Celtics Forming Identity
February 5, 2012 1 Comment
The Boston Celtics began the 2012 NBA campaign with their worst start of any season since forming the “the big three” and things looked very shaky going forward with a 5-9 record. There were rumblings of breaking up the future Hall of Famers and starting from scratch. The Celtics went from having a team that was like family that played together by their “guiding principle” ‘Ubuntu’, to having a team filled with a bunch of guys who’d never played together before and who essentially felt like roster fillers to play alongside the “The Big Three” while they gave it their last try.
This past offseason the Celtics added eight new players to a team that was already dealing with the sudden and scary news that Jeff Green, who was supposed to be the anchor of the C’s second unit, was lost for the entire season due to heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Having the season cut short due to the lockout was an added obstacle and something that every team had to deal with, but for the Celtics it made things even tougher. Smart and motivated players who worked out, were able to stay in shape during the lockout, while others assumed that the entire NBA season was lost, ditched the gym for the couch and created a season of their own on Xbox, leaving themselves out of game shape and vulnerable to injuries.
The combination of introducing out of shape players and new teammates to one another, while not having a full training camp or nearly enough preparation time together, proved to be a challenge. The Celtics are at their best when they are clicking as a defensive unit, something they couldn’t accomplish quickly enough with all the new faces. Going against established teams, it probably wasn’t fair to expect the Celtics to perform at a very high level and Paul Pierce’ injured heel to start the season only made matters worse. The defending champion Mavericks are another example of a team that had to deal with player movement and it affected their play as well. It took both teams a month to do so, but it seems that they are now heading in the right direction.
The Celtics second unit has turned itself into a “hustle and defend” unit. Avery Bradley can at times suffocate opposing guards, sometimes picking up the pressure before half court and leaving little time on the shot clock for the opposing team to set up and run a play. You can see the frustration boil over on opposing players faces and through their body language. Watch this clip of the Celtics 2nd unit defense and Avery Bradley getting under Demar Derozan’s skin.
Over their last nine games, the Celtics are holding opponents to just 38% shooting from the field, 25% from 3-point range and 79.3 PPG. They are 7-2 during this stretch and they are doing it without Rajon Rondo who injured his wrist against Toronto on January 18th, as well as Ray Allen who missed three games during this stretch with a jammed ankle. It’s an encouraging sign that the Celtics were able to battle through injuries and have bench players like rookie E’twaun Moore, Sasha Pavlovic and Avery Bradley step up. It seems that the Celtics are finally building some chemistry and understanding their respective roles on the team. With a dominant 100-64 home win over the Raptors, the Celtics moved to 11-10, good for second in the Atlantic division and seventh in the Eastern Conference standings. This is only the second time this whole season that the Celtics are above .500. It’s not what was expected, but at least the C’s are finally becoming a team.
That being said, the C’s still have plenty of issues they need to work out. They haven’t been able to hold onto big leads or close out quarters well. They have yet to play a complete 48 minute game and they haven’t shown that they can consistently compete against the NBA’s elite teams. The Celtics are in the midst of a home stand and have six of their next seven games at TD Garden. They need to use this stretch of games as a way of catapulting themselves back into eastern conference relevance. They play the Knicks, Grizzlies, Bobcats and LA Lakers (two road wins all season) – All winnable games. The real tests will come right before the All-Star break when the Celtics go on the road to face Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, and OKC and then again shortly after the All-Star break, when the Celtics go out west on March 11th to face the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Kings and Nuggets, only to turn around and head east to face Atlanta, Milwaukee and a strong 76ers team all on the road, not seeing the parquet floor again until March 25th.
Injuries are always bad, but Rondo’s wrist injury may have been a blessing in disguise. It allowed the bench players to get increased minutes and to get comfortable with one another out on the court. It forced Doc Rivers to mix and match the lineups, having everyone play together and establishing chemistry. Most importantly, it gave the players and coaches the confidence to know that they can be relied on.
At the conclusion of this difficult road trip, the Celtics will have already played 47 games with only 19 to go. This difficult stretch for the Celtics will paint a clear picture of how they will perform in the playoffs. The return of Rajon Rondo, playing with a determined Paul Pierce, combined with an added confidence and comfort level from the bench players, should boost this teams winning percentage and get them close to the level of play we are accustomed to, and hopefully no worse than a five seed in the Eastern conference. The Celtics are still far from being championship contenders but at least the 2012 Celtics are finally forming an identity.