After a total of seven playoff games, we're beginning to get a sense of what the Boston Celtics are capable of down the stretch.
After sweeping the New York Knicks (after two hard-fought, overly difficult victories at TD Garden and two comparatively easy games at Madison Square Garden), the Celtics lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the vaunted Miami Heat, appearing out of sync, sluggish and flat outright old compared to the younger, higher-powered offense led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Pushed into a corner, the Celtics responded with a 97-81 victory on Saturday night with a return to Boston. Despite what looked like an extremely painful elbow injury suffered by Rajon Rondo, the Celtics outlasted Miami on the back of a 28-point, 18-rebound performance by Kevin Garnett.
This was certainly a great single game, as the Celtics finally seemed to find a rhythm at both ends of the court that was capable beating the Heat. But what about the entire playoffs? How have individual players performed up to this point?
Let's take a look at grades for each Celtics player through the playoffs so far.
*This slideshow will only cover the first seven preseason games; it does not include Game 4 due to time constraints in writing this article.
Averaging 21.1 PPG through seven postseason games, Paul Pierce is, as always, an integral part of this team. He's shooting .457 from the field and .500 from behind the arc, and despite having two subpar games (one against New York and another against Miami, scoring only 13 points in each game), he's bounced back nicely, racking up 27 points in Game 3 against Miami, and had the hot hand in Game 3 against New York, scoring 38 points in the 113-96 Boston victory.
Pierce has struggled defensively against the Heat thus far, appearing unable to guard LeBron at times, allowing him into the paint and making things more difficult for the interior defense. He's also clearly been bothered by Miami as well; he's been an altercations with both James Jones and D-Wade, likely a product of early frustration over his team's inability to stop and out-shoot the Heat.
However, he's still averaging 19.7 PPG against Miami through three games, and still knows how to create space between himself and his defender and hit the open jumper. Despite his defensive struggles, I'm giving Pierce this grade because he's such a big part of this team, both on and off the floor. They wouldn't even be close to this point without him.
Kevin Garnett knows that this is likely his last run at a title. At 34 years of age, he doesn't have many years left in his career, and with a potential lockout on the horizon, this year may very well be his last. After last year's playoffs, in which he was cited for a lack of explosiveness and an inability to stop Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the Finals, KG has to step up his game this time around.
So far, he has. He's averaging 16.0 PPG in the postseason (up from 14.9 during the regular season) and 11.0 RPG (up from 8.9 during the regular season). This is extremely important, since he's the anchor of the Celtics' interior defense, and his ability to crash the boards and make the outlet pass really helps the transition offense.
KG exploded for 28 points and 18 rebounds in Game 3 against Miami, showing that he can still be the big man he was in years past, even if it's only in spurts. After a sluggish Game 1 in Miami (six points, eight rebounds), he's finding his form as the series (and the playoffs). He came up big in the series-clincher against the Knicks (26 points, 10 rebounds), and he needs to continue to come up big against the Heat.
The good time keep on rolling for Ray Allen. Even in advancing age, he's shooting as well as he's ever shot, averaging 19.3 PPG in the postseason (again, much like Paul Pierce and KG, he's improved from the regular season, up from 16.5), and is shooting .541 from the field and a whopping .610 from beyond the arc.
He's the best pure shooter the Celtics have, and he's risen to the challenge of the playoffs. The Knicks and Heat are two excellent shooting teams, and the Celtics have had to effectively out-duel these teams in order to challenge and beat them. Ray Allen has to lead the team when it comes to outside shooting, and it seems increasingly true that so shoots Ray Allen, so shoots the Boston Celtics.
By stepping up his game, Ray is challenging the rest of the team to do the same. So far, he's showing he can still shoot like the old days. Despite two straight less-than-stellar games, I think he'll have a much bigger Game 4, hopefully more akin to his consistently solid performance in the four games against the Knicks.
Shoot on, shooter.
Much of the Celtics' offensive burden naturally falls on Rajon Rondo. After a regular season that saw Rondo establish himself as one of the league's premier point guards and Facilitator-in-Chief of the Boston Celtics, averaging 11.2 APG over the course of the season.
Statistically speaking, the playoffs have been no different. Rondo's averaging 15.7 PPG through seven games (10.6 in the regular season) and about the same number of assists (11.1 in the postseason). Much of this boost comes from the four games in the Knicks, in which Rondo averaged 12.0 APG and and 19.0 PPG, including a 30-point performance in Game 2, and a 21-point, 12-assist Game 4.
The series against the Miami Heat hasn't been so kind. After an absolutely disastrous Game 1, he bounced back with a 20-point, 12-assist Game 2, although the Celtics still came up short. The Heat have greatly improved defensively, and it showed through the first two games. Rondo had a very difficult time creating ball movement, and that in turn slowed down the offense and limited scoring. The Heat were able to exploit this and convert the added pressure into points.
Rondo appeared visibly frustrated at times, and although not lackadaisical, he seemed discouraged and slow. He turned around Game 3, however, and despite a dislocated elbow, he played through the pain and finished with 11 assists.
I know he's hurt, but he has to find a way to be more consistent and get the ball moving more efficiently if the Celtics are going to win this series.
The fact that he's healthy and contributing somewhat is a miracle in and of itself. After playing only 24 regular season games due to a myriad of injuries, and is only now beginning to get back into the full swing of playoff basketball. His number haven't been spectacular, averaging 5.9 PPG and 4.6 RPG in the postseason, not much better than the regular season.
On the positive side, it's another healthy body for the Celtics to use. He certainly aids the interior defense if he can move quicker than he has been lately. At the very least, he's another body for LeBron and D-Wade to drive through. He can slow down movement through the paint on defense, and hopefully he can contribute more on offense as well.
If what he's contributed thus far is all he can do, then I view this acquisition as a huge disappointment. But who knows? Maybe he'll step it up for the next few games. But then again, it's the NBA. He could very easily wind up in business-casual attire next to the second string again.
Glen, Glen, Glen. The man who some said that could contend for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, the man who showed all that heart and determination, all that fierce intensity. The man who stepped into the shoes of Kevin Garnett and kept this team alive in 2009.
What the heck happened?
After a regular season that saw Big Baby showcase his prowess in the paint and firmly establish himself as one of the first players off the bench who could play solid minutes, he's dropped off by a lot in the playoffs. Because of his lackluster play, which despite a sizable number of minutes results in only a handful of points, it seems as if the entire bench is affected, putting more pressure on the starting five and allowing opponents to push the Celtics to the brink.
It's a shame, really. If Glen Davis could have done more from the outset of the postseason and established a rhythm, then maybe the Celtics wouldn't be down 2-1 against Miami, they certainly wouldn't have had as much trouble in the first two games against the Knicks, and they'd have another weapon in the paint. But, as it stands, Big Baby continues to struggle, all while the competition grows tougher.
When the Celtics traded away Kendrick Perkins in exchange for Jeff Green, they were hoping to gain another shooter to go up against the likes of the Knicks, Heat and Bulls. The thinking behind the trade was likely that the Celtics could afford to lose a section of their interior defense in Perk if it translated into an extra scorer.
So far, this trade seems like a real bust.
Green is averaging 7.1 PPG and 2.9 RPG through seven postseason games, and in a continuation of the regular season after his acquisition by Boston, he has struggled mightily to find his place on the team. After being a consistent 15-a-game scorer in Oklahoma City, he's been reduced to more than seven or eight points a game most of the time.
At times, it seems he finds a rhythm, getting out on the wing and taking open shots. He even sinks a few. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, he just seems lost. He, along with the rest of the fanbase, can't seem to figure out what he's supposed to do. Run? Pass? Play defense? Run around?
As always, let's hope he steps up. But that doesn't appear likely, at least based on the lack of improved play.
The return of Delonte West to Boston has certainly been an interesting one.
After serving a 10-game suspension related to weapons charges at the beginning of the season, he proceeded to get into an altercation with teammate Von Wafer at practice. Once that was resolved, he broke his wrist and was out for several more weeks.
Now he's back, and he's climbing his back into the rotation. After a quiet series against the Knicks, he's come into his own as a back-up to Rajon Rondo, getting decent minutes (22.0 MPG) against the Heat, and is averaging 10.3 PPG. Sure, he's not Rajon Rondo, but he can shoot a decent jump-shot and plays solid defense.
With Rajon Rondo hurt, Delonte needs to establish himself as Rondo's backup, and really play on the level of the starting lineup.
I have very little, if anything at all, to say about these guys. By "these guys," I mean Shaquille O'Neal, Nenad Krstic, Sasha Pavolvic, Von Wafer, Carlos Arroyo and Troy Murphy. You know, the guys who warm the bench for most of the game, and when they do play, they get garbage minutes.
They get an "incomplete" simply because of the fact that they rarely, if ever, play. The Celtics have yet to be in a position where these guys would even get a chance to hit the floor. So I might as well not even give them a grade.
I'll quickly address Game 4 between the Celtics and the Heat here.
Monday night's 98-90 overtime victory by Miami puts Boston in a deep hole, with the Celtics now down three games to one for the first time in the Big Three era. Sloppy play at the end of regulation, including a botched last-second shot by Paul Pierce and an absolutely abysmal five minutes of overtime, ultimately did the Celtics in.
It doesn't help that Kevin Garnett finished with five points and shot 1-for-10 from the field. It also doesn't help that Miami's Big Three shot 28 free throws by themselves, while the entire Celtics team shot 29 free throws. And of course, there's that whole problem of Rajon Rondo's elbow.
I hate to say it, but I just can't see the Celtics coming back from 3-1 against a younger, quicker and more athletic Heat. LeBron and D-Wade have had an unbelievable series, and the Celtics have looked old and tired for almost the entire series.
Regardless, Monday night's was a fantastic game to watch. I had the pleasure of being there in person, and despite the very imminent end of this era of the Boston Celtics, TD Garden was as intense as ever, cheering and hooping and hollering until the very end. Certainly the most passionate fans in the NBA.
Keep on keepin' on, Celtics.