Boston Celtics: 3 Reasons Celtics Will Be Title Contenders in 2012-13
The Celtics fell one game short of NBA Finals contention in 2012. With a potential close-out game at home, Boston failed to slam the door in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
LeBron and the Heat quickly bounced the Celtics in Game 7 back in Miami.
Entering a new season, the Celtics find themselves buried beneath the drama of NBA free agency. They also find themselves staring at a significantly improved Eastern Conference (most notably including the rise of the 76ers and Nets).
And when playoff time rolls around, Boston will be in the thick of it once more.
Celtics Success Factor #1: Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers is one of the best coaches in the NBA. He's guided aging Celtics teams against the youngest and most athletic talent in the NBA. Boston last captured an NBA Finals victory in 2008, but have been in the hunt each year since.
This past year, the Celtics were only 48 short minutes away from meeting Oklahoma City in the Finals. Behind Rivers, Boston scratched and clawed against a supremely talented Miami team, forcing LeBron and Co. to the brink of elimination.
That effort was with rising star guard Avery Bradley sidelined with a shoulder injury, veteran forward Paul Pierce hobbling on old knees, and an oddly inconsistent Ray Allen.
When it comes down to it, Coach Rivers is excellent at maximizing the talent and flow of his team on the floor. Boston has become a perennial defensive stalwart and a team known for playing tough through the final minutes of every season.
In the upcoming season, Doc will have a deeper, younger-feeling team to work with. Jeff Green will be back after missing a full season with a heart condition and Avery Bradley's eventual return will spring Boston's defense to life.
Despite quietly strengthening the bench with signings like guards Courtney Lee and Jason Terry, the Celtics may fall, as usual, in the regular season standings. Their playoff seed will be affected by necessary regular season rest for veterans Pierce and forward Kevin Garnett.
Most importantly, Coach Rivers is ready to fully turn over the on-court leadership role to Rajon Rondo. Boston's point guard is more than ready to take the reigns and Ray Allen's departure indicates the beginning of a new era in the TD Garden.
Doc will have his team exactly where it needs to be when playoff time rolls around. This year, he has the depth of talent necessary to help the C's contend with the NBA's best.
Celtics Success Factor #2: New Depth
Last season, the Celtics seemingly ran out of steam against the Heat. Leaning heavily on Kevin Garnett's stardom and Rajon Rondo's freakish playoff run proved too little firepower to beat Miami.
This offseason, fan favorite Ray Allen jumped ship and headed down to South Beach to join the defending champs. His departure was a bit sudden, but Celtics GM Danny Ainge had ideas in place to supplant the aging star.
In 2012-13, the Celtics will roll out a lineup that has nine quality players. Led by Rondo, Garnett and Pierce, the C's will have a little more talent to rely on when the heavy punches are thrown late in the playoffs.
Boston still lacks size, but will compensate with athleticism. Once Avery Bradley returns and Jeff Green becomes a bit more comfortable with Coach Rivers' defensive schemes, the Celtics defense will be looking youthful.
Perhaps most importantly, the bench possesses much more firepower this season than last. Additions Courtney Lee and Terry nicely complement the solid starting core already in place in Boston. No longer will the second unit be extremely pressed for scoring and energy.
The NBA is evolving every season, and the importance of speed and athleticism has taken hold as of late. Boston's older players have looked just a step behind great young talents around the NBA.
This season presents Boston the unique opportunity to spell their veterans better throughout games and series.
Ultimately, Boston's depth and threats off the bench will put the Celtics in a better position than last season to reach the Finals. Given that they were one game short, a repeat effort is not out of the question.
Celtics Success Factor #3: The Team
This Celtics team has reached the pinnacle of NBA success as recently as 2008, and felt the bitter pain of defeat in two Eastern Conference Finals and an NBA Finals since then.
They've been beaten up, counted out and overlooked. Yet they approach every postseason with the grit and determination they've learned is necessary for ultimate success.
Despite consistent discredit from the media, Boston scrapes out victories every year that don't seem possible. They erase deficits, clamp down on defense late in games, and leave everything they have on the hardwood.
During the 2012 playoffs, everything the Celtics had in their arsenal was not enough to sneak past a surging Miami team. Once again the Heat turned away the challengers and once again the team will have a full offseason to mull over its loss.
The 2012-13 season represents the very last realistic stand of Celtics greats Pierce and Garnett. They will be laying it all on the line and in better shape than previous seasons when the playoffs roll around due to added bench depth.
Rajon Rondo is not to be overlooked. The young point guard conducts his offense as well as any in the game, averaging a league-high 11.7 assists per game in 2011-12. Doc has handed him the reins to the Celtics squad and Rondo appears ready to run.
Returning starter Brandon Bass will struggle to meet last year's numbers but also may be assisted by the returned presence of Jeff Green. The two (moreso Green) will need to become stronger defensively if Boston is to be able to contend with Miami.
2012-13 has an exciting feel to it. New superpowers have aligned around the league, including a new-look 76ers team that could give Boston trouble (consider Garnett trying to defend massive Andrew Bynum).
What the Celtics have lacked in the headlines, they've more than made up for in team chemistry and structure.
Doc Rivers and the Celtics will prove to be warriors once again and will be in the NBA Finals conversation in the spring.