Maybe I was wrong.
I believed that only a big-name player could help solve their defensive woes and rebounding shortcomings; they ranked No. 20 in opponent points per game and last in the league in rebounding.
I was positive that both first-round draft picks, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, were expendable. Sullinger’s production had been meager at best, while Melo was banished to the obscurity of the D-League.
I thought that after Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, the Celtics would be hard-pressed to find offense. They finished in the bottom five in bench scoring in each of the past three seasons.
Essentially, I assumed that this current Boston roster was incapable of producing results.
However, five games into the New Year, Doc Rivers and co. have proved me wrong on almost all accounts.
I’ll take my crow with a side order of fries, please.
After losing their opening game of 2013, the Celtics are riding the coattails of a season-high four-game winning streak—one in which each win has been more impressive than the last.
Excepting the addition of Avery Bradley, they have done it with the same cast of characters.
I should have known better than to doubt you, Doc.
Defense Wins Championships
It’s a mantra Boston is pretty familiar with. Especially after boasting the No. 2 defense in the league during the 2007-08 season on its way to bringing home the franchise’s 17th NBA title.
This season, it did not look like the team would reach that level.
Through their first 31 games, the Celtics had allowed opponents an average of 97.9 points per game (No. 17 in the league). They also allowed the opposition to connect on 45.8 percent of their attempts from the floor (No. 24 in the league).
During their four-game winning streak, those numbers have dropped significantly. Boston has allowed opponents 82.8 points per game on 38.1 percent shooting during that span.
Now, the team’s season totals have improved to 96.2 points per game allowed and 44.7 percent shooting allowed. They rank No. 8 and No. 15, respectively.
The return of Bradley and his aggressiveness on defense has surely helped the Celtics' cause.
However, it has been an overall team effort these past couple of games.
What Rookie Wall?
Life in the NBA has not proven all too difficult for rookies Sullinger and Melo.
In 34 minutes of action, Sullinger recorded 12 points, 16 rebounds (five offensive), three assists, a steal and a block. It was easily his best performance of the season.
In fact, his 16 rebounds were not only a team high this season, but it also serves as the most by any Celtic in regulation since Garnett’s 17 back on Dec. 3, 2010.
Talk about making a first impression.
It is one that only seems to be growing with each passing game.
Over his last nine games, Sullinger has averaged 9.1 points and 7.9 rebounds in 24.9 minutes a night. That includes five games where he has scored in double-digits.
Then there is the fact that Boston seems to play best when he is on the floor.
Sullinger currently leads the team in plus/minus with a total of plus-66. That’s 22 better than the next closest Celtic (Garnett).
If he keeps this up, it won’t be long before the rookie finds himself in the Boston starting lineup.
On the other hand, Melo has found success in the D-League.
Through 12 games for the Maine Red Claws, the 22-year-old is averaging 10.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game in 26.8 minutes a night.
But his true potential has only began to shine through over his last couple of games.
On Dec. 22, Melo took the league by storm, recording an incredible triple-double (15 PTS, 16 REBS and 14 BLKS). Four days later, he followed that up with another monster effort, dropping 32 points along with nine rebounds and nine blocks.
Over his last four games, Melo has averaged 18.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.5 blocks per game in 35.3 minutes a night.
There does not seem to be any obstacle standing in his way of a quick return to the NBA.
That is, unless you want to count that pesky little door frame.
Oh well, that’s just Melo being Melo.
Picking Up the Slack
The Celtics’ bench has not been an area of pride for the team this season.
Boston currently ranks No. 19 in the league in bench production, averaging just 31.2 points per game.
However, over the last two games, it’s been a completely different story.
On Monday, the Celtics received 39 points from four players on the bench. Jeff Green (16 PTS, 6 REBS and 3 ASTS) and Sullinger (10 PTS, 5 REBS and 1 BLK) led the way, with Leandro Barbosa chipping in eight points.
Furthermore, the team’s top three totals in plus/minus actually all came from players in the second unit.
On Wednesday, the reserves took it to another level, outscoring the starters 47-40.
Usual suspects, Green (14 PTS and 3 REBS) and Sullinger (12 PTS, 16 REBS and 3 ASTS), led the way. Jason Terry also got in on the action, adding 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting, along with five rebounds and five assists.
Time and time again, the bench rescued Boston’s starters from a shaky performance. That includes a 17-0 run allowed to the Suns in the beginning of the third quarter.
So it came as no surprise when Rivers decided to stick with his reserves to close out the game Wednesday night.
That’s 43 points per game from their second unit over the past two games. It’s a number that would rank tops in the league.
It’s also a number that does not look to be going down anytime soon.
Summing It All Up
Sure, the Celtics haven’t completely proven me wrong. They still rank last in rebounding and No. 18 in opponent points in the paint (63.9 percent of Phoenix’s offense came via the paint on Wednesday).
But those are both issues that could be solved via a cheaper, low-risk solution. A possibility is signing a known rim protector such as Kenyon Martin to the veteran’s minimum.
GM Danny Ainge would be making a mistake if he decides to blow up the roster in favor of a big-name player such as DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Smith or Anderson Varejao.
This team is finally beginning to click on all cylinders. They’re learning to play together and take advantage of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Why put all that progress to waste with a move that does not guarantee improvement?
Boston is on a roll as it is.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of January 9, 2013
Also check out: Why Pierce Has Been Celtics' Best Player This Season
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