The first half could not have gone any better for the Boston Celtics. Pre-season questions were:
Can Rajon Rondo handle the starting point guard duties? (So far, so good.)
Will the Big Three be able to get along with each other and play as a team? (Fine from Day One.)
And can the bench contribute enough to make this team a winner? (Tony Allen, James Posey, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, and company have been up to the challenge.)
But a lot of work remains to be done for the Celtics in the second half. Danny Ainge sold out the future of this team in order to try and win a title, which was his stated goal from the day he got here. He was not interested in Eastern Conference Finals, or winning 50 games. He put this team together with the hopes of winning a title. Ainge took a lot of grief for the first three years of his tenure, but this is the year, he has been able to sit back with a wry smile, confident that he knew what he was doing all along.
With all this being said, we look ahead to the second half of this season, and examine what needs to be done to get ready for a title run come summer time.
Can the C’s keep Kevin Garnett healthy? By all indications, Kevin Garnett will return to the C’s lineup Tuesday in Denver. Strained abdominal muscle injuries can be tricky, and other athletes have missed a lot more time than nine games missed by Garnett. The C’s played very well without Garnett (7-2, five straight wins). There is no need to rush him back at all, and the C’s would be wise to only play him on Tuesday if he is 100 percent ready. Most C’s fans would sacrifice a few wins if we could guarantee that The Big Ticket is healthy down the stretch.
How important is it to be the #1 seed in the East? In my mind, very important. Anything can happen between now and then, but conventional wisdom says it will be the Pistons and Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals this year. Getting the #1 seed may get you Lebron James (who we saw last year, can win a series almost by himself) in Round Two, but it also gives you homecourt advantage throughout. The Pistons and Celtics have played 2 games, with the road team winning by 2 points, and 7 points. It is safe to say these two teams are pretty even. The two teams play again March 5th in Boston, and could be a potential tie breaker. The C’s are currently 41-9, while Detroit is 39-13. The C’s have 18 road games left, and will have to play very well in order to hold on to that #1 seed in the East.
Should Danny Ainge tweak the roster? Most of the attention surrounding roster help has been centered on point guards. Two possible additions have went elsewhere (Damon Stoudamire to San Antonio, Earl Boykins to Charlotte). Point Guards who may be moved include Jason Williams, Sam Cassell, Kyle Lowry, or Earl Watson. Cassell or Lowry would be the most likely, if any, as Watson or Williams would be virtually impossible given the salary cap. But if Cassell gets bought out by the Clippers, which he was pining for while in Boston a few weeks back, look for the C’s to make a move. He is past his prime and was never a great defender, but Cassell is a true floor general who has always played his best on the biggest stage.
Why does Brian Scalabrine play? I really have no idea. Look, I am not a Scal basher. He is what he is. If injuries or foul trouble force you to call his number, Scal can knock down a three (a decent 30% for this season), make a nice pass here or there, and play some pesky defense. Doc Rivers likes to say he does the little things, and he will occasionally do that, but he is just not as good as Leon Powe or Glen Davis. If Garnett is healthy and playing his typical 35+ minutes per game, there is no need for Scal to see the court over either of those two guys.
Can the bench continue their great play? I think they can, and perhaps get even better. Tony Allen is the key. Lately, he has regained a lot of his vertical leap and explosion to the basket. He was not doing that early in this year, as he was slowly making his way back from ACL surgery. Eddie House is susceptible when pressed, but is an adequate backup and we all knew what a great shooter he is. Leon Powe and Glen Davis have both played key roles and cemented themselves as nice role players since Garnett went down; Davis was superb against Duncan and the Spurs on national TV, while Powe had perhaps the hustle play of the year, as his putback hoop at the buzzer gave the C’s a win in Minnesota. James Posey is a great defender and continues to punish defenses when left open from long range (39.6%). The bench is probably better than initially thought and I think can even get better in these last 32 games.
A year ago, all C’s fans could do is root for losses and pray for ping pong balls. This year, the end of the year promises to be a lot more exciting. The Celtics are back.