Winning a championship is an accomplishment unrivaled in honor by any individual achievement and, accordingly, it is the toughest to earn. Being the best team out of all requires a special combination of talent, chemistry, coaching, preparation and focus that quickly weeds out legitimate teams from pretenders.
With that in mind, the Boston Celtics team that has showed up for the first 20 games of the young 2012-13 NBA regular season does not stand a chance to beat any of the best teams in the NBA in the postseason.
The Cs have stumbled to a roller coaster 11-9 start and currently stand seventh in the Eastern Conference. Given how inconsistently they've performed, the Celtics should be glad to be in contention for a playoff spot at all.
However, Boston is the ideal example of a team that can survive a rocky start and eventually turn it around. The leaders on the roster, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, have displayed the ability to flick an internal switch when playoff time rolls around.
When the lights go on for real, those three guys usually show up. And they usually have success getting their teammates to join them, as the Celtics have reached the Finals twice in the last five years and the conference finals three of five times.
Counting out a team with such a strong track record at this point in the season would be folly. This is true especially when considering the imminent return of key defender and energy-man Avery Bradley. Reinserting the youthful shooting guard into the starting lineup could ignite the kind of rebound the Celtics need this season.
So, how do we accurately measure and predict where Boston will come out this season when the dust settles after seeing such a small sample size?
By examining each of the championship factors listed above, of course!
Rajon Rondo may be the best pure point guard in the NBA. He has attitude problems, sure, but the man can pass the ball with the best of 'em. Rondo is fast and has freakishly large hands and long arms, all conducive to being elite point guard. His court vision is the final qualifying factor meriting him inclusion on the league's list of top guards.
Surrounding the Cs' most talented athlete in the starting rotation is a wily group of veterans whose legs may not have as much spring as they did in, say, 2005 (or 1995, when KG began his NBA career). Pierce and Garnett still have the same old tenacity—KG is downright frightening—but both have noticeably lost a step.
In reserve, Jeff Green has yet to be a consistent talent. Actually, his most recent streak of 16 or more points in four of the last five games is easily his best stretch of the season. He has it in him to be a major influence every night, and Boston will need his best to go all the way.
Did I mention rebounds yet or the fact that the Celtics do not collect them frequently enough? Boston currently ranks last in the NBA with an average of 38.3 per game, while allowing opponents to collect 42.3.
The team lacks a pure big man, and size—or lack thereof—has often seemed to be a severely limiting factor. In order to reach their final destination, the Celtics are going to need to add a legitimate rebounder or show tremendous improvement with the personnel they have.
Without being able to secure misses on both ends of the floor, Boston's game and emphasis on defense will fall out of sync and lead to uncomfortable offensive sets.
As it stands, rebounding is the biggest problem the Celtics need to address on the court.
Do the Celtics possess the necessary talent on their roster to make a deep postseason run and potentially win a title? Yes. But it's been really hard to tell so far, and they don't have nearly as much talent as teams like Oklahoma City or Miami. They'll need to make up the difference in other categories.
Alright, you have to admit, this category falls into Boston's wheelhouse. Under the leadership of Pierce, KG, Rondo and veterans like Jason Terry and Brandon Bass, the Celtics understand the "togetherness quota" they must reach to win a title.
The core of the squad has seen it all, ranging from triumph over storied rival Lakers to back-to-back eliminations at the hands of the NBA's best player, LeBron James, and the Miami Heat. They know pain, glory, grit and exhaustion.
More than any team in the NBA in the last five years, Boston has showed a fighting spirit in the playoffs that is sourced from their team unity. On and off the floor, the Cs stick closely together. It all starts in the huddle, with a quick, unison chant of "Ubuntu."
If you don't believe in the power of "Ubuntu" (pronounced oo-buun-too), tell me Archduke Desmond Tutu's definition from his book No Future Without Forgiveness doesn't exactly describe what the Cs aim to be: "A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole."
The only mark against this team's chemistry is that many new faces fill roster spots vacated by the likes of Ray Allen. Incorporating Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa into the system has not been an immediate transition. Boston's record reflects the speed bumps they've encountered so far.
Other than that, when it comes to chemistry, this team has it in abundance.
Coaching, Preparation and Focus
Doc Rivers is an elite NBA coach and has proven that he can take his teams to the very furthest extent of its abilities nearly every season. Unfortunately, the past four years have been a disappointment in that the Celtics haven't converted all of their best opportunities to win titles with the current group.
And since former defensive coach Tom Thibodeau's departure for the Chicago Bulls' head coach position, the Celtics defense has not snarled quite so angrily as before.
Yet, every year, they're in it 'til only a few remain. That must be attributed to the emphasis that the coaching staff and veteran players place on physical and mental preparation.
At this stage in their careers, athletes like Pierce and KG must be hyper-attentive to their physical conditions in order to be successful on the floor. However, their impact on the practice court and in the locker room is immeasurable.
Playoff basketball is very much about speed, size, athleticism and talent. But it is also very much about having a certain mentality. Teams that survive in the playoffs simply play together, with instincts and energy unmatched by less prepared opponents.
Some guys have the innate ability to achieve greatness on a nightly basis (think Kobe Bryant), while others (ahem, LeBron) search and search and finally understand what it takes to win.
If the players who comprise Boston's current roster didn't have this chip, this little something extra, before, this is really the season to empty the tank with a total team effort.
Okay, I admit. I have no special numerical way to measure the odds that the Boston Celtics will win an NBA title in 2013. They rank above average but not elite in talent, have excellent chemistry and are thoroughly coached and prepared.
The Celtics are definitely contenders, regardless of the team's rocky start. Although 11-9 is not a start to be parading around, only a quarter of the season has passed. It's judgment time.
Where will the Boston Celtics finish this year?
Too many things have to go right for Boston to win it all this year.
They will not surpass the Heat in the East unless everyone remains fully healthy, Bradley comes back in full stride, they improve their rebounding and LeBron gets caught in traffic.
Unless the Cs seriously get their act together soon, I predict the team will enter the postseason as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. After winning a first round matchup against either New York or Chicago, Boston's season will once again be cut short by Miami.
A second round exit against Boston's conference rival will only salt the wound that Ray Allen left by changing sides after a Conference Finals loss.