Following the Celtics' season-long script of unpredictability, it only makes sense.
It wasn’t long ago, Jan. 27 specifically, that the Celtics’ season was officially over. It was reported then that Rajon Rondo was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Everyone freaked out. The Celtics were done:
But then, without Rondo, the Celtics won seven consecutive games, and hoops nation stood puzzled, seeking reasons how Boston was somehow better without its star.
Mike D’Antoni said Boston is a different team without Rondo, the ball movement actually improving as he dominated the offense.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 20, 2013
The fictional interpretation was that somehow Rondo was holding the Celtics back. Boston’s lead man, Danny Ainge, told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan: “We are different without him. We're running better now because five guys are running. Honestly, I think we rely on Rondo too much.”
The post-Rondo success lessened the cries for the Celtics to break up the Big Three at the trade deadline, and Boston continued to motor along.
But as the sample size grew, the surge flattened.
|Celtics record prior to Rondo injury||20-23|
|Celtics record after Rondo injury||21-16|
|Celtics record after initial 7-0 streak without Rondo||14-16|
It all adds up to a seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round matchup against the hosting Knicks.
That’s a series that Boston can win.
Only the Knicks can make the Celtics look young. There’s only one baby of the group, 22-year-old Iman Shumpert, for a Knicks team with nine players 30 and older and just one player younger than 27 years old.
There’s proof that the Knicks’ legs this deep into the season are fine, as evidenced by a recent hot stretch that included a 13-game winning streak. Up until Monday night’s game in which nearly all the team’s talent sat, New York won 15 of its last 16 games.
During that stretch of 16 games, the Knicks are shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range and scoring 104.8 points per game. The team's defensive rating was a more mediocre 103.9 in that same window.
Within that time frame of winning, Carmelo Anthony scored 32.5 points on 48.8 percent shooting, and J.R. Smith scored 23.5 points on 50 percent from the field.
But the streaking success of shooting only furthers a point we’ve already learned about the Knicks: They’re just streaky.
And teams that rely on jump shooting, as the Knicks do, often fall cold. Additionally, the Celtics are the best in the league at defending the three-point shot.
Since performing without Rondo, as of Jan. 27, the Celtics lead the league in three-point percentage allowed. Opponents are shooting just 31.8 percent against the Celtics from behind the arc in those 37 games.
With each glass half-full, well ya know, there’s that other side too.
The Celtics are streaking too, but they're finishing the season in the opposite direction. Boston has lost 12 of its last 15 games.
Against the Knicks, the results haven’t been so great either. The season series:
- Jan. 7 Celtics 102, Knicks 96: The Anthony and Garnett altercation
- Jan. 25 Knicks 89, Celtics 86: Anthony scores 28 points
- March 26 Knicks 100, Celtics 85: Anthony and J.R. Smith go for 61 points
- March 31 Knicks 108, Celtics 89: Part of Knicks' 14 three-pointers effort
Doc Rivers, courtesy of a video from ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, talks about the Knicks here:
But the Celtics have been here before.
Boston was a No. 4 seed last season and pushed past the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers in the first two rounds before pushing the soon-to-be champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2010-11, the Celtics swept the Knicks in the opening round before falling to the Heat.
The Celtics' advantage is proven postseason success, something that neither Anthony nor Smith have accomplished. The same can be said about Rivers as a coach ahead of New York's Mike Woodson.
Paul Pierce plays his best when pitted against another superstar, and the opportunity against Anthony offers him a chance to excel. As for Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee, there is no better duo to throw at the scoring of Smith.
The rested legs of Kevin Garnett will have a tough matchup against Tyson Chandler on the boards, and the Celtics will need at least one last postseason push from him.
The blueprint is there.
An early-round series win against the Knicks would throw the Celtics right in the fray. From there, the East becomes open.
Well, until the Heat of course.