The Celtics still have the pieces to make waves in the East
The Boston Celtics have shown that despite aging stars and key injuries, they should be one of the most feared teams in the East going into the home stretch of the season and the playoffs.
Things may look a little more dire this season, with another year on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's legs and burgeoning star Rajon Rondo out of commission.
Danny Ainge showed with his moves at the deadline that he's not ready to give up on this squad, and he was right.
Here are the biggest reasons why the Celtics have as good a shot as any team not named the Miami Heat to make one last run this season in the East.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett won't let the team go down without a fight
With the loss of Rondo for the season, the Celtics have to put even more of a load on their older stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
There have been questions about when age will catch up to these guys for a few years, but their consistent play this season continues to quiet the doubters.
The drop in Garnett's numbers is a quick way to write him off as over the hill, but his offensive efficiency and especially his defensive presence are still at an elite level. Despite his numbers drop, he still leads the Celtics in rebounds this season.
He put up seven rebounds and eight assists to go along with 26 points, including seven straight in overtime—when Boston needed them the most. He's been doing this all season as the Celtics' points leader.
Long story short, rumors of Garnett's and Pierce's declines have been greatly exaggerated.
A veteran presence from guys like Jason Terry will help the younger Celtics
The Celtics may be getting older, but the veterans are still playing at a very high level and their leadership will be key for the Celtics down the stretch.
Pierce's and Garnett's numbers have already been mentioned, but their impact on the Celtics goes far beyond their individual statistics.
Paul Pierce has been a mainstay on the Celtics for his entire career, and he has been a major force when the Celtics have been down this season. He's taken on an even bigger load since Rondo went out, and he was key in the Celtics' seven-game win streak immediately following the injury.
Garnett has always been a vocal leader, which has been big for young guys trying to get comfortable with their increased roles on the team.
There's also Jason Terry, who, like Garnett and Pierce, has experience playing on a championship team. Terry went as far as to anoint himself as the bench leader and put the burden on himself to get the young guys to produce, according to Ben Watanabe of NESN.
Young guns like Avery Bradley and new addition Jordan Crawford will benefit greatly from the title experience and leadership around them.
Jeff Green is finally living up to potential
Green has struggled since coming over to the Celtics in a trade that sent fan-favorite Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder two seasons ago.
However, Green has blown up when the Celtics have needed him most this season. The slew of injuries on the team, especially to Jared Sullinger, has put Green in the position to see more minutes on the team, and he has made the most of it.
His recent play has been so strong that he even has people thinking he should get some serious heat in the Sixth Man of the Year debate.
If Green can show that his mercurial past is behind him and he can be a consistent threat for the Celtics, he can take a lot of the load off of Paul Pierce as a primary scorer and be a major factor for this team off the bench going forward.
Rivers has been instrumental in keeping the Celtics afloat this season
In a season where turmoil seems to be seeking the Celtics out, Doc Rivers has done an admirable job holding the team together so far. More importantly, it looks like he finally has the team playing the kind of ball that will be necessary to make a run down the stretch.
This season may be Rivers' toughest yet as injuries continue to pile up for the Celtics. When Rajon Rondo went down, he was the focal point of the Celtics offense and most plays ran through him.
His injury necessitated a major reworking of the Celtics' offensive scheme, but behind Rivers they didn't miss a beat, going on a seven-game run immediately following the injury.
Rivers has had to make similar changes with the loss of Jared Sullinger, and they seem to have worked. It's been noted how well Jeff Green has played lately, and Rivers' management of his minutes after Sullinger went out has certainly played a role in his improvement.
A major reason the Celtics have been able to stick around is by preaching fundamentals. Rivers has always focused on defense during his tenure in Boston, and while the team had its issues earlier in the season, they've come into form and are currently allowing the ninth-fewest points per game in the NBA.
How Doc Rivers continues to manage minutes with aging stars and streaky players like Jordan Crawford and Jeff Green will also be a major plot point going forward for a Celtics team that has been hemorrhaging depth thanks to injuries.
If the Celtics are going to be a force late in the season, Doc Rivers will have to find a way to keep holding this team together down the stretch.