It's only four wins in a row but the circumstances surrounding those wins are worth noticing for the Boston Celtics and their fans.
The Celtics, who in spite of a 9-9 record now sit only three-and-a-half games out of first place in the Atlantic Division, have had their best week of this odd lockout shortened season.
They have four wins in a row, three of which came over teams with better records than the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. The streak started against the lowly Washington Wizards. The Wizards are currently the NBA's worst team and the win over Washington was nothing too impressive.
The next three were a little more interesting.
On Monday night the Celtics held the visiting Orlando Magic to an absurdly low point total. The Magic could muster only 56 points, an outrageous 20 in the second half to finish the futile performance losing by a score of 87-56. This effort came against a Celtic team missing three key members of its rotation: Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Mickael Pietrus.
The Celtics followed that up on Thursday with another win over Orlando, this time on the road. Even more impressive was that this time the team overcame a 27 point deficit and outscored Orlando 27-8 in the fourth quarter to win a closer contest 91-83.
Once again key members of the Celtics missed the game with injuries.
Then on Friday the Celtics welcomed the Indiana Pacers to Boston and won a hard fought contest 94-87. This game, like the previous two, was won while key members of the Celtics, specifically Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, sat out with injuries.
That's been the real story of this streak. The conventional wisdom regarding the Celtics has been that the age of their "Big Three" has prevented them, and in turn the Celtics as a whole, from competing at a high level this season. The pace of the schedule was preventing the team from catching its collective breath and thus the team was struggling.
This win streak has exposed the team in a decidedly different light.
The 2011-2012 Celtics may have a much deeper team than previously thought and it appears that in spite of the lack of practices and preseason games in this odd season, head coach Doc Rivers has been able to instill plenty of sound defensive principals in his younger less experienced players. Those players, specifically guards Avery Bradley and E'Twaun Moore, have performed admirably in the four wins.
Paul Pierce has found his game after missing the start of the season and then struggling upon his return. The real story, though, is the defense and the depth. It's a small win streak so it's best not to read too much into it but teams that can defend and have depth can be very tough to beat when the postseason heats up.
The trick will be for Boston to keep the young players like Bradley and Moore involved after Allen and Rondo return from injury. That added depth will be a huge plus for the Celtics. Rondo has been among the league leaders in minutes played but maybe he doesn't need to be on the floor that much. Maybe the team can still perform and win by giving Rondo more rest. That rest could in turn make Rondo more effective when he is on the floor.
The same could be said of Ray Allen. Shooting the basketball requires fresh legs. At Allen's advanced age it might not be reasonable to expect Allen's legs to always be in game shape for 35 minutes a night. If Bradley can play 20 to 25 effective minutes a night then Allen's 20 to 25 minutes could be more effective as well.
The team that many thought (myself included) may have needed to be broken up just over a week ago may have found a path to success this season. That path may or may not include trading aging veterans such as Allen, Pierce or Garnett. The current win streak suggests that the consequences of trading one or more of those players might not be as severe as some would have predicted.
The season is only a month old but it's also about one quarter done as well. The Celtics are still in flux. It's a learning process with the odd mix of very talented and experienced but aging veterans, one young dynamic star in Rajon Rondo and a collection of players young and old who are trying to figure out their roles on the team.
The one sure thing is playing defense consistently will get this team more wins. That lesson appears to have been learned and that's reason for optimism in Boston.
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