|Posted by GinosJungle on March 5, 2010 at 4:54 PM|
While I have never been what you could call an actual Celtics fan I don't feel that you can adequately call yourself a basketball fan without respecting the guys from Boston. Especially since they acquired the new big three and captured the 2008 NBA Championship. Here is my outside perspective of the 2009-2010 Boston Celtics.
The Celtics got off to an incredible start and I was convinced that they were more than capable of winning this years championship. The way they were defending and playing at such a high level was really amazing to watch. They looked very much like they did in 2008. The only question mark was would they be able to sustain that play over an 82 game season at their advanced age. Sadly the answer to that has been an emphatic no as the team has been riddled with injuries not just to Kevin Garnett but also to Paul Pierce. While Garnett is the team's unquestioned leader and defensive quarterback, Paul Pierce is it's heart and soul. Pierce provides such an offensive lift and has really had one of his best years shooting the basketball. Pierce also provides a lift defensively and has one of the best basketball IQ's in the league. I witnessed in this seasons first match up against the Atlanta Hawks how great of an individual defender Pierce is when healthy. Late in that game Pierce was matched on Joe Johnson and Joe couldn't get by him. Pierce was too long and contested everything. Now the Hawks went on to win that game but that was more a result of Jamal Crawford's execution down the stretch than anything Johnson did in the fourth quarter.
At that point in time Pierce looked completely healthy to me as he was capable of holding a good scorer like Johnson down at least for a quarter by himself. In the next match up with those same Hawks Pierce had a lot harder time guarding Johnson and looked slower. It appeared to me that the grind had already started settling in on him and it was still relatively early in the season. Garnett's injuries are well chronicled and watching him play now I believe he is just gutting himself through games. I am not sure if he is hurt any less this season than he was last but is just refusing to sit it out this time. He is a warrior and feels like it is his job to be on the floor. His lateral movement and explosiveness on a night to night basis just aren't there any longer. He does however still possess an excellent shooting touch and a competitiveness that is matched by few players. Just physically he is breaking down.
Throughout the injury riddled season the Celtics have still remained among the Eastern Conference elite. I believe that is a testament to the improved play of Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. I also have been pleasantly surprised by the play of Tony Allen off the bench as he brings some much needed athleticism to their line up. Rondo and Perkins have taken up some of the slack of what the team has lost with Garnett. When a team wins a championship then they learn the correct way to play the game. To the credit of Doc Rivers and his staff you have seen the Celtics plug in guys and still maintain pace with the best teams in the Eastern Conference. That is a benefit of having that championship pedigree on the team.
In my opinion I have seen two problems with the Boston Celtics this season. One undeniably is age. Ray Allen simply isn't shooting the ball as well as he has in the past. Garnett and Pierce as I mentioned earlier have been injured. Pierce in particular still plays at a high level when on the floor but the nagging injuries are starting to creep up on him as they would any player that has played as many minutes as he has over his career. Simply put the Celtics won a championship but got old overnight. The other problem I have seen is what looks like a lot of frustration. I don't want to call it chemistry issues as that has already been reported and probably doesn't have a lot of merit. I don't see how any team can go through 82 games and not have some issues pop up.
At times when I watch this team now they don't look happy with each other on the floor. Granted that has improved some since Garnett has come back. I could speculate all day that Rondo and Perkins feel under appreciated. That is all it would be though is speculation. One thing I see as a problem is the Rasheed Wallace signing. On paper that looked to be like a great move but I am not so sure. It is true that he could have really took the pressure off of Garnett had he shown the interest in doing so. Those questions were answered as soon as he showed up to the team out of shape. In my opinion you don't sign with the Boston Celtics who are looking to win a championship every year and show up out of shape. That to me is showing the ultimate disrespect to a team like the Celtics. Wallace's play hasn't been any better as he seems completely disinterested in what the team needs him to do and would rather float 25 feet away from the basket and launch jump shots. Throw in the fact that as a coach you have to handle Wallace carefully and you have a sizable problem. I think this can have a particularly bad influence on someone like Rondo whom Rivers and the veterans hold accountable for his play and his actions. I think Wallace can inflict a form of resentment throughout the team. Again that is all just speculation but it is the opinion I have formed when watching this team.
What still impresses me is that through all of the injuries and adversity they have still maintained their place amongst the top teams in the East. It was no secret that Celtics tried to upgrade around the trade deadline by shopping Ray Allen's expiring contract. That they were willing to make a bold move like that tells me they know that their window is closing rapidly and they question whether or not they have enough to win a title this season. They did end up acquiring Nate Robinson from the Knicks in exchange for Eddie House and spare parts. I have never been a big fan of House's game although he did play a major part in the Championship run but he was a consummate locker room guy and leaves big shoes for Nate to fill in that regard. Nate won't have to do as much leading because the Celtics snatched up Michael Finley yesterday fresh off his buyout from the San Antonio Spurs. I don't know what Finley has left in the tank as a player but there is no doubt that he will fit in and will be an asset in the locker room. Anytime a locker room includes Rasheed Wallace then you can never have too many positive influences.
Through all of this the possibility remains that the Celtics could get healthy and repeat their early season dominance in the playoffs. I will say that it is probably a real long shot just based on the lack of movement that Kevin Garnett has displayed. While a lot of the younger quicker teams have given the Celtics problems the game typically slows down in the playoffs and they can still be a formidable opponent. Basketball IQ alone in the playoffs will give them a chance through the first round but the going will get a lot tougher in the second. I am afraid that the sun is setting on this team. That shouldn't detract from what these players accomplished in that magical 2008 season that put the city of Boston back on top. A championship is so elusive that I would trade any future success for a championship today.
Visit Kris' Hawks blog at www.soaringdownsouth.com