Since late January, much of the talk in the NBA's Eastern Conference has been about the Boston Celtics and their continued success despite the significant absences of Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger. While their overall team chemistry has mainly contributed to Boston's 13-4 record since Rondo's injury, the individual improvements of many returning Celtics continue to pay huge dividends.
The past year has been a difficult transition for the Green. Jason Terry was summoned to replace future Hall-of-Fame sharpshooter Ray Allen. The center position proved as meager as ever, with Kevin Garnett as the only formidable big man to plug in to the starting 5 spot. Also, injuries have forced GM Danny Ainge to bring in new talent, in order to avoid a short-handed bench.
Somehow, the team has withstood adversity and rallied to a 19-11 record in this calendar year, pushing Boston to 33-27 overall. The C's sit at the No. 7 spot, on the heels of the Brooklyn Nets (35-26), Atlanta Hawks (34-26) and Chicago Bulls (34-27).
Boston's triumphant last-second victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday only verifies the Celtics' utter will to contend. Indiana, the Eastern Conference's second-place team and best defensive squad in the league, was favored by most of the nation to surmount the injury-plagued C's in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But Boston once again prevailed.
Time and time again, the Celtics have proved that heart often outlasts cumulative talent or statistics, led by a returning cast of dedicated players. The following five slides highlight Boston's most improved players since last season (from smallest impact to largest), and explain why their contributions have pushed the Celtics back into a considerable championship push.