Less than two months ago, the most successful franchise in NBA history came up only 5 points short from adding another championship banner to the already crowded Garden rafters. They played that last game without their starting center, Kendrick Perkins, who averaged 5.7 ppg throughout the Playoffs. Last season they were labelled as a team “over the hill” and “past their peak”, but they proved the doubters wrong by beating the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Orlando Magic; closing out the team with the League’s best record in the Cleveland Cavs; and by pushing the defending champion Lakers to the brink of defeat. Is this the year the Boston Celtics finally do crest that hill and begin their descent? Read more to find out.
The Big One, the Medium Three and a Bunch of Combustible Role Players
2009/10 was the year of the Big Four, as Rajon Rondo took his game to the next level and joined the conversation of the games best point guards. He set the Celtics record for steals and assists in a season. He made the All-Defensive First team. He set the highlight reels on fire with his sneaky fakes and pin-point passes while becoming recognized as one of the craftiest and intelligent floor leaders in the game today. As a young, hungry player with a natural nose for the ball and instinct for the game, expect at least the same, if not better, from Rondo this year.
The same cannot be said for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, as they celebrated another birthday and added another long playoff run to their already aging, weary bodies. The age angle was explored by many at the start of last season, with the general consensus being that The Big Three would struggle to maintain their elite levels of play after long careers with many, many miles logged. Although all three players proved that they can still compete at the highest level, it was evident that they were no longer the same players they once were. Injuries and age catch up to all athletes at some stage and KG, P Squared and Jesus Shuttlesworth will feel it this season more than ever. If you’re a glass half-full kind of person, expect solid numbers, a renewed focus on defense and a fierce hunger to grab one last ring. If you’re a glass half-empty kind of person, expect inconsistency, injuries and an inability to stay in front of younger players.
Since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen three years ago, Danny Ainge and his front office staff have used these tools as leverage to sign championship hungry role players who put the team ahead of themselves. The recent crop of additions, including Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Rasheed Wallace and now Jermaine O’Neal, do not fit this bill. With Kendrick Perkins expected to miss the start of the season with a knee injury and Rasheed Wallace mulling retirement, they will be relying on Jermaine O’Neal’s contributions to keep their heads above water. If O’Neal keeps healthy this year, and that’s a big if, his contributions will play a pivotal role in the teams success, especially after averaging 13.6 ppg and 6.9 rpg last season. The loss of defensive stopper and energy guy Tony Allen hurts, but if the ever excited Nate Robinson and Glen “Big Baby” Davis can learn to channel their exuberance and passion in to positive energy and contributions on the court, then this will remain one of the most competitive benches in the League. That’s if they don’t implode.
The Big Three will be a step slower and Doc Rivers will reduce their minutes during the regular season to conserve their bodies for a deep Playoff run. This will be off-set by larger contributions from Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis and the addition of Jermaine O’Neal will be viewed as a steal as the season progresses. They have proven skeptics wrong before and it will not surprise me if they do it again this year. I expect the Celtics to make another deep Playoff run, but struggle to see them making it all the way to the Finals for another shot at that ring.