Boston Celtics: Is This Kevin Garnett and Co.'s Best Shot at Another NBA Title?
The Boston Celtics have played arguably the best basketball of any team, winning 38 of their first 51 games this season. The team has won in spite of countless injuries along the way.
Seeking their third NBA Finals appearance in four years, the Celtics are playing with efficiency and making noise against the league’s best teams.
This season is also the second to last season that the “Big Three” are guaranteed to be suited up together in green. Both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have contracts that expire after the 2011-2012 season.
Join B/R and myself in going through the 10 reasons why this season may be the Celtics’ best chance at an NBA title.
No. 10: With Injury Comes Greater Depth off the Bench
Injuries have been the biggest weakness for the East's best team this season.
Newly acquired veteran Jermaine O'Neal has played in a mere 17 games this season. Delonte West, who was predicted to play significant minutes behind Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen in the backcourt, has played in just five after fracturing his wrist.
Even the starters have taken a hit, as the Celtics have started 34 games without their full starting five, not including Kendrick Perkins, who has missed the entire season. Shaquille O'Neal leads the way with 14 games missed, Kevin Garnett has missed nine and Rajon Rondo was hurt for 11.
Most recently, in the second quarter of last night's victory over Orlando, Marquis Daniels collided into the chest of Gilbert Arenas bruising his spinal cord. He is listed as out for one to two months.
In spite of the plethora of injuries suffered by the team, the Celtics sit atop the Eastern Conference at 38-13, turning heads across the league. When it comes to getting production from players outside the starting five, the Celtics are among the best in the business.
Glen "Big Baby" Davis has played key minutes in place of the injured O'Neals and Garnett, averaging over 30 minutes of play in December and January. This mark is 13 minutes more than the 17 per game Davis averaged in the 2009-2010 season.
They also boast versatility, with options between Perkins and Shaq off the bench at center. Once Delonte West returns to action, the Celtics also boast scoring options in both West and Robinson.
Marquis Daniels and Von Wafer have been seeing a good amount of playing time as of late, making strides in gaining experience before the postseason, although Daniels will be out the next month or so with his spinal injury.
No. 9: There's a Fight in The Big Ticket: Kevin Garnett Is Healthy
This season, unlike any other since the Celtics' 2007-2008 title run, Kevin Garnett is back and playing his best basketball on both ends of the floor.
Since winning the championship two seasons ago, Garnett has not been able to fully recover from his knee season that he would sustain the following season. He missed the entire 2009 playoffs that year. In 2010's postseason he nearly helped the Celtics clinch a second title in three years, losing in Game 7 in Los Angeles.
Yet, that Garnett of last postseason was not the same Garnett in years past. His surgically repaired knee was taking its toll on him, as his lift in his shot and ability to rebound the basketball were evident throughout the season.
This season Garnett has shown improved help, missing just nine games to a muscle injury sustained in his calf and has missed no games in spite of his knee.
His 8.8 rebounds per game are his best since the 2007-2008 season, where Garnett averaged 9.2 a contest. Garnett is also shooting a career-best 84 percent from the foul line while also shooting 53 percent from the field, also tied for his career-best.
Equally important, the 2007-2008 Defensive Player of the Year has the Celtics doing what they do best, as the C's boast the No. 1 defense in the NBA.
No. 8: Next Year's Free Agent Class
According to the Boston Herald, Perkins recently turned down a contract extension offer from the C's that would pay him just under $30 million for four seasons. This season Perkins is making just over $4.6 million (ESPN).
The Celtics will feature a total of five free agents after this season. These include Von Wafer, Delonte West, Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels. Davis and Daniels have been two of the better Celtics off the bench in the last season, as the Celtics will more than likely try to sign both.
Despite still being under contract, players like Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal are also questionable returns, considering their age and injuries suffered this season.
This season the Celtics boast depth and experience, but given the massive free agent class, that possibly won't be the case for long.
No. 7: Inexperience Looms Large in South Beach: Miami Heat Soon To Shine
Since then, the team has found its rhythm, winning 28 of its last 34 games. The Heat are currently winners of their last six.
With the three-headed monster in Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James yet to play a full season with each other, the Celtics know they carry greater experience with them going into the postseason.
Considering the Heat's lack of experience in the playoffs together, and the recent success against the Heat so far, the Celtics will more likely than not edge out the Heat in a seven-game series. Yet as the team grows more each year as a unit, it will be harder for the aging, veteran ball club in Boston to keep up with the young talents in Miami.
While the Heat are a new, inexperienced team, it would be in the Celtics' best interest to take advantage.
No. 6: The Truth Is Back: Paul Pierce Picking Up His Game
When Paul Pierce is doing his usual fist-pump to the crowd, it can be deemed that things are going well in Beantown for the Cs.
When one thinks Boston Celtics, Pierce is usually the first player to come to mind. This season in particular, Pierce has played arguably as well as he has since the acquisition of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
His 18.9 points per game to lead the team is nearly a point per game up from last season. Pierce has also had improved shot selection on the year, shooting a career-high 50.8 percent from the field. Beyond the arch he has also made a statement, shooting over 40 percent for the second year in a row.
Last season, Pierce missed 11 games due to injury, while this season he is yet to miss a game. Pierce has put a hard-working offseason to good use, helping keep an injured Celtics team atop the Eastern Conference through 50 games.
Pierce—along with Garnett, Rondo and Ray Allen—was selected to this year's Eastern Conference All-Star team.
No. 5: The Year 2013 Is Nearing
The year 2013 is one that most Celtics fans are probably not anticipating, for two of the big three will have expired contracts.
Without question, it will be a huge gap to fill, considering they may likely finish their careers after their contracts are up. Garnett and Allen may re-sign to one-year deals, but more than likely that will be the last time the three suit up in green again.
With players like Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, there are players that will fill the voids, but undoubtedly filling Allen and Garnett's shoes will be much too difficult a task.
The "Big Three" will look to make a statement this postseason, as they are playing their best basketball together since the championship season in 2007-2008.
No. 4: Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen: A Backcourt Among the NBA's Elite
Rajon Rondo is having the season of his career, making a name for himself as one of the league's best at the point guard position.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Rondo is averaging 12.4 assists per game this season, with Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash a distant second with 11 a game. If Rondo sustains this average, it would be the highest single-season average since Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton put up 12.6 a contest in the 1993-1994 season. It would make for the 14th-best average ever in a season.
His 51 percent shooting is also a career-best.
Rondo has been getting it done on the defensive end as well, averaging a second-best mark of 2.44 a game, trailing Hornets All-Star Chris Paul with 2.52 a game.
Ray Allen has been hot as well this season, putting up at least 20 points in four of his last five games. With two three-pointers made tonight in Charlotte, Allen is now just one three-pointer away from tying Reggie Miller's all-time record for most threes made. Thursday in Los Angeles, Allen will look to put himself as No. 1 in the record books.
This season Allen is shooting a career-high 50.6 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from beyond the arch. Despite his aging, Allen continued to get it done for the C's.
Allen and Rondo have been getting it done, to say the least. The two will join Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in this month's All-Star Game.
No. 3: The Doctors Orders May Not Be Prescribed Much Longer
When it comes to getting the job done, in his tenure with Boston head coach Doc Rivers has proven he can win basketball games to say the least.
After his coaching job in Orlando, he took a year off announcing before becoming the head coach of the Boston Celtics in 2004, and he has been a proven winner. His 317 wins as a Celtics coach is the third-most in Celtics history, trailing Celtic great Tommy Heinsohn (427).
In his seventh season with the team, Rivers has helped the Celtics to three straight 50-win seasons and a 40-31 postseason record. Twice in three seasons, the team has made the NBA Finals, and in all three of those years, the C's have made the conference finals.
With no contract extensions agreed to so far, his return to coaching the Celtics next year is up in the air. He has made it clear that he wants to spend more time as a father, and will likely take a break from coaching soon.
A recent rumor has Perkins and Rivers going to Miami, although that would seem to be quite the stretch.
No. 2: The Best Team in the East by the Numbers
The Boston Celtics have proven to be the best team in the East through the first 50 games of the season, literally.
Their 38-13 record has them sitting one game ahead of the Miami Heat. The Heat are slowly creeping up on Boston, regaining momentum yet again winning their last six games. The Celtics currently hold an 11.5-game lead over the New York Knicks (26-24).
On both ends of the floor, the Celtics have been getting the job done. Offensively they average a league-leading 24.5 assists a game, with 12.4 of them coming from All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Their +7.1 point differential is second in the league to the Miami Heat's +7.8 a game.
Defensively the call has been answered as well, as they are ranked as the No. 1 defense in the NBA. The Celtics have allowed a league-best 91.5 points per game through 51 games.
Another key component has been their ability to get it done against the league's best, going 6-1 against the Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.
No. 1: The League's Best Defense
Since Executive Director of Basketball Operations and GM Danny Ainge assembled this veteran Boston Celtics ball club in 2007, the team has defined itself by one thing: defense.
Statistically, the Celtics are have put up their best numbers since the era of the "Big Three." The 91.5 points allowed per game this season is the best in the league, and they are third-best in defensive field-goal percentage at 43.7 percent.
According to ESPN.com writer Chris Forsberg, San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich agrees.
"We're a significant notch below the big boys, and, of course, Boston being one of the big boys," Popovich said. "Boston [was] third in defensive field goal percentage.Those are the kind of stats we used to have defensively."
These league-leading numbers on the defensive end have been done within a system of team defense, in that players who step in the lineup make sure to make the extra efforts and necessary help plays.
With the Boston Celtics facing countless injuries this season, it has undoubtedly been a team effort in sustaining the league's No. 1 defense.