We hear it every year. The Boston Celtics are done. They're too old. Too decrepit. They can't possibly make another playoff run. Yet, they always seem to defy the odds and shun father time by proving everyone wrong.
The Celtics find themselves in a very familiar situation in 2012-13. They have dealt with a myriad of injuries, with Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa all going down for the season and Kevin Garnett missing a solid chunk of time with a bum ankle. They have had a couple of bad losing streaks. Still, they have managed to stay afloat.
No, Rondo, Sullinger and Barbosa are not coming back, but Garnett has returned, and he looked pretty solid against the Washington Wizards on Sunday night. Jeff Green appears healthier than he has been all year in his recovery from heart surgery. Paul Pierce? He is playing at an All-Star level at the moment and has turned back the clock. He shot 50.3 percent from the field in the month of March, 46.4 percent from long range.
While Boston has been as inconsistent as spring weather, they have enough in the tank to make another playoff run.
Let's start with the fact that, outside of the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference is very vulnerable. The New York Knicks have won 13 straight games, but will they be able to count on their hot three-point shooting over the course of a seven-game series? The Indiana Pacers are solid, but they lack a true go-to scorer in crunchtime. Then, you have an assortment of very beatable squads like the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.
The C's can beat any of those teams. They have the experience with Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry, not to mention some nice—and surprising—depth.
Green has been inserted into the starting lineup now, relegating Brandon Bass to the bench. A couple of months ago, that would have looked like a bad move, as Bass was just not providing enough consistent offense to be a spark off the pine. That has all changed recently, however.
Bass has flown under the radar of late, shooting 55 percent from the floor in March and 57.4 percent through four April contests. As a matter of fact, during April, Bass is averaging 16 points and 6.5 rebounds in 36.3 minutes per game. His spike in minutes is due to his increase in efficiency, and Doc Rivers is rewarding him for it.
The big man is stepping up just in time for the postseason, and he isn't the only one.
How about Shavlik Randolph?
I will openly admit that I said he would be an afterthought once the playoffs arrived, but that does not look to be the case.
Randolph has been outstanding. Albeit it is a small sample size, but he is averaging 13.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per 36 minutes while accumulating a total rebound percentage of 21 percent. Maybe it isn't a fluke, though. After all, Randolph's total rebound percentage over 107 career NBA games is 18 percent, and he has posted averages of 11.1 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes as well.
All season long, the Celtics have lacked rebounding, so perhaps Randolph can be the guy who gets their heads above water on the glass come playoff time.
Players like Bass and Randolph could prove to be absolutely instrumental to Boston's postseason success, especially considering how the C's have been in dire need of frontcourt help.
They aren't the only reason why the Celtics can make a run, though.
Green is playing out of his mind, finally flashing the type of game many thought he had when the C's acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Kendrick Perkins deal two years ago.
After averaging 15.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting (41.4 percent from beyond the arc) in February, Green put up 17.8 points at a 48.8 percent clip during the month of March and hit on 42.6 percent of his three-point tries. Through four April games, Green is posting 18.6 points on 58 percent shooting. His rebounding is also improving little by little. He recorded 4.1 boards per game in February, 4.8 in March and is averaging 6.3 thus far this month.
To put it lightly, Green is turning into a monster and a very reliable scorer, especially in crunchtime. He has hit two game-winners recently, one coming at Indiana and the other coming in Cleveland against the Cavaliers (seen below).
Also, Garnett is now back, and hey, look at it this way: he may not be 100 percent, but he did get a nice couple of weeks of rest. That could pay dividends in a seven-game series.
K.G.'s importance to Boston is unparalleled. When he was out with the ankle injury, the C's' defense allowed 103.4 points per 100 possessions. That is about three-and-a-half points above their season average (shown below).
However, upon his return against Washington, that number dipped to 84.7. Yes, it is only one game, but it illustrates that his impact defensively is nothing short of astounding.
Pierce may be the longest tenured Celtics player, but Garnett is the heart and soul of this team. And there is that word. "Heart." It is something that cannot be measured, but look around the league and name a ballclub with more heart than Boston. That will play a huge factor in a potential playoff run.
In 2012, the C's' journey to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals was off of guts and grit. They were a good squad, but look up and down that roster. Their sixth man was Mickael Pietrus, someone who cannot even buy minutes with the Toronto Raptors this season. That team ended up going as far as they did because of a steel organ in the left side of its chest, and K.G. is the central pump that makes that heart beat.
These guys believe in themselves, and why shouldn't they? They are led by two future Hall-of-Famers who have made it to the finals twice in the last five years and a coach whose positive, never-say-die attitude is always infectious.
Again, the East isn't exactly strong. The only team that the Celtics probably cannot beat is the Heat, but clubs like the Knicks and the Pacers? They are vulnerable. Plus, even if Boston doesn't beat Miami, should they face them, they will growl and snarl in the face of LeBron James and company and make life a living hell for them.
With grizzled veterans like Garnett and Pierce, feisty perimeter defenders such as Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee and role players like Green, Bass and Randolph stepping up, there is every reason to believe that Boston can make another magical playoff run.