By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 20 2010 2:48PM
Pundits and fans outside of Boston are ready to dismiss them. Even the league's general managers doubt they can beat the Heat.
But the Celtics know how close they came to their second championship in three years less than four months ago. If someone would have put a body on Pau Gasol before he got to that offensive rebound with 28 seconds to go -- or on him on one of Gasol's other eight offensive boards -- things might have turned out differently.
The Celtics are a prideful group. Every one of their veterans stewed over that Game 7 loss all summer, and they've made it clear that it will fuel them throughout the 2010-11 season.
Doc Rivers is quick to tell you that his starting lineup has never lost a playoff series. Kevin Garnett was out when Orlando knocked off the Celtics in the 2009 conference semifinals, and Kendrick Perkins was lost in Game 6 of The Finals this past June. And indeed, despite Garnett not being fully mobile and Paul Pierce playing through a foot injury, the Celtics' starting lineup was a dominant group statistically last season.
But Perkins isn't expected back until January or February. And how effective he'll be come playoff time is obviously a question that can't be answered right now. So the Celtics compensated for Perkins' status by signing Jermaine and Shaquille O'Neal. The former is likely to start at center, with the latter coming off the bench.
And as good as their starters have been, the Celtics' bench will be just as critical to their success, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. The veteran stars of the team need to be fresh come April, but the Celtics do not want to take their foot off the gas at any point. Though they more than proved that they can flip the switch, they would rather not coast into the postseason like they did last year.
"If we want to do the things that we hope we can do, we'd like to have home-court advantage all through the playoffs," Ray Allen says. "That changes things a lot. So that requires us to make sure that we take care of business all [season]."
The upgrades to the bench will help make that possible, and they go beyond the two O'Neals. In fact, it may be the return of Delonte West that will be most critical in keeping the Celtics at the top of the standings.
Given West's off-court issues, there were obvious risks involved in signing him. And the Celtics will be without West for the first 10 games of the season, as he serves his suspension for pleading guilty to gun charges. But Doc Rivers says that there wasn't much hesitation in bring back the guard that he coached for three seasons before West was dealt to Seattle in the Allen trade.
"One thing we knew when we got him back was we were adding a great deal of toughness to our basketball team," Rivers says.
West replaces Tony Allen, who signed with the Memphis Grizzlies this summer, in the Celtics' rotation. Allen was an excellent defender, but an offensive liability in the half-court. And it was offensively where the Celtics suffered a bigger drop-off when their starters came off the floor.
"There was a lineup when Paul [Pierce] and I were both on the bench," Allen says. "It took a lot of our great shooting off the floor. Now, on our second unit, you've got Marquis [Daniels], you've got Nate [Robinson] and you've got Delonte. All three can shoot the long ball. So teams have to be honest. Even when we're not in the game, they have to play us honest. There's no reprieve."
Shaq is the guy with more than 28,000 career points, but West will be the go-to scorer on that second unit, able to take over a game at times.
"I have no problem isolating and getting my own buckets," West said. "Also, what I do best is create a shot for somebody else, and try to maximize [results] every time I touch the basketball."
Rivers believes that West not only makes the second unit more potent with his own scoring ability, but makes his new backcourt-mate more efficient as well.
"He really makes Nate better," the coach says. "Because Delonte can be the ball-handler and Nate can be your primary scorer at times, and can be free. They play off of each other extremely well. Nate is high-energy. Delonte is like the calming influence. They're really perfect for each other."
And while West isn't the defender that Tony Allen is, he is still quite capable on that end of the floor.
"Tony Allen is hands down one of the best perimeter defenders in this league," West says. "I don't back down from any challenges though. I've been in this league for seven years and just scratching my potential."
If West can provide consistent production off the bench, the Celtics can be a better team than they were last season, when they were just a possession or two short of banner No. 18.
1. STAY HEALTHY:
With five players 32 or older, games will be missed. But the Celtics need to be whole in April.
2. BENCH PRODUCTION
If the second unit can build on leads, Rivers can limit his starters' minutes and keep them fresh.
The Celtics regressed on the glass last season and got crushed on the boards in Game 7.
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LAST YEAR: 50-32, 1st in Atlantic
FINISH: Lost in NBA Finals
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
RAJON RONDO, GUARD
13.7 PPG | 4.4 RPG | 9.8 APG
As brilliant a player as Rondo has become, there's still room to grow. If he can improve his shooting, he'll be unstoppable.
RAY ALLEN, GUARD
16.3 PPG | 3.2 RPG | 2.6 APG
Allen's regular season production remained steady last year, but he was hot and cold in the playoffs.
PAUL PIERCE, FORWARD
18.3 PPG | 4.4 RPG | 3.1 APG
Pierce had the most efficient scoring season of his career last year, still the Celtics' best go-to guy down the stretch.
KEVIN GARNETT, FORWARD
14.3 PPG | 7.3 RPG | 2.7 APG
Now more than a year removed from surgery, Garnett may be as mobile as he's been since winning the title in '08.
JERMAINE O'NEAL, CENTER
13.6 PPG | 6.9 RPG | 1.3 APG
O'Neal's defense will be more critical than the points he scores. His blocked shots took a dip last season.
|Glen Davis||6-8||289||F||Has the ability to have big games off the bench or in spot starts.|
|Shaquille O'Neal||7-1||325||C||Provides another big presence, but can't bog down the offense.|
|Delonte West||6-3||180||G||Suspended for the first 10 games. Indispensable after that.|
ADDED: Jermaine O'Neal, Von Wafer, Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West
LOST: Tony Allen
JERMAINE O'NEAL, CENTER
It's kind of ironic that the team that wanted O'Neal this summer was the one that he shot 9-for-44 against in the playoffs just a couple of months earlier. But offense will not be a big issue with O'Neal in Boston. The Celtics need him to anchor their vaunted defense, both in the post and in help situations.
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