Celtics Maintaining Pace
Here we are, just past the midway point of the 2008-09 NBA season and the Celtics are on an identical pace with last year’s 66-win championship team. For the second straight campaign, at the 46-game mark the Green have 37 wins to show for.
Time to put to rest all those burning questions about the New Three’s drive and desire to repeat, wouldn’t ya say?
Sure, they have experienced peaks and valleys that are atypical of a team defending a title. The peak was an 18-game winning streak. The valley — a stretch during which they dropped seven of nine, including four straight — had many asserting the Celtics were suddenly not just mortal, but beatable.
Take a more detailed look at the circumstances surrounding both the streak and the lull and it becomes glaringly apparent that this team has few concerns going forward (other than the race with Cleveland for home court, but that’s a story for another day…). Consider the following points.
1) The Celtics tied for the fifth-longest winning streak in NBA history by winning 18 games in a row. Of the six other teams that won at least 18 straight, not a single one did so in the year of a title defense. In fact, other than the Rockets (who won 22 consecutive games last year), every other team on that list enjoyed its historic winning streak during a championship season. It’s one thing to be that dominant over an extended stretch that ultimately ends with a ring; it’s a whole other thing to do it the year after winning a ring, considering every opposing team has your name circled in red on its schedule.
2) The bad run began on Christmas Day in Los Angeles, which marked the first time the Celtics and Lakers squared off since Boston routed LA in six games in last June’s NBA Finals. The game was unequivocally a must-win for the Lakers — particularly given that they were (interestingly?) awarded home court. Another loss to the Celtics in front of a national audience would have been catastrophic for LA.
3) Naturally, playing the Lakers on Christmas was important to the Celtics as well, and after letting the game slip away in the final 90 seconds it was clear they left Tinseltown lacking their usual heightened focus. That their next three games were all on the west coast didn’t help things. A holiday swing out west is always tough. A 1-3 trip after an 18-game unbeaten streak should be chalked up as rigors of the business, not general cause for alarm.
4) When all was said and done, the Celtics were forced to play nine games in 16 days through the heart of the holiday season, bookending the Lakers game with a January 9 showdown in Cleveland, which they lost handily. Of those nine games, all but two were on the road, culminating with three games in four days at the end. Exhaustion can even set in on a warrior like Kevin Garnett.
5) Look at how they’ve responded over the two weeks since the Cavs game: Eight wins in a row with an average margin of victory over 16 points; home-and-home sweeps of Toronto and New Jersey; road victories in Miami and Orlando; a pair of beatings in Boston of the Suns and Mavericks. The recurring theme throughout those contests has been a return of the defensive intensity that defined the team in its trek to a 17th title and beyond.
Between an arduous slate of games over the holidays and a general lack of any legitimate down time thus far — the Celtics have played four more games than Cleveland, and three more than the Lakers and Magic — the champs have not been afforded any breaks from the schedule makers, which makes their current body of work all the more remarkable.
Despite not having someone locked into the role of sixth man like James Posey was last year, Doc Rivers has again managed to stay true to his promise of keeping the stars fresh for the playoffs, as Garnett (32.5 minutes per game), Paul Pierce (36.5) and Ray Allen (36.3) are all right around their average minutes from last year.
Eddie House, Leon Powe and Glen Davis have become interchangeable parts off the bench (depending on matchups), and the rotation has worked well. Additional reinforcements could also be on the way. If the Knicks can negotiate a buyout with Stephon Marbury, there’s a good chance the former All-Star will end up in green. Marbury or not, it’s widely anticipated that Danny Ainge will bring in a veteran to provide more depth and experience for the playoffs.
Bottom line is halfway through the season the Celtics are still the team to beat and will remain so for the duration. They are a cool 35-2 in games on either side of the slump and are as healthy, hungry and happy as ever.
What more can you ask for?