Good Health Could Mean History for Celtics
The new NBA season is not even two weeks old, yet the Celtics have already drummed up the lion’s share of controversy so far.
To get things started, Rasheed Wallace said Boston could “definitely” make a run at the ’96 Bulls and 72 wins. He made the proclamation before having played a single game with his new squad.
Next — less than 48 hours before Opening Night, no less — Glen Davis broke his thumb punching out one of his old high school buddies. The incident occurred in the street at 4 a.m. after a night probably not spent playing backgammon.
Then, in the fourth game of the season vs. New Orleans, Rajon Rondo scrapped with Chris Paul in the second quarter before talking some smack to him after the game while Paul was in the middle of a conversation with Paul Pierce. That caused CP3 to get visibly heated and attempt to seek Rondo out for an encore. And the question became, could you blame him?
Rondo has a reputation for being a pain in the rear, to put it lightly. He earned that m.o. at Kentucky, and as everyone from Danny Ainge to Kevin Garnett to Kobe Byrant can corroborate, he’s carried it into the league. Trash-talking and contempt-breeding, but also exceptional at what he does, Rondo is pretty much a microcosm of the 2009 Celtics (particularly with Sheed on board and KG in axe-to-grind mode).
When you look up and down the roster, it’s hard not to see a team that — with good health — could make Sheed look prophetic when all is said and done. It’s also a group that will clearly not be making many friends throughout the league this year.
Judging from the first six games of the season, a few things stick out. There’s Rondo himself. The kid made a quantum leap in the playoffs last spring, emerging as the premier point guard of the postseason before the Celtics were eliminated (might that have been the essence of his parting shot for Paul the other night?). He seems to have gotten to the point in his career where he’s determined to dominate games with his passing and defense. Scarier yet, he knows he can do it (look no further than the 26 assists and four steals he piled up while taking a total of 10 shots in a pair of wins over the Cavs and Bulls).
With Rondo and a rock-solid Kendrick Perkins flanking the Big Three, the Celtics boast the best starting five in the NBA, bar none. It’s their bench, though, that will ultimately determine whether they can challenge the ’96 Bulls.
Wallace is Wallace: long and versatile, capable of carrying an offense on any given night he has his stroke. Fellow newcomer Marquis Daniels is a big and strong guard who, in addition to his scoring capabilities, is a two-fold upgrade for the team because he can run point with the second unit and allow Eddie House to move to the two-guard spot and do what he does best: fire away from the perimeter. That’s an eight-man rotation that doesn’t even take into account Davis (who’s on track to return in a month) and Shelden Williams (who’s averaged 7 and 6 getting Big Baby’s minutes).
That depth is what should help the Green overcome their only real weakness, age. It has already, in fact, as the Celtics were able to pull out a 92-90 win in Minnesota in their first of seven road back-to-backs. Playing successive nights in different cities is a tall order for guys like Garnett and Ray Allen, given their NBA odometers. But because they had dispatched of Philadelphia by 31 points the night before, Pierce (31 minutes), Allen (31) and Garnett (23) had the legs to play heavier minutes against the Wolves.
Back to Wallace for a moment. In addition to the depth he adds, an All-Star caliber player coming off the bench, his presence late in games is going to completely alter the defensive strategy opposing coaches employ against the Celtics. In the past, teams could double Garnett, who would be forced to find the open man on the perimeter. That in itself was always a tall order, given how adept Garnett is at finding shooters out of a double team.
But with Sheed on the floor in place of Perkins in crunch time, defenses are going to have play much more straight up against the C’s, who will be able to isolate KG with a trio of shooters surrounding him on the perimeter and Rondo lurking in case of a breakdown. Simply put, it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to defense the Celtics in the closing minutes of tight games.
On the other side, it’s going to be equally hard to score on Boston in close games. Through six games, the Celtics already lead the pack by a landslide in average points allowed (81.5) and are one of three teams holding opponents to 40 percent from the field.
If there is a blueprint for 72 wins, the Celtics have exhibited it thus far. And for what it’s worth, they “only” need to go 66-10 from here on out.