5 Reasons Boston Celtics Are Becoming Dark Horse as NBA Season Progresses
The Boston Celtics are just one game over .500 but don’t count them out as NBA Finals contenders just yet.
Boston has been inconsistent the entire year which has led to a spot in the standings that it isn’t very familiar with. In the last couple of years, the Celtics have sat near the top of the Eastern Conference for the entire season, but it doesn’t seem like that will be the case at all in 2012-13.
Although the Celtics have been playing well defensively, allowing the eighth-fewest points per game, they’ve had issues scoring. Boston only averages 95.2 points per game, the ninth-fewest in the NBA.
One of the main reasons Boston has 17 losses, so far, is because the Celtics are horrendous at grabbing rebounds. Boston averages 38.7 boards per game which puts them in dead last compared to the rest of the league.
But despite Boston’s struggles through the first 35 games of the season, the Celtics are still in the playoff hunt. They will likely still clinch a postseason berth—barring it may be a low seed—but teams better still watch out as Boston is the dark horse this year.
Miami Heat Are Still Team to Beat
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Last postseason, the Celtics needed to win either Game 6 or Game 7 against the Miami Heat in order to advance to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately for them, the Heat won both to knock Boston out.
Ever since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade in South Beach, the Heat have been the team to beat. With their comeback series victory over Boston and then superb performance in the NBA Finals, Miami is clearly the team with the target on their backs.
Miami has a star-filled roster that can beat any team in every aspect of the game. And Miami is doing a lot of that again this season with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
James is having another MVP-caliber season, and Wade and Bosh haven’t been too shabby either. The Heat are the favorites to win another championship. With much of the focus on whether they can repeat, many have forgotten that Boston has had success against them.
If the season ended today, Boston would be the No. 8 seed and face Miami in the first round of the playoffs. Boston has gotten the best of Miami in the past, and that would not be an easy series win for the reigning champions.
Rise of Eastern Conference
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Over the last couple of seasons, the Celtics have had a lot of success against the Eastern Conference, but the conference has become much more difficult to win in this year.
Boston has finished the last four seasons no lower than the fourth-best team in the East. But this season seems like a much different case despite a similar Celtics club. While the Celtics have stayed the same for the most part, the rest of the East has improved.
The New York Knicks are having a fantastic season that has them just half a game behind the Heat for the top spot in the East. The Indiana Pacers are having another good season, and the Atlanta Hawks are six games over .500.
The Chicago Bulls are playing well without Derrick Rose. In their first year in Brooklyn, the Nets have also played the lights out. The Milwaukee Bucks have a slim advantage over Boston, but their game has clearly improved as well.
The Celtics are no longer the talk of the town within the conference. Half of Boston’s conference foes have outplayed them this season, but all that matters is that Boston gets into the playoffs. After that happens, who knows what the result will be.
But since the East has gotten so much better, it’s almost like people don’t even think Boston’s a viable championship contender; they’re just that team who has been decent but won’t amount to anything in the end.
Veterans Staying Healthy
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For the most part, injuries haven’t been an issue for the Celtics. Sure, Avery Bradley missed the first chunk of the season, recovering from offseason surgery, but other than that, there haven’t been many players unable to play this season.
That’s very important, considering that the team has six players over the age of 30 on it. Each of Boston’s stars have yet to get hit by the injury bug this season, and that’s important. If any of the Celtics’ starters or bench players got injured, they wouldn’t be close to eighth place in the conference. They’d probably be well under the .500 mark.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have had their fair share of bumps and bruises throughout the opening 35 games, but still have yet to miss time on the court.
Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger all have yet to miss even just one game this season. That’s a huge, huge accomplishment.
But the season is still far from over, and the Celtics need to find a way to stay healthy. Head coach Doc Rivers has been one of the best at keeping his players in shape throughout the entire year and not draining them before getting to the postseason.
The Celtics aren’t getting any younger, but have still come into each game with fresh legs. The Celtics cannot afford a costly injury at any point this year, since they’re so close to missing out on the playoffs. But if they are healthy heading into the postseason, watch out.
Progression of Jared Sullinger
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Heading into the 2012 NBA draft, much of the talk surrounding Jared Sullinger wasn’t good. Many claimed that his back was a major cause for concern, and that ultimately derailed his draft stock. The Celtics took a chance on him with the 21st pick of the first round.
That selection has paid off big time already. Sullinger has stayed healthy the entire year and is averaging 5.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 19.1 minutes per game.
Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Globe writes how head coach Doc Rivers used to call Sullinger the “fat, slow guy,” but no longer can:
“Now I realize: He’s not slow, he’s actually not fat—he’s just round,” Rivers said. “But he has great feet. He really does.”
As Mastrodonato goes on to write, Sullinger has been a force on the boards this season which has really turned some heads:
Sullinger, 20, is ranked 15th in the NBA in total rebound percentage, which measures the available rebounds a player grabs. According to Basketball-Refernce, Sullinger has hauled in 18 percent of his available boards, which is less than one percent fewer than Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins.
If Sullinger can keep up this great play on the boards—an area of the game where the Celtics are terrible—he may find himself in the regular starting lineup.
In Boston’s most recent game against the Phoenix Suns, Sullinger grabs 16 rebounds and scored 12 points in 34 minutes off the bench. That type of performance is what gets you into the starting lineup and could end up helping Boston win a championship.
MVP-Caliber Season by Rajon Rondo
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Rajon Rondo is the biggest asset that the Celtics have and has become arguably the game’s best point guard. He leads the league in assists per game with 11.2—around two higher than the next closest, Chris Paul—and is Boston’s third-highest scorer with an average of 13.1 points per game.
But Rondo has to be able to keep his cool. He was suspended for Boston’s game against the New York Knicks after making contact with an official during a Celtics-Hawks matchup. This type of stuff has to stop if the Celtics are going to contend this season.
Rondo needs to put all of his focus on the court and in his play—no more of the extracurriculars.
Through 30 games this season, Rondo has two triple-doubles and 14 double-doubles. He’s one of the most versatile threats on the court, no matter who Boston is facing. He can score when he wants, make great passes and isn’t afraid to go up and grab a rebound.
Rondo is now the star of this team, not Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. Continuing to play at an extremely high level will make Boston that much tougher to knock out once the playoffs start.