Refreshed Boston Celtics Are a Lock for Eastern Conference Finals

Matt Shetler@@buccos12Correspondent IMay 7, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 01:  Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics calls a timeout against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 1, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Give Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers a lot of credit for seeing the bigger picture all season long.

The Celtics fought through early-season struggles, injuries to stars Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen and an aging roster thin on depth, only to come out of the regular season as Atlantic Division champions.

Rivers even passed on a chance late in the season to gain home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs but found it more important to get Kevin Garnett and company the proper rest down the stretch.

The result of Rivers planning is a refreshed Celtics team that's playing very good basketball at the moment. Good enough that they should be a lock for the Eastern Conference finals.

After Sunday night's dominance over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their series, it looks like it's only a matter of time before the Celtics finish off Atlanta. Up next likely is the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, and despite losing two of three regular-season meetings to the Sixers, Boston will likely be favored to come out on top in that possible matchup.

Right now, the Celtics are as healthy as they've been all season long, and with both Pierce and Garnett playing at a high level, they have the superstar power to carry them on a lengthy playoff run—not to mention a point guard playing out of his mind right now in Rajon Rondo.

The final 25 games of the regular season, plus the first four games of the postseason, very few guards in the NBA have been playing at the level that Rondo has.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 06:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics reacts to the game against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachus
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Just this series alone, Rondo has averaged 19.0 PPG, 13.0 APG, 7.0 RPG and 3.7 SPG. Rondo's been on such the roll as of late that there doesn't seem to be much that can slow him down.

Back to Rivers, though, his decisions to not only move Garnett to the 5, but leave Avery Bradley as the starting 2-guard have paid dividends.

Not too many centers in the NBA can deal with Garnett's range, which gives him an advantage on a nightly basis. Pairing Rondo and Bradley together gives the Celtics, perhaps, the quickest backcourt in the NBA, especially on the defensive end of the floor where the Celtics excel.

Since the All-Star break, Boston quite possibly has been the best defensive team in the NBA and they've carried that into the playoffs.

The men in green are rested, refreshed and ready to make one last run at an NBA championship.

To start, you can pencil them in the Eastern Conference finals.