These three all played a big role in the Celtics' second half resurgence.
Now that the Celtics' regular season is in the books, it seems to be a good time, on the eve of the playoffs, to look back on how it all played out.
A slow start, an out of shape Paul Pierce and constant trade rumors hindered the Cs throughout the season's first six weeks. But once the All-Star break came and the trade deadline passed without any moves having been made, things settled down and the team rounded into contending form.
Let's take a look at how the 2012 Boston Celtics stacked up.
Garnett has been as solid and focused this season as he has in years.
Anyone have a problem with that?
KG took us back in time this season with a consistently vintage performance that really kicked into high gear around the All-Star break. He increased his scoring and rebounding output from the past three seasons and posted his best numbers in those categories since his first year in Boston, the year of banner 17.
His move to center rejuvenated him. He became an even better jump shooter than he's been in year's past. He also continued to anchor a tenacious team defense that ranks third in the NBA in points allowed (89.6) and first in opponent field goal percentage (42 percent).
In no small development, he's exerted his leadership skills in a major way. Whether he's chastising the media for calling him and his teammates old, or challenging anyone who thinks the Cs team chemistry isn't enough to carry them, KG has done enough to add fuel to the argument that while he may not be the captain of the team, he's certainly its heart and soul.
After a slow start, Pierce is as good as ever.
Another season, another year of Paul Pierce leading the Celtics in scoring, being their best all-around player and enhancing his legacy as one of the franchise's all-time greats.
The only thing that keeps the captain from earning a straight A is the first three weeks of the season, in which he was so out of shape following the lockout that he had to miss the team's first three games and play himself into proper condition.
Once that happened though, it was pretty much the same old Truth. By the time February rolled around, Pierce was in typical form. Following the All-Star break, when the Celtics took off, he averaged 22.3 points per game in March and teamed with Garnett and Rajon Rondo to lead the Cs to their fifth straight Atlantic Division title after a No. 7 playoff seed or worse seemed a lock through January and much of February.
Last week in a loss to the Knicks in which Carmelo Anthony had a triple-double and J.R. Smith and Steve Novak combined to shoot 16-for-20 from three-point range, Pierce nearly upstaged them all by going for 43 on 11-for-19 shooting (17-for-18 from the line).
The point is, Pierce still has it and still has it in spades.
Rondo has raised his game to new heights this season.
If Rajon Rondo wasn't considered one of the NBA's best players and a top three point guard prior to this season, there can be no argument at this point.
He was the first Celtics player to lead the league in assists since Bob Cousy with 11.6 per game. His 22-game streak of posting double digit numbers in that category wasn't a league record but was still massively impressive and likely would have continued if he hadn't tweaked his back last week against the Knicks.
Perhaps most impressively, his six triple-doubles on the season, including the other-worldly 18-20-17 line he put up in an overtime win over New York in early March, led the NBA.
Rondo doesn't quite earn the straight A due to his maddening tendency to occasionally not show up for some games (namely ones against lesser opponents or ones that aren't nationally televised). He's also had a couple more bouts of immaturity over the course of the 66-game slate that have perplexed nearly as much as his graceful, never-quite-seen-before style of play can amaze.
Still, he's the perfect fit for this team. He's the future and he's raised his level of play once again.
The Celts still aren't sure what to expect from Allen in the playoffs.
Ray was looking a step slow even before his troublesome ankles started to flare up, causing him to miss 14 of the team's last 19 games.
The three-point shooting was still there (45 percent), but his scoring output (14.2 PPG) was down two full points from the past couple of seasons. Perhaps even more telling, his defense, particularly his lateral quickness, didn't seem the same as it has in previous years, during which he's made guys like Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade have to work pretty hard to get theirs in a slew of playoff games.
The Celtics have managed a 15-4 record without Ray, which is less an indictment against him than it is a credit to his teammates, especially Avery Bradley. But given the fact that in five of eight playoff trips, his scoring average has increased from what he put up in the regular season, if he's not at full strength come Sunday night when the Cs begin their first-round series with Atlanta, they may be in a bit of trouble.
It remains to be seen whether the Cs can keep getting by without him. Looking back at his season, he was still Ray, just not quite the same.
Bass has proven to be a more than capable mid-range shooter.
What a find for the Cs. They got Bass for Big Baby Davis and Von Wafer, paid him a paltry $4 million this season and then watched him put up career highs in points, rebounds and blocked shots while playing more minutes per night than in any other season he's been in the league.
Bass is nearly automatic from the elbow and has proven himself to be a deadly mid-range shooter. He's more than adequate defensively and is one of the better rebounders on a team that desperately needs them.
He tends to get in trouble when he goes away from his strengths. When Bass puts the ball on the floor or tries to take it into traffic or to the rim, he gets swallowed up more often than not. When he sticks to hanging around the 12- to 20-feet mark, he's at his best.
It will be interesting to see what the Celtics do with Bass after this season. He holds a player option for next year at the same salary he earned in this one and given his production, it would be shocking if he doesn't opt out.
The Celts should do what they can to bring him back. He's good.
Bradley has proven he can hang with the big boys.
In what could be the most pleasant revelation of the Celtics' season, Avery Bradley proved not only that he can play, but that he can play very very well.
He was miscast as a backup to Rondo, likely due to his his size (6'2, 180 pounds). When Bradley was running the point, the Celts struggled to get into their offense and he sometimes even struggled to get the ball over half court.
So, Rivers moved him to the 2 and he took off. Already a very good defensive player, he upped his game in that area to the point where he exhibited genuine stopper qualities. But it was his offense that really surprised.
Starting with a 23-point outburst against the Wizards on March 25, he proceeded put up very good numbers. Last Friday night against the Hawks, with Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Allen all out, he scored a career-high 28 points. He's shot 53 percent from the floor in (50 percent for the year) and a whopping 63 percent from long range in April.
Stiemsma has come from nowhere to play an important role for the Celts.
Where would the Celtics be without Greg Stiemsma?
Thanks to the predictable, season-ending injuries to Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Wilcox, Stiemsma found himself as the Cs primary backup center and has responded with a more than serviceable season.
With his minutes upped to about 19 per night in March and April, Stiemsma responded with four rebounds and two blocks per night. He features a pretty good mid-range jumper, and even though he gets called for a foul whenever any opponent with the ball is within 10 feet of him, he hasn't lost any aggressiveness.
The Celts are lucky to have him.
Elsewhere, Mickael Pietrus, when healthy, has provided some spark offensively and some very solid defense as well. Sasha Pavlovic has made some key jumpers. Keyon Dooling is OK for what he is. Everyone else is mostly invisible.
The Celtics will need their reserves to come up big in the playoffs. Thanks to Stiemsma and Pietrus, there's reason for some hope.
You're the man, Doc.
In most other years, e.g. when Greg Popovich isn't willing his old but evolving Spurs to another top seed out west and Tom Thibodeau hasn't just led the Bulls to the league's best record for the second straight year, Doc Rivers would be a serious Coach of the Year candidate.
What has happened with this Celtics team, given all the injuries, all the uncertainty around the trade deadline and all the, well, old age, has Rivers and his even-keeled, level-headed fingerprints all over it.
Looking fairly rudderless and in the midst of a five-game losing streak at 15-17 headed into the All-Star break, the Celts took off shortly thereafter. Certainly, Garnett's resurgence, Rondo's brilliance and Pierce's consistency were the chief reasons for the turnaround.
But Rivers kept it all together. He made sure everyone was on the same page up to and immediately after the trade deadline. He figured out how to use his rotation properly when Stiemsma, Pietrus and Bradley were his only options off the bench. He was the glue. He knew, as always, how to get through to his team.
No wonder he's the guy most players want to play for. There are few that are better, both in the league today and in the storied history of the Celtics franchise.
No doubt about it, KG is the Celtics' MVP.
There really isn't any other choice, is there? He's the best defensive player on the team, its heart and soul and this year, with his incredible rejuvenation, its most valuable.
It's not a coincidence that Garnett's remarkable run through the last two-thirds of the season happened concurrently with the Celts rise back to prominence. His effort, preparation, work ethic and the example he set for his teammates day in and day out were all palpable. It's not surprising in the slightest that Rivers went out of his way to point out how much the team wants KG back next year.
The Celtics will potentially contend for a championship for a fifth consecutive season. Without Kevin Garnett and his performance this season, such a statement would be foolish.