The Celtics are now halfway through their eight game preseason schedule and, despite a 1-3 record, fans should be encouraged by what they have seen from the Green through the first four games. Join Celtics.com in a review of the Celtics preseason-to-date as we look for signs of what fans can expect from the 2005-06 Celtics when they open the regular season two weeks from now.
Celtics will have depth in the paint
With Big Al sidelined by an ankle injury, the Celtics big men knew they had to step up to replace Jefferson's rebounding and scoring ability in the paint. Through the first four games Mark Blount, Raef LaFrentz and Kendrick Perkins have responded. Blount has been one of the team's most effective players this preseason (11.8 PPG, 5.5RPG). He is shooting a blistering 59% from the floor and is providing a big lift for the team on the defensive end of the floor. LaFrentz is running the court well and has been one of the team's most efficient three-point shooters in the preseason (50% from the arc). Perkins has been a rebounding machine in the preseason, collecting a rebound every 2.5 minutes he has been on the floor. As a team the Celtics have a +4.5 rebound differential, good for fifth in the NBA this preseason. The C's will win a lot of games this season if they can continue rebounding at that rate.
Throw Jefferson back into the fold and the Celtics frontcourt will be getting a lot of attention from opposing teams this regular season. Not only do the C's have many effective big men but they all have complementary games. Jefferson commands double teams in the post, Blount has one of the most effective mid-range jump shots in the NBA, LaFrentz is an accomplished three-point shooter and Perkins is an imposing presence on the defensive end of the floor. Add in Brian Scalabrine, Ryan Gomes and Justin Reed who will all mix it up down low this season and Coach Doc Rivers has a lot of options in the frontcourt.
Pierce and Davis will lead this team
Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis have both had excellent preseasons and have played particularly well together. Pierce has been simply exceptional on the offensive end of the floor. He is averaging 19.8 PPG and is shooting 62% (80% from behind the arc) while only averaging 27 minutes. Davis has stepped up as a playmaker this preseason. He leads the Celtics in assists while still managing to be the team's second leading scorer (behind Pierce). Pierce and Davis have also made huge impacts off the court. Both Pierce and Davis came into camp in great shape and have shown the kind of focus and intensity a young team like the Celtics needs from its veterans.
Celtics can go big with Gomes and Reed
Celtics fans will get to know Justin Reed and Ryan Gomes well this season. Reed, a second year player out of Mississippi, and Gomes, a rookie out of Providence College, will both see most of their minutes as small forwards in the NBA but both also have the size and mentality to mix it up in the paint. With Reed and Gomes, Coach Rivers has two players whose rugged styles will strengthen the C's defense and rebounding as well as provide match up problems on offense. With Gomes or Reed manning the small forward spot and Ricky Davis' ability to slide over to the point (a position he has played well at this preseason), the Celtics have the versatility on their roster this season to overwhelm teams with smaller lineups.
Focus areas for the rest of the preseason
As noted earlier, the Celtics 1-3 record does not reflect the many encouraging signs from the team this preseason. However, there are areas of concern the team will focus on the rest of this preseason and should improve in over the final four games.
The team has been bitten by the injury bug with Jefferson, Tony Allen, Marcus Banks and Delonte West all missing time due to injury. Injuries are particularly frustrating for a team like the Celtics as all the new players on the team need time to gel and Coach Rivers needs to experiment with lineups. Things are looking up, however, as Jefferson returned to practice Thursday and West seems to have fully recovered from his ankle injury. Look for the team to develop more continuity and chemistry as players return over the rest of the preseason.
Protecting the basketball and pushing the basketball down the floor are two priorities for Coach Rivers as he prepares his team for the regular season. However, the Celtics fastbreak has been inconsistent this preseason and the C's have had trouble turning the ball over (averaging 22 per game). Both these problems are a function of guys still getting comfortable playing together, Coach Rivers working through his player rotations, and youth. Look for much improvement over the next four games as the team settles into the rythym of the season, players begin to understand their roles and the young players get more game experience.
With the start of the 2005-06 regular season only two weeks away, Celtics fans should be encouraged by the potential of this basketball team. Several Celtics have had standout preseasons, key players are returning to full strength and the team continues to gel with each practice and game. This should be a very entertaining team to watch defend its Atlantic Division title from last season.