Despite getting off to an abysmal start, the 2011-2012 Boston Celtics once again found themselves locked in an epic playoff battle against the Miami Heat—this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. A team that was two games below .500 (15-17) at the All-Star break, finished fourth in the East and came within just one win of their third NBA Finals appearance in five years.
Assuming the C’s don’t get off to an equally rough start in the upcoming season, they will be expected to finish a top-four seed (if not higher), on their way to another deep playoff run. As a result, head coach Doc Rivers will be under tremendous pressure to replicate last year’s success.
Celtics GM Danny Ainge has had a busy offseason bringing in many new weapons for Rivers to utilize. The new acquisitions include Jason Terry and Courtney Lee via free agency, as well as Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo through the draft. Boston also re-signed forward Jeff Green after he missed all of last season with a heart ailment.
Now that the Celtics have re-tooled their roster and strengthened their second unit, they seem poised to make another run at Banner 18. Last year the four best teams in the Eastern Conference were Chicago, Miami, Indiana and Boston, in that order.
But with Derrick Rose expected to miss the majority of next season, Chicago will have a tough time cracking the top three. Sure, the team was still able to find ways to win games in Rose’s absence during last year’s regular season, but when extrapolated over 82 games, it’s hard to imagine they would be able to sustain that level of play without their superstar point guard.
While the East exhibits many other talented (and young) teams such as Indiana, Philadelphia and even Brooklyn, Boston should top them all in the standings. According to ESPN.com’s Eastern Conference Forecast, only the Miami Heat are expected to finish ahead of the Celtics next season.
After being deemed old and washed-up by the media, fans and basketball gurus worldwide, the Celtics proved skeptics wrong last year. They overcame internal conflicts, injuries and inconsistent play on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
And now Doc Rivers finally has the perfect infusion of veteran experience and youth.
Rajon Rondo’s declarative play last year reminded fans why he believes he is the best point guard in the NBA, logging 24 straight games with 10 or more assists. If he continues to play the way he did in the second half, he could easily be regarded as a top-five MVP candidate. Avery Bradley, who established himself for his stellar defense, alongside Rondo could potentially form the best defensive backcourt in the NBA.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also proved to be solid contributors despite their age. While Pierce made his 10th career All-Star appearance, Garnett had a mediocre first half, averaging 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds. However, he found new success after moving to the center position, averaging 17 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Since Brandon Bass is supplanted as the starting power forward going into next season, it looks like Garnett will continue his resurgent play at the 5-spot.
Boston’s second unit is also deeper than it has been in years. Although the Celtics stacked up on guards such as Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, their biggest need has been size. They filled that void nicely by bringing back Chris Wilcox and drafting a pair of big men—Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Syracuse’s Fab Melo.
Ultimately anything can happen this season—after all, the NBA lends itself to being unpredictable. But on paper, the Celtics look to be at least a top-four team in the Eastern Conference. Both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are past their prime, and Doc Rivers realizes this team has no option but to win now. The young pieces they have added certainly bode well for the future, but as of right now they are just complementary assets.
Paul Pierce has stated on numerous occasions that in order to be mentioned with Boston Celtics legends such as Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Larry Bird, a player must win multiple titles. With the window of opportunity shrinking it is on Doc Rivers’ shoulders to help Pierce achieve his goal.
The pieces are in place, now it is simply a matter of executing.