As the Boston Celtics prepare for another one of those classic East-West, Dynasty vs. Dynasty playoff finals with their longtime rivals the Los Angeles Lakers, many NBA onlookers continue pinching themselves and refusing to believe that the Bostonians reached the finals.
Win, lose or draw against Phil Jackson’s defending NBA titlists, the Celtics should be given credit for organizational smarts. In less shrewd hands the team could easily have been an also ran, and almost assuredly never would be currently battling for the top prize in pro basketball.
The nucleus of the Celtics is comprised of three veterans headed for the Hall of Fame when their careers end. Paul Pierce is the youngest of the group and will be 33 in October.
Injuries played havoc with the Celtics throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Pierce and Kevin Garnett lost significant playing time.
With the Celtics struggling due to the absence of personnel and continuity that injuries cause, General Manager Danny Ainge, a Celtic standout in his playing days, along with pragmatic Coach Doc Rivers made a calculated decision.
The team might end up looking ragged at times, the overall record would be less than glossy, especially by Celtic lofty historical standards, but if a proper seasonal plan was instituted the team would emerge as healthy survivors. It would then be able to shine when the crucial second season arrived -- playoff time.
Rivers bought into the theory. He explained that he always felt good about the team. His reason was togetherness. Rivers was thinking from the standpoint of a veteran coach.
It is far better to have a team with peaks and valleys relating to rocky injury status with a healthy attitude than a group of all-stars on their own pages and seeking self-recognition.
Despite having three future Hall of Famers in the aforementioned Pierce and Garnett along with Ray Allen, one of the premier three-point shooters in league history, the Celtics would never have driven to post-season success had it not been for the remarkable improvement and leadership role of a young player who made the critical difference.
Louisville, and University of Kentucky product Rajon Rondo at 24 is a decade or thereabouts younger than the veteran trio members. Paul Pierce pinpoints a phase when, in place of the threesome and their cohorts setting up Rondo, he began setting them up and they in turn responded. Earlier they had set up Rondo.
The translation is that this is the phase wherein the point guard attained full- blown leadership status.
Not only has Rondo impressed with his playmaking skills; he has won respect from his teammates and others throughout the league with his toughness.
Rondo constantly drives to the hoop and faces defensive threats from players much taller and with considerable girth beyond the 6'1", 170 pounder. As the playoffs have intensified the incidents increased where Rondo was knocked to the floor after charging into the paint.
Despite the solidness of the impact or the size of the individual administering the blows, Rondo constantly rises, shakes himself off, and resumes action.
This is the personnel mix and strategy that brought the Celtics to the pinnacle of another championship. Many thought that the Dwayne Wade led Miami Heat would evict the Celtics in the first-round.
When they endured that hurdle Boston was a decided underdog against both Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the league’s winningest regular season team, followed afterwards by the Orlando Magic, final round opponent against the Lakers last season.
The final round has arrived. All previous hurdles were surmounted. The Celtics are still standing and the defending titlist Lakers furnish the opposition starting Thursday night in Los Angeles’ Staples Center.