How Boston Celtics Can Stun the NBA in 2013 Playoffs
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Nothing about this season has been easy for the Celtics, and their plan for a stunning postseason won't be either.
From a sleepy start that saw them trying to integrate a variety of new pieces, to three season-ending injuries in the middle of the year, the punches continue coming in for Boston. With no Rajon Rondo, a ton of their postseason cache is out the window, along with a lot of the team's explosiveness.
The Celtics will have to rely on other things, like veteran experience and an elite coach, to advance. Seeding continues to be jumbled in the middle of the Eastern Conference, so it is tough to predict where the Celtics will end up.
Wherever that is, the first-round matchup will not be a pleasant one for whoever draws them. The Celtics have a lot of passion going into this postseason and continue to be one of the more dangerous teams in the league.
Get Favorable Positioning in the Standings
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Things have not been going the Celtics' way of late. Their current losing streak has them missing a bunch of opportunities to make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Still, despite the recent losing, the Celtics are very much in the mix to move as high as the No. 4 seed, where the Brooklyn Nets reside, four games ahead of Boston.
There is more to the Celtics' seed chasing than moving as high as possible. Obviously the nightmare scenario is to drop into that No. 8 spot, which would mean a first-round series with the defending champion Miami Heat. If the Celtics advance into the 4-5 range of the conference, they have the Heat impending in the second round.
Still, that No. 4 spot would mean home-court advantage for the first round, something the Celtics take advantage of as well as anyone. They have a 24-10 record at the TD Garden this season.
The No. 6-7 area currently has equal chance of seeing the Indiana Pacers or New York Knicks, who are tied for second place, in the first round. That would also mean no Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals, in a rematch from last season's seven-game series.
Right now it is too tough to predict where the Celtics will be, or even want to be. However, the sooner they figure that out, the better.
It's All About Stability
This photo shows two guys who may not have any bearing on the 2013 postseason, whatsoever.
Dissecting it a bit further, you can say that one player will definitely not have an impact on the postseason, while the other still may.
While Rose's return has been pushed back and back, it has become a distraction for their team. The Bulls are a poor 9-14 since the start of February. Likewise, the Indiana Pacers, who are trying to figure out Danny Granger's return, are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The New York Knicks are at the same 5-5 while trying to figure out exactly who on their roster will be good to go for the playoffs.
The Celtics may have hit that same point, with Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee set to get MRIs, but for the most part they know who they are and what they can do. Rajon Rondo isn't playing in the postseason this year, but the Celtics accepted that a long time ago.
They are one of the most stable teams in the conference entering the final weeks of the season, and that will help them remain on solid footing into the playoffs.
Let the Good Doc Do His Work
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As things move onward to the postseason, it is a comfort to know that the Boston Celtics have one of the best wearing a suit on the sidelines.
It has been backed up by players and coaches around the league, Doc Rivers is pretty good at his job. So save your breath when second-guessing Jeff Green's reserve role or Kevin Garnett's minute allotment. The Celtics have one of the best coaches in the league at the helm.
His biggest job this year is managing the minutes to keep his aging stars healthy for the postseason. That is a task that has only gotten harder with the three major injuries to Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa.
Where Rivers has had a great opportunity to get his coaching hands dirty is with Avery Bradley running the point guard position.
I'm sure with Rondo and Rivers, there are a lot of moments resembling a father trying to help his math prodigy son with basic algebra homework. Bradley has been an opportunity for Rivers to really help bring along a young point guard.
Rivers signed a five-year contract extension in 2011, so the Celtics are in good, stable shape for the near future.
Protect the Garden
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This goes without saying for every team in the postseason, but with the Celtics there is added importance to protecting the home floor.
In Boston this season, the team is 24-10. That is tied with the New York Knicks for the third-best home record in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, their 12-23 record away from the TD Garden is the worst among all 16 current playoff teams.
The team cannot win on the road, as illustrated by their current five-game road losing streak. Some of those losses are coming against teams like the New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats. Things aren't going to be nearly as easy on the road in the postseason, so hopes are not high for the Celtics stealing many away games.
That makes protecting their home turf at the Garden the top priority. The fanbase in Boston is ravenous for playoff basketball, and will do their best to make the atmosphere right. The Celtics just have to take care of business.
If they do that, then they are assured to be in each series. They'll just have to figure out how to sneak in a win or two outside New England.
Somebody Else Has to Win a Game
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We all know that the majority of games in the postseason will be won by the likes of Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley.
However, they will not be enough to win multiple series. What happened last year and has happened time and time again in the past, is that a background piece will need to win one game on their own to tip the balance of a series.
In 2012 against the Philadelphia 76ers, with the series tied at two games apiece, Brandon Bass took over Game 5. He shot 9-of-13 for 27 points, six rebounds while contributing an assortment of steals and blocks. In the same game, Greg Stiemsma was a perfect 5-of-5 for 10 points and had three blocks. Those background pieces swung the series for the Celtics.
Likewise, you may remember Eddie House and P.J. Brown seeing limited time throughout the 2008 playoffs until their numbers were called and they swayed the balance of a series. Glen Davis and Nate Robinson did the same thing.
Whether it be a shot, a defensive stand or even an entire game, one of the Celtics' current chorus liners will have to step up.
Jordan Crawford could be that guy. So could Chris Wilcox, Courtney Lee or even Brandon Bass again. For the Celtics to stun everyone and advance deep into the postseason, they'll need a game from one of these guys in each series.
Paul Pierce Figures out One More Twist
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Because they made it so far into last year's postseason, many don't realize just how poorly Paul Pierce shot in those 20 games.
Pierce finished the playoffs a year ago shooting just 38.9 percent, his lowest postseason mark since suffering a first-round sweep in 2004. He also missed 60-of-87 three-point attempts, for a 31 percent clip. Again, Pierce's lowest mark since 2004. Still, he managed to lead the team, going for 18.9 points per game.
Playing on a bad leg, he clearly couldn't do everything he wanted to. Pierce's mind was too creative to fail, though. So instead of allowing that shooting percentage to destroy him and his team, he found a way to get to the line.
Pierce averaged 6.2 free throws per game, up from 3.8 in the prior postseason. He shot 89.4 percent on those, unaffected by the leg. In games Pierce got to the line eight or more times, Boston was 6-1. Unfortunately, none of those games came in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Pierce will have to develop another trick to keep scoring at that high rate into this postseason. With no Rajon Rondo pumping in 17.3 points per game, and the never-ending conundrum that is Jeff Green, Pierce will have more defensive attention than ever.
The Celtics postseason will more than likely come down to whether he can hit the big shot at the end of one or two games in each series.
Can the 35-year-old star muster up a few more daggers?
Continue Having the Best Fans in the League
Lip service? Tire pumping? Catering to you, my lovely reader? Yes, definitely.
However, it would be a nearly impossible task to argue against the idea that the Boston Celtics have one of the most passionate fanbases in all of sports.
The moment during Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals that saw the remaining fans in the stands during a blowout loss to the Miami Heat, chant "Let's go Celtics" was one of the coolest moments of the postseason. It carried on for about four minutes at the tail end of the eventual 98-79 loss.
Though it amounted to nothing tangible, as the Celtics lost Game 7 and the series, I doubt there is a player that was wearing green at the time who forgets it. That is one of those moments that only happens in cheesy sports movies, where Samuel L. Jackson saves 15 kids from the streets, or a teenage werewolf dunks to save the day. Only this was real, just like the passion the fans in Boston feel for their team, win or lose.
The Celtics will need that passionate fanbase, not just to help defend the TD Garden, but on the road as well. The Celtics fans travel as well as any team out there, and have more than a few transplants around the country.
So, ride your bike to work for a week and use the gas money to buy a playoff ticket. My bet is that the Celtics will be more than thankful.