2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: How Boston's Fantastic Five Can Return to Finals

Steven BaldassariContributor IIIApril 2, 2011

Courtesy of the NBA and Marvel Comics
Courtesy of the NBA and Marvel Comics

It's April, and the NBA playoffs are right around the corner.

Many fans, NBA players and coaches alike were shocked to see Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics trade away Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

Lakers fans, although surprised, were ecstatic. Since that trade, I have been confronted by numerous LA Lakers fans who are berating the Celtics and saying they are no longer championship contenders.

It hasn't just been Lakers fans either.

The Celtics themselves have done nothing to calm the storm, losing eight of their last 14 games. Yes, you read that correctly—eight out of 14! Overall since the trade, the Celtics have 11 wins and eight losses.

During Boston's recent slide, defense has not been the problem. The Celtics have only given up more than 100 points to their opponents in two of those 14 games (both losses).

The problem surprisingly has been a lack of offense, but why?

How could one of the NBA's most explosive offenses not be able to produce 100 points a game?

It appears as though the C's are playing down or up to their competition.

During their recent slump, the Celtics have won some great games against some real quality teams like the Spurs, Knicks and Hornets. However, they have lost to some bad teams like the Nets, Clippers and Bobcats.

Those are games that are must-wins at this time of the year if you are a team that plans on staying atop the Eastern Conference. If the Celtics hope to make a run at the championship, then they must turn from their inconsistent ways and play Celtics basketball—team basketball.

The new Celtics players have not learned that playing as a team is what gets wins. They seem to be trying to focus on doing things all themselves instead of making the extra pass.

This bad habit of theirs seems to have rubbed off on Celtics players who have been on the team the whole season.

In short, there is a lot going on in the Boston locker room, and it has been very challenging for Doc Rivers and his players.

The many distractions and challenges the Celtics are facing, coupled with the seemingly endless list of injuries they have endured (especially losing Shaq), have clearly affected Rivers' coaching style and quality.

For example, newly-acquired talent Jeff Green has seen a huge drop-off in minutes played per game since coming over from the Thunder and moving to the Celtics' bench.

Earlier this year, Green was playing an average of 37 minutes per game, but now after 19 games as a Celtic, he has only played an average of 22 minutes and 41 seconds per night.

For a team that is struggling to put points up on the scoreboard, to have this kind of a talent and not utilize it is mind-boggling.

I am not Doc Rivers and never will be the coach he is, but even I can see that clearly the Celtics need to play Green for more minutes. He is young, and now he is rested because of his recent drop-off in minutes played. It's time to get "J.G." in the lineup for the home-stretch run.

Playing with Rondo, Pierce, Allen and Garnett more often would be good for Green and Boston, because come playoff time, the Celtics will be more likely to click on all cylinders.

Shaquille O'Neal is expected to make his return to the Boston lineup on Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers, who are also headed to the playoffs. Shaq has been the missing link in the Fantastic Five.

This will be an immediate test for the Celtics, and if they can win that game in dominant fashion, they will silence many critics at least for the time being.

Winning more back-to-back games, as well as getting Green and Shaq involved in the Celtics' offense down the stretch into the playoffs, will be the determining factors as to whether Boston can return to and potentially win the 2011 NBA Finals. 

"Back-to-back is part of the NBA. It has been since I've Been in the league, so that's no excuse. Either we can quit and go home, or we can continue to get better," Kevin Garnett, after the loss to Atlanta (Yahoo Sports).


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