The Celtics were an Avery Bradley injury away from winning a championship.
Does that sound like a stretch?
If it does, you just don't realize how good Bradley is, nor just how close the Celtics were to taking down the eventual champion Miami Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
And since that time, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has only strengthened the team further—only further solidified the team's already solid chances of hoisting its 18th championship banner high into the rafters of the TD Garden.
The Celtics took the Heat further than any team in the 2012 Playoffs, and it looked like the C's were going to win that series after taking a three games to two lead, before losing games six and seven. Vegas odds-makers and NBA analysts alike gave the Celtics no chance of taking down LeBron James and crew, and the Celtics nearly did it without their starting shooting guard.
With Bradley on the court last season, the Celtics had a defensive rating of 92.9. A backwards counted stat, the rating with Bradley on the bench was (a "lower") 97.5. Over the final 19 games of the season, the Celtics put together a 92.1 defensive rating and the men in green and white won 14 of their final 19 games, rebounding from a 26-22 record compiled up until that point. That 19 game stretch featured Bradley playing more than 25 minutes per night in all games.
What happened with Bradley out in the playoffs? The defensive rating got far worse, elevating to 100.4. The 38.2 percent that teams shot with Bradley on the floor was impressive. The 44.3 percent shot with Bradley sitting on the sidelines was not. That's a 6.1 percent shift in field goal percentage from opponents, just because of Bradley's ball pressure and disruptive hands.
Those who point to Bradley's humble stat lines as an indication of his true impact would not know these crucial facts. He's a premier defender, and is only part of the reason the Celtics have what it takes to win the title in 2012-13.
A further reason the C's will contend is because they addressed their needs this offseason and re-signed key players. They managed to ink Brandon Bass after he had the playoff stretch of his life. Team leader Kevin Garnett decided to stick around. Former Thunder swing-man Jeff Green recovered from his heart ailment, and re-signed as well; journeyman center Chris Wilcox did the same.
The Celtics brought back the players they needed most, then went out and got the guys to replace the ones they lost, plus some.
Ray Allen bolted in free agency, but Ainge had already signed Jason Terry as insurance. At this point in Allen's career, he's not any better than Terry, and Terry, one of the best sixth men in NBA history, will provide the quick scoring and clutch play that the Celtics need off the bench.
Courtney Lee was practically obtained for a bag of chips and a 99 cent hamburger (a second round pick, JuJuan Johnson, and the to-be-waived E'Twaun Moore). He's a lock-down defender, just like Bradley, giving the C's one of the best backcourt rotations defensively in the league, between Lee, Bradley, Terry and starting point guard Rajon Rondo. Rookie combo guard Dionte Christmas may end up being a pleasant surprise around the league, as he was a once a highly touted prospect at the NCA level. The Celtics backcourt should be in the discussion for the best in the league, yet no one is discussing the possibility at all.
Is that enough proof, or do we need to go into the fact that the Celtics just drafted a guy in the late first round who was projected at one point to be a top-five pick? I'm talking, of course, about Jared Sullinger, the chubby Ohio State product who has Carlos Boozer written all over him. And I'm talking about prime Carlos Boozer, not the player he has devolved into with the Chicago Bulls. Sullinger may make a much bigger impact much quicker than the critics say, and though he is undersized, his skill set covers for that.
Fab Melo is an unknown, but with today's signing of Darko Milicic, Rivers will have another option in the front court that won't cause him to rely so heavily upon the raw Melo.
Kris Joseph could be good for some scoring punch off the bench, as the Syracuse small forward has a quick shot and ability to put up points in bunches.
Jason Collins is garbage, but no longer necessary with Milicic aboard. The Celtics now have that front court depth issue addressed, and Kevin Garnett will no longer have to play so much out-of-position at center.
These roster improvements and the fact that the Celtics were a game six and seven meltdown away from facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals last year point to the fact that the C's could secure yet another championship this season.
The funny thing is no one seems to be throwing their name around in the same breath as the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat. Yet, they were right there, and have only gotten better.
For all analysts are and aren't, there don't seem to be many realizing that the Celts are a legitimate threat to win a title this year. But I'm saying they have a very good chance, and the 22:1 odds set by Vegas oddsmakers seem pathetically high comparative to how good their chances actually are. Oddsmakers even place the Chicago Bulls, with an injured Derrick Rose, and the San Antonio Spurs, who were ousted four games to two by the Thunder, ahead of the Celtics.
Call me crazy, but the Celtics just might win it this year. Outside of Beantown, everyone will be surprised. But those who actually watched the Celtics and saw how dangerous they were with a Bradley at full health. The roster additions will only further strengthen those title hopes.
In short, I'm buying.