One of the hottest teams following the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics seem to have cooled off in recent weeks.
They suffered a five-game losing streak starting March 18 in a home game against the Heat. It was their second-worst skid of the season and longest of the second half.
But as we enter the home stretch of the 2013 season, Boston, despite their recent struggles, seems poised for yet another title run in the Big Three era.
So here are some nuggets of information regarding the Celtics as the NBA playoffs, commencing April 20, loom just days away.
On Sunday, April 7, the Green played their best game since March 29 when they blew out the Hawks 118-107. This can most likely be attributed to two things:
A. They were playing the Washington Wizards at home
B. The team is back to full strength.
Let’s observe the latter point.
Forward/center Kevin Garnett missed eight games between March 23 and April 5 due to a foot injury. The Celtics went 3-5 in his absence, allowing 100 points or more five times.
Captain Paul Pierce also missed two of the team’s last four games. In addition to nursing minor neck and ankle injuries, Pierce and his wife welcomed the newest member of their family this week, a baby boy.
With both stars returning, the C’s were at full force on Sunday, sporting a new-look starting lineup of Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett.
KG was sharp, nailing 6-of-9 shots from the field. He finished with 12 points in 24 minutes in the 107-96 win.
Pierce shot just 38 percent from the field, but hit 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, scoring 15 points while dishing five assists and grabbing four boards in 30 minutes of action.
With the Pierce/KG combo back in action, Celtics fans should be ever so slightly encouraged about the Celtics’ postseason run.
Jeff Green Continues to Shine
This season Jeff Green has defied the odds. Just over a year removed from open-heart surgery, he has returned to the court and made the most of his opportunity.
After a relatively quiet first half, Green came alive after the All-Star break—in 25 games (13 starts) he has averaged 17.6 points, 2.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field (44 from three).
He has also been noted his defense, most notably against LeBron James. If he can continue to work on the league’s bigger small forwards—such as James and Carmelo Anthony (should they meet Boston in the playoffs)—Green can demonstrate his ability to be a playmaker on both ends of the floor.
The emergence of Shavlik Ranpolph
Injuries have left the Celtics depleted and lacking size all year. They lost Jared Sullinger early in the year, traded away their only true center Jason Collins (although he wasn’t contributing much anyway) and have been without Garnett for stretches.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge Celtics signed big man Shavlik Randolph to a pair of 10-day contracts in early March, before inking him to a multi-year deal.
Randolph has emerged as a reliable player off the Celtics bench, and has improved the team’s laughable rebounding numbers.
His best game came on April 5 in a 97-91 home loss to Cleveland. He scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards in just 13 minutes of play.
As of now the Celtics (40-37) have a three-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks (37-40) for the seventh seed. It appears they will meet division rival New York Knicks in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
The two faced off in 2011 with the Celtics making quick work of Carmelo Anthony’s crew, dismantling them in four straight games.
Don’t expect a sweep this time around, though.
Winners of 13 straight, the Knicks are playing excellent basketball. Much of their success is a result of Anthony’s recent play; he has posted video game numbers, scoring 30 or more points in six of New York’s last seven games, including a 40-point (at Atlanta) and 50-point (at Miami) effort.
JR Smith is also having a tremendous year. Serving as “Robin” to Anthony’s “Batman,” Smith has appears to be the front-runner to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. He is averaging 17.8 points off the bench for the Knicks.
Although the aging Celtics are veterans of the second season, a series against New York’s “dynamic duo” may be too much to handle.