Events That Drastically Changed Course of the Boston Celtics' Season
To say that the Boston Celtics have had a rough 2012-13 season would be putting it mildly. Battling a laundry list of injuries and inconsistency, the Celtics have had easily their most trying campaign since Kevin Garnett joined the franchise.
Currently sporting a 40-37 record and a solid hold of the Eastern Conference's seventh spot, the slings and arrows of the C's season can easily be measured by the six most significant events that they have faced since their season tipped off in Miami on October 30th.
For better or worse, each one of these events drastically altered the course of the Celtics' season, and it would be impossible to reflect on Boston's performance without taking each one of them into account.
With the playoffs drawing ever nearer and the regular season coming to a close, let's take a moment and reflect on the six events that shaped the Boston Celtics' 2012-13 campaign.
Avery Bradley Returns from Shoulder Surgery
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As damaging as Rondo's injury was to the course of Boston's season, the return of breakout guard Avery Bradley following shoulder surgery helped to stymie the effect of Rondo's knee injury.
It took until January, but Bradley finally returned in a road game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bradley, who emerged as a lockdown defender in the 2011-12 season, has logged a good deal of time at the point guard position and continues to play lockdown perimeter defense.
On the year, he is averaging 9.3 points, 2.3 boards and 2.1 assists per game. His shooting is disappointing, as he is connecting on just 40 percent of his shots and 30.3 percent of his three-pointers, but his ability to handle the ball makes him indispensable.
For a defensive team like the Celtics, it is a huge luxury to have a young, athletic point guard capable of pressuring opponents full-court and covering both guard positions. Though he stands just 6'2", Bradley's length and lateral quickness allow him to cover players much taller than he is.
Though not a pure passer in Rondo's mold, Bradley has become a capable mid-range jump shooter, a good slasher off the ball and a respectable three-point shooter. He brings a different dynamic to the team's offense than the ball-dominating Rondo does.
With Bradley back in the lineup, Boston has gone 26-20, and the third-year guard has had a key role in what success the Celtics have had in 2012-13.
Rajon Rondo Tears His ACL
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What was initially believed to be nothing more than a hyperextended knee turned out to be the injury that colored the Celtics' entire season. All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in Boston's double-overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks, and with that injury the Celtics lost their starting point guard for the remainder of the 2012-13 season.
Despite the team's middling performance prior to his injury, Rondo was averaging 13.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 11.1 assists on 48.4 percent shooting from the field. He was also chipping in 1.8 steals per game and leading the league in dimes per game.
However, he was criticized for chasing a double-digit assist streak, which reached 37 consecutive games before he was ejected from a contest with the Brooklyn Nets. He finished nine shy of Magic Johnson's record.
The reveal of Rondo's injury occurred in dramatic fashion, with fans finding out during the course of the game and Paul Pierce being told after leading his team to a double-overtime victory over the Miami Heat.
With Rondo sidelined, many fans expected the Celts' season to be finished. But the team rallied, winning eight of their first nine without him. Pierce assumed more of a facilitator role, but the C's were still clearly missing their main playmaker.
In a season as tumultuous as any in recent Boston history, Rondo's injury stands as the most significant of Boston's campaign.
Jared Sullinger Has Back Surgery
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One of the few bright spots in Boston's rocky start to the 2012-13 season was the play of rookie Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger, once projected as a lottery pick, fell to the Celtics due to concern over his back, but the Ohio State standout showed few signs of injury early on. He gave Boston another big body in the middle and proved to be one of the team's best rebounders.
Sully's averages of six points and 5.9 rebounds may not seem particularly impressive, but he was shooting 49.3 percent and providing Boston with some valuable depth behind Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. He even registered four double-doubles.
However, the back injury proved to be much more serious than anyone could imagine, ultimately requiring surgery that shut him down for the remainder of the season in early February.
Without Sullinger, the team was forced to depend more heavily on Garnett and Brandon Bass on the interior, and though both are more polished offensively than Sullinger, the rookie was coming into his own in a major way.
The loss of Sullinger forced Danny Ainge to bring in D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph to bolster the bench. While White has played sparingly, Randolph has turned into a surprisingly solid contributor, notching five points and 4.7 rebounds on 61 percent shooting.
Still, Randolph is not the wide interior presence Sullinger is, and Celtics fans are simply hoping that this surgery will be his last for a long time.
Paul Pierce Snubbed from All-Star Game
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For the first time since 2008, "The Truth" was not selected to represent his Celtics in the NBA All-Star Game. Pierce was having another solid season, averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, but he was shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor and 35.9 percent from three-point range.
That snub seemed to light a fire under Pierce, as his numbers jumped across the board following some midseason rest. In 22 post-All-Star games, Pierce is notching 19.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.9 dimes per game. His shooting percentages have also leapt to 48 percent overall and 42.6 percent from deep.
With Rondo out, Pierce has been used more as a point-forward by Doc Rivers, but the fact of the matter is that he has been more effective in all facets of the game with the ball in his hands.
Often this season, the ball would stick in Rondo's hands, particularly during crunch time, but Pierce has been more comfortable reassuming the featured role offensively.
Though he is averaging 3.4 turnovers per game, Pierce has been playing at an entirely higher level since mid-February.
In the month of March alone, he notched 19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 50.3 percent shooting and 46.4 percent from beyond the arc.
If those aren't All-Star numbers, I don't know what are.
Jeff Green Explodes Against Miami
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When Jeff Green signed a lucrative four-year contract following surgery for an aortic aneurism, no one was quite sure how the former Georgetown star would hold up over the course of a season.
Coming off the bench behind Pierce and Garnett, his year started slowly, and many fans were writing the talented combo-forward off as somewhat of a bust. Then, starting in place of Garnett, Green exploded for 31 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a rout of the Phoenix Suns.
Suddenly, Green was playing with more confidence. Using his staggering athleticism, Green was attacking the basket regularly, taking high-percentage jump shots and knocking them down and playing effective defense in both forward positions.
Then the March 18th Miami game happened. Though the result was a heartbreaking 103-105 home loss to the Heat, Green dropped a career-best 43 points, seven rebounds and four blocks while shooting 14-of-21.
He dueled LeBron James nearly to a draw and showed that he can absolutely thrive on the biggest stages in the league.
Though the team's success has been inconsistent, Green has averaged a phenomenal 17.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 50.8 percent overall and 44.1 percent from the floor since the All-Star break.
Capping off his improved late-season play with his unforgettable performance against Miami, Green proved that he deserves to be a part of Boston's core for the future alongside Rondo and Bradley.
Kevin Garnett Injures Ankle
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Even with Jeff Green emerging as a go-to player offensively and Paul Pierce thriving in a jack-of-all-trades role, Kevin Garnett is still the emotional leader of this Celtics team, and they are simply not the same without him.
Though The Big Ticket is averaging just 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on 49.3 percent shooting, he is the C's main option at center and easily their most important piece defensively.
He is the squad's defensive anchor, always communicating and making sure his teammates are in the right spots on the floor, and with him sidelined they are simply not capable of playing that vaunted Celtics defense for prolonged stretches.
Unfortunately, an ankle inflammation sidelined KG for eight straight games during the season's stretch run, and the team went 3-5 during that stretch, losing any shot at moving up to the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs and saving themselves from a matchup with the red-hot New York Knicks.
Though Green played well during Garnett's absence and Brandon Bass finally found his touch in extended minutes, the team simply struggled to string stops together. They also missed his jump shooting and post passing ability, two essential aspects of the team's offense without Rondo.
This stretch made it abundantly clear that Boston will be little more than first-round fodder if Garnett is not in good enough shape to impact the game on both ends.