. The streaks of 11 (09-10), 19 (08-09), 12 (08-09), 8, 9, 9, and 10 (07-08) are all impressive in their own right. The team in 07-08 didn’t know how to lose. They just put together streak, after streak, after streak, usually interrupted by one of the league’s elite squads (such as the Pistons, Cavs, or Jazz) only to go right back on track for a league-best record of 66-16. Winning 19 in a row before losing to the Lakers Christmas 2008 was of course the most memorable. The C’s were one game short of being the 5th team in NBA history to win 20 straight. Of course it had to be at the hands of our rivals. It couldn’t be any other way.
The most recent streak, however, occurred while missing such integral pieces as Rondo, Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and ostensibly Delonte West. Regardless of what team they were playing, missing your starting PG, Center and two key bench players will run any team into the ground, quickly. Rarely if ever have we seen the Big 3 play this well across the board. Factor in superb play by Rondo, Shaq and Big Baby. Each major member of the lineup has played absolutely flawless basketball.
Ray struggled with his touch for a good chunk of 07-08, most troubling in the first rounds of the championship run. We all know the story of the 08-09 season with KG going down. Pierce has also had his fair share of struggles throughout the years. Last season, 27-27 speaks for itself. In 2010, each of the Big Three are playing the most efficient basketball since they’ve joined together. The emergence of Rondo and Baby, as well as the addition of Shaq means a dip in scoring for each of the three. Consistency and efficiency, however, are at an all time high. Each is shooting the highest FG % in their four years in Boston, while Ray has his highest 3 point percentage. Another major plus is the tenacity KG has brought back to rebounding. After losing game 7 of the finals almost exclusively due to rebounding, Garnett clearly took notice. He is averaging his four year high with the Celtics (nearly 10 boards-a-game). Pierce is just being Paul Pierce, as evidenced by his 32 points, 10 rebounds and last second game winning jumper against the Knicks. The supporting cast is also playing far better than anyone could have expected. Despite missing 8 of of 28 games on the season, Rondo is tied for 4th in the league with 275 assists. He’s 18 behind leader Chris Paul. Presumably it will take 1 game for him to make up the difference. Baby is by far having the best season of his career with 12.1 ppg. Shaq is averaging a stellar 10.8 ppg in only 21.7 minutes per game on 66.1% shooting!. Shaq has been nothing less than exceptional.
Enough already! I understand the team has created a Utopian cloak for Celtics fans to live under. What does this have to do with anything? Well consistency is what matters most in sports. The Celtics lacked it in the 2nd half of last season and suffered the consequences on the road for games 6 and 7 of the Finals. I’ve said this before, but home court advantage means everything when it comes to the playoffs. The team of 07-08 wouldn’t have come close to winning it all if they weren’t the best team throughout the regular season (remember those road playoff losses?). Going 27-27 and plowing through the the finals won’t cut it this year. Consistent effort is a necessity. Right now the Lakers lack it. If the playoffs started today they’d be hitting the road for the 2nd round, Conference Finals and Finals. Clearly none of us expect that to hold, but it would be quite the daunting task. One the Celtics know all too well after last season. I know Doc wants to rest his team as much as possible in preparation for the playoffs, but he also must understand the importance of playing at home in the post-season.
One positive aspect of the 2nd half of the season is the reintroduction of Perk back into the lineup. Not only does it provide the C’s with infinitely more depth, but also because it requires them to rediscover their team identity. It is likely that Perk will start over Shaq, thus causing the entire team to readjust. There is no room to nod off in the waning stages of the season and hopefully integrating Perk back into the lineup guarantees that. As picture perfect as this team has been before Christmas, let last year be a reminder of what can happen. Here’s to hoping the 2nd half of 2009-2010 was simply a fluke.
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