A Puncher’s Chance
The Celtics aren’t done yet.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
It seems like just yesterday that the basketball world was counting out the Boston Celtics.
And who could blame us? Boston was playing uninspired basketball, and they looked, to put it bluntly, washed up. The original Big Three, the same guys who had brought the starved city a Championship over its biggest rival, looked like they were ready to hang it up. Trade rumors were swirling and no one seemed safe—not even Paul Pierce who is one of the greatest Celtic players of all time. They were sitting at 15-17 and looked dead in the water. Everyone was writing the team off, and that may have been exactly what the Celtics wanted.
Instead of making a panic trade at the deadline that would have officially ended the Big Three’s run in Boston, the front office held strong and gave their guys one more chance to prove that they still had another run left in them; and the bold move paid off. A month and a half later, the team looks reborn.
KG is playing like “Da Kid” again, Rajon Rondo is on a tear, dropping 10-plus dimes in 19 straight games and counting, and Avery Bradley has stepped in for Jesus Shuttlesworth without disrupting chemistry. The Celtics are 19-7 since the All-Star break, and after convincing wins over Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami (in Miami no less) and now Atlanta, the team looks focused and re-energized during crunch time.
Last night, the Celtics gutted out another—albeit ugly—win in Boston over the Hawks. The victory marked their fourth straight win over apotential Playoff team. Even more impressive, the triumph came one night after beating the Heat in Miami. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and the Celtics look hungrier than ever.
“[The win shows] we have great character, [we’re] a tough minded group. You could see that they just wanted this one so bad,” said coach Doc Rivers during postgame. “We didn’t play well… we just kept hanging in there… Going into it, what I told the coaches is, We’ve got to just keep it close heading into the fourth quarter.”
Rivers has been pushing his guys in the second half of the season and the team has responded better than expected; these old dogs still have some major bite left in them. “This team has resolve. They like each other and I think that allows us to win games on nights when we shouldn’t, and I really believe that… This is the most resilient team I have coached here… They’re just tough.”
The key to this current run has been the remarkable play of Rajon Rondo. Rondo, who scored his sixth triple-double (10/10/20) of the season (by comparison, the rest of the NBA has combined for nine) has been playing like a man possessed. Rondo is on a historic streak: His current 19-game streak of 10 or more assists trails only John Stockton.
But, the young point god doesn’t seem concerned with the record books (he won’t eclipse Stockton’s 29-game streak with only nine games left), he wants to keep stockpiling Ws. “As long as we’re winning,” said Rondo. “[I don’t care] when I get those assists or triple-doubles, I only care about winning the game.”
Coach Rivers has been more than impressed with his floor general’s current play. “I don’t need numbers to tell me that he’s playing well,” Rivers said. “He’s just playing extremely well, he’s been spectacular… Not only in games, but everywhere and that’s why we’re winning… We need a locked in effort from him every night and we’re getting that. He showed growth tonight, it was a fatigue game and tonight, he willed that game.”
It’s not just Rondo who’s been stepping his level of play up either. The whole team has come out energized night in and night out and they have been playing as a cohesive unit. Against the Hawks, Garnett dropped 22 and 12, The Truth scored 14, Brandon Bass had 21 and 10 and Mickael Pietrus returned from injury to hit a few huge shots down the stretch. Ray Allen, still bothered by injury, sat once again, but Avery Bradley came in and gave the team solid minutes.
“I feel like we’re playing better as a team right now,” Bradley said. “We’re playing harder offensively and we’re clicking as a team and playing well right now…We played so hard tonight and if we lost we would have been down… We’re rolling right now… We have guys who know how to play the game and win these games and it’s rubbing off on [the younger guys].”
It almost seems calculated, like this is what Doc Rivers and Co. had planned all along. And perhaps we, the media and fans alike, were foolish to ever doubt a team featuring three potential Hall of Famer’s, one of the best point guards in the League, and one of the best coaches of the last five years roaming the sidelines. The C’s personnel had to know that a lockout-compressed season would kill them if they over exerted themselves during the first half of the season. This isn’t their first time at the rodeo, and they know what it takes to win when it matters most.
The Celtics pulled a fast one on us, and now the rest of the League is well aware of the threat that they pose. It remains to be seen whether or not they can keep this level of play up through the end the season. Their schedule certainly doesn’t do them any favors as they will play six games in six different cities over the next 10 days.
But one thing’s for sure: They’ll come out swinging.