Posted May 23 2010 11:21AM
BOSTON -- They haven't won a championship or sipped champagne or raised a banner or even puffed a cigar, like they did in 2008, but these Celtics are a better team.
Really? Yes, really. We can't say these Celtics will match the same result or reach the same conclusion because the 2010 journey is still in progress. But are they actually a better team, in the strictest sense of the definition? Yes. Better. Taken as a whole.
They haven't leaned as heavily on the Big Three in these playoffs, definitely not against Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals, which has become a surprise runaway. Remember, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all had bald tires in '08 because the Celtics rode them so much.
Now? Not so much. The Celtics go seven deep now. Anyway, there is no Big Three anymore. It's up to four. Rajon Rondo is a member of the club. And then Kendrick Perkins is playing defense just as good if not better than Garnett against Dwight Howard. Big Baby is putting a body on Howard, too, while showing a trusty 15-foot jump shot and some Astaire footwork around the basket. And Rasheed Wallace is dropping 3-pointers and some D. And every now and then, Tony Allen will make a play, on one end of the court or the other.
Better team. Defense. Offense. Better.
The Celtics are deeper and more diverse, because of the growth of trust and respect between the Big Three and The Other Guys. In '08, the ball and the responsibility usually fell to the core group. Now, everything is shared. It's truly a team.
"These guys are coming through," Pierce said about teammates not named Pierce, Garnett or Allen. "You look up after the game and you've got five or six guys with double figures in scoring. What you don't see is somebody with 30 points. It's really neat in the way we're taking the pressure off one another. "
The Celtics have won six straight games, and five times they had a different leading scorer. Pierce shot 4-for-13, scored 13 points in one game. Celtics won. Allen had two baskets in a game. Celtics won. KG four baskets, eight points. Celtics won.
"We have single guys who can go off," said coach Doc Rivers, "but I never found that to be an effective way to play offense. I think it's very predictable. We had a possession (in Game 3) with eight passes with no dribble, and Kevin ended up with the shot. That's just unselfish basketball. I think they trust each other. That's good."
Defense? Same thing. Rotations are moving swiftly and surely. Help is coming whenever help is needed. Perkins goes out, Big Baby comes in, same interior defense applied. There are special props being paid to Davis, who gives 2-3 inches to Howard but is being smart with his body and his fouls.
"He's not in awe of the moment," said Rivers. "We're asking him to guard all kinds of positions. Guarding Dwight Howard and then going out and guarding Rashard Lewis in the same game is very difficult, and he's doing both."
Let's revisit '08. Pierce led Boston with 19.6 points, Allen had 18.8, KG 17.4. Rondo, still raw offensively, was next with 10. Perkins was a big body; that was his asset. The best from the bench was James Posey, who did have moments, and Eddie House, who lived and died with the 3-pointer. That's it. The Celtics were comprised of three veterans still clinging to their prime, and role players, neither of which could be counted on in big moments.
Now, 2010. Rondo is an All-Star now. But he still plays like he's hungry. His hustle play on Jason Williams in Game 3, sprinting to the ball and diving and then scoring, was typical Rondo, never forgetting how important hard work helped make up for his flaws in '08.
"That was just an incredible play," said Pierce. "It kind of reminded me of myself ... in college. When I could get down on the floor and then get right back up."
Big Baby is no longer crying after being scolded by K.G. (remember that scene?). He's earning playing time. Perkins still can't convert an offensive move without twisting himself into a knot, but the defense is there and that's all the Celtics want. Sheed made himself a target during the regular season for his uninspired play, but that's all forgotten because he's contributing.
So that's it. Better team. The Celtics don't know if the end result will be the same, but with a 3-0 lead on Orlando, and being serenaded off the floor with "Beat L.A." chants, they're about to put themselves in position to find out.
"When we began the playoffs, we knew we could beat anybody in a seven-game series," said Pierce. "Just like we did in '08."
Let them win in '10. Then we'll compare conclusions. But teams? We've already reached a conclusion about that.
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