Sunday was indeed super for Boston Celtic rookie JaJuan Johnson, packaging 10 points, four rebounds, two blocks and one nifty assist into 22 minutes against the Memphis Grizzlies in a 98-80 victory, Boston’s eighth in their last nine games.
But the fact remains that this aging team still sits with the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference, no better than they did a fortnight (and nine games) ago.
Including Sunday’s win over now-.500 Memphis, Doc’s Old Man Rivers hold triumphs over only three winning squads, and the Orlando Magic team they beat deserves at least an asterisk if not a scarlet letter.
So they’ve got one signature victory, in three tries, against the Indiana Pacers…and they followed up that impressive effort, accomplished on tired legs against a rested opponent, by giving away a very winnable game at home to young Kyrie Irving two nights later.
These Celtics might just be the most puzzling of teams in this unpredictably paralyzing patchwork of a season.
They’ve endured key injuries—who’d have thunk Kevin Garnett would be the most durable of the "Big Three-Plus-One"?—and the loss of versatile Jeff Green.
The orientation of new recruits and development of another young point guard offer encouragement.
But all this healing, teaching and recent winning have occurred at a leisurely pace (23 games in 43 days) and with a hefty helping (15 games) of home cooking.
The real NBA 2012 yet beckons, with an eight-game road marathon in March and an absolutely brutal April fortnight of 11 games (seven of them roadies) in 15 days of stout competition. In all, 20 of their 34 post-All-Star tipoffs will be on a foreign floor.
The Celtics are being pigeonholed by pundits as the traditional “tough out” come playoff time, not the most ringing of endorsements.
The glass-half-full contingent of loyalists will say just tough enough and point to some defensive statistics that show Doc’s boys—in whatever combination—have limited 18 opponents to under 50 percent offensive efficiency, 13 in a row and counting. (Take a bow, young Avery Bradley, eh?)
But, as always seems to be the question this season, is this devastating defensive display the consequence of strategic savvy and exacting execution, or just of too many inadequate or imploding opponents?
Necessity, that mother of invention, seems to have hastened the progress of Bradley’s confidence and play, but rookies Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have received precious little game time, despite some few stretches of effective play.
The additions of Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox and especially Brandon Bass and Marquis Daniels certainly outweigh the losses of Green, Glen Davis and Delonte West in the regular rotation. All are veteran, complementary, athletic players who seem to be establishing their niche.
So, where exactly do these Celtics stand, and where will they end up?
Well, Abacus offered this prediction almost six months ago:
Abacus predicts that, if Jermaine O’Neal is introduced with Rajon Rondo and the rest for the Celtics’ first 2012 playoff game, there won’t be many 2012 Celtic playoff games.
Unless last Sunday gets remembered as JaJuan Johnson’s coming-out party, and not for some football game, Abacus may become Nostradamus.