It's Playoff Time
One year later and the Celtics are making another run to post season play. Boston fans waited 365 days for it, and finally we'll get to see our Green make another attempt to bring banner 17 to the rafters. The 2002-03 campaign has been a long one. They've been through injuries, trades and the sale of the ball club. Broken teeth, sprained ankles, and bum knees have not deterred this team from finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference and restoring faith in another postseason run. Half of the April 2002 Celtics have been disbanded to various teams while NBA veterans have come to town with hope and determination to become part of the big show: the Boston legacy. Head Coach Jim O'Brien is going to need a little bit from everybody to bring out the best of the Celtics.
Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker are probably the most influential and recognizable athletes with the Celtics, but Eric Williams, Tony Battie, Walter McCarty and Tony Delk have pulled a lot of weight this season. E-Will, as his team recognizes him, has averaged three more points and 4.7 rebounds per game while starting in 79 games- 49 more than last year. The forward made his debut with the C's during his 1995-96 rookie year and put up almost 13 points per game over two seasons with the Green. Since his return from Denver in '99 Williams has been one of the most consistent Celtics in any situation. Now a veteran member of the Celtic team, E-Will has seen this team change over the last year. This isn't the same April that fans were surprised with last year.
"Well, it's a little different because we've got a brand new team," Williams said after Tuesday's practice. "The team we started with this season we pretty much don't have either. So with the new guys we basically evolved throughout the whole course of the season."
Too bad for the Green, they're without home court advantage for Round 1 against Indiana. The Celtics finished third in the conference last year and had 3-of-5 games, including game 5, at the FleetCenter against Philadelphia, but it'll be off to Conseco Fieldhouse this weekend for games one and two against the Pacers. Games three and four will be a great time to be home, but it's the opening games that set you up for the series.
"Last year we were third in the East," E-Will made note of. "We had a better situation and we had the home court advantage through the first round."
Not all is lost.
"Long as we're in the playoffs we're in good shape. But we were in a better place last year."
J.R. Bremer has set up an outstanding place for himself in the Boston lineup. The rookie out of St. Bonaventure came to Boston as a free agent after not being drafted last June. The point guard became the Celtics third scorer after his insertion into the lineup and was a major force in the Eastern Conference. Getting to this level has been a dream of his now fulfilled.
"That was a goal of mine to be in the NBA. I wasn't really sure after listening to a lot of people talk to me. They didn't know what position I was in but I'm glad to be here now."
His freshman campaign could be the most influential time in Bremer's career. The guard started in 41 of 64 games he played this year and logged some serious playing time. Bremer has contributed all around this season, with 8.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He led all rookies in three-point percentage, shooting 35.3 percent. At the close of the regular season, Bremer was ranked 3rd in the NBA for three point field goals per 48 minutes and 16th in assists per turnover (2.78).
Sitting on a bike, sweat still dewy from a fierce team scrimmage that just rocked the Sports Authority Training Center at Healthpoint, Bremer smiles when asked what the highlight of this season was for him.
"Hitting that three versus the Wizards to clinch our playoff birth."
Can't get any better than beating Air Jordan, to clinch a spot in the big dance.
Since January Boston has seen players come and go by trade or by ten-day contracts, and they even picked up a few veteran free agents. The Celtics welcomed long time NBA veterans Bimbo Coles and Grant long, and the return (formerly with Boston last season) of Mark Blount and Mark Bryant. Although the group hasn't logged the heaviest of playing time over the last few months, each has contributed in their own way bringing valuable experience and wisdom to the rest of the Celtics roster.
Long came to Boston in January as a free agent. The 15-year veteran has logged respectful time on the court; averaging 11 minutes per game in the 41 he's played since joining the C's. Scoring has not been his biggest contribution to the team, but his attitude on defense and experience has helped earn him a consistent spot on the floor. Long spoke for himself and the other veterans on being part of the Celtics.
"We still feel a part of the team. We have basic contributions. I think our veteran leadership kind of stands out on its own."
Sometimes it's more than just playing on the court that makes you part of the team. Helping out your fellow teammates is something you learn along the way that can be a major factor in how you contribute.
"Although we don't get significant minutes I do feel we're a very intricate part of the team for advice. We feel like we're in every game. We're always encouraging guys from the bench and while we're on the floor we're always encouraging. It takes a whole team and we always feel like we're very part of the team."
The years have been many but the playoffs have been few for several of the older players. Long and Coles have not seen playoff action in some time but it's like finishing the end of a school year as a kid. You've gotten through the hard part and now it's time to dive in and have fun with the unexpected.
"I think myself and Bimbo, speaking for myself, we haven't been in the playoffs for quite some time so I think there's a high level of optimism as far as where we're going and how far we'll go," Long said. " The excitement is at a high level for our team."
In Boston, it's always the year. Every season is going to be monumental. Every playoff birth is a chance to start all over and add to the Celtics rich history. And it's not just the fans that believe in it. The Boston spirit is contagious and has infected the players, too. Players know what they have to work on. Strengths and weakness need to be fine tuned over the next few practices, and then they'll be ready.
"Getting a lot of rest, trying to eat right. Drinking a lot of water, get my body right," is how JR will be getting ready for Indiana.
"I think the way we play on offense is a strength of ours right now. I think our weakness is consistency on the defensive end and being prepared more mentally for the game," is what E-Will thinks the team will need to do in order to be ready for the Pacers.
"I think we've got to play with a high level of intensity. Our energy has to be up," Long said, in order for Boston to be a serious contender. "I think we're all looking forward to that. We're all looking forward to getting better and making the playoff run."
So how are Boston fans going to react? Probably with nothing but the highest spirits and the biggest hearts. Banners are going up around the city and Boston is getting ready to welcome games three and four right here on Causeway St.
Now it's time to kick it into high gear, and Boston probably doesn't realize how much influence they have on the home team. Last year's playoff run had the support of thousands and the C's counted on it. Williams told Celtics.com that it's Boston that supplies that one last boost.
"The fans, that's the motivation that you need. The fans cheering for the home team no matter what. If we get down by 14, then that's when we need the fans to get us going instead of blowing it."
So get your cheer sticks and rally towels ready. It's playoff time.