Around this time last year, I had predicted rather smugly that it was over for the Boston Celtics. Off to a 5-9 start in the 66-game shortened 2011-12 NBA season, I hard predicted the worst for the Celtics, saying, “it’s hard to imagine that the Celtics will not deteriorate any further from where they stand today.”
I’d like to believe that Doc Rivers and his core of Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen took that piece personally, because immediately afterwards, the Celtics flipped the switch and went 34-18 the rest of the way to finish the season at 39-27, bagging the first place in the Atlantic Division. They even had an extended playoff run, leading Miami by 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals before losing in seven games to the eventual NBA champions.
Simply put, I was made to eat my words by an ageing, but proud Celtics franchise.
Consequently, I started this season with great belief. Ray Allen may have left for sunny Miami, but the acquisition of Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, and the return of Jeff Green from a heart-related ailment, fuelled my expectation of the franchise’s fortunes this season.
But a 14-17 start to the season after the 83-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on January 2 left me doubting the Celtics again. Yet, before I could say ‘finished’ and count them out totally, Boston are on a four-game winning streak currently, having dropped the Phoenix Suns 87-79 in their most recent outing on Wednesday night at home. And before that win against Phoenix, they beat the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, all three teams who are currently placed higher than them in the Eastern Conference standings.
So what does one make of the Celtics now? Mmm… well… it’s hard to say. They rank right at the bottom of the league in rebounding and are among the bottom half of the league in terms of their three-point shooting percentage. Their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 102.7 puts them at 22nd in the league while their defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 104.1 has them in 10th position.
Their players too have given them cause for concern. Lee and Barbosa simply haven’t delivered commensurate to potential. Green, from who much was expected this season, has been a caricature of the player who forced Danny Ainge to trade Kendrick Perkins for the Oklahoma City forward in the middle of February 2011. A similar case exists with ‘Jet’ Terry whose 10.7 PPG is his lowest season average since his first year in the league. Rajon Rondo, too, hasn’t helped matters, having been suspended twice for altercations this season.
Yet, I’d still hold out on this team a little longer. For one, every NBA team is always a single trade away from going bust to championship contender. Something similar could happen with the Cs if there is any truth to the rumours involving DeMarcus Cousins coming in from Sacramento to Boston. Also, with the return of Avery Bradley, who missed the start of the season due to surgery on both his shoulder, the Celtics are bound to become a better defensive team. They have already won four of their last five games since Bradley’s return and in just one of those four wins has their opponent (New York) managed to score more than 90 points. Also, the Celtics have a relatively easy schedule ahead of them, with nine of their next 12 games at home, and two of those road games featuring the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. In that light, they can only be headed northwards in the standings.
And so, there is no point second-guessing which way the Celtics season is headed right now. As I’ve learnt the harsh way before, it’s best to wait and watch.