Stuck apartment shopping yesterday, I missed a chunk of the Celtics game but watching the tape this morning, I am left with one thought …. Let’s get these frigging playoffs started soon. Because with the exception of not having Delonte West available and Kendrick Perkins still a few weeks away from normalcy, the Celtics are ready to do some damage. And I can’t wait. In fact, I am probalby nore excited for this season’s playoffs than I have been since 1987.
Unless you have paid close attention, you might not realize that the Celts have put together a pretty impressive resume this season. A record of 36-11 tells you something has been working. But truthfully, the record doesn’t’ tell the whole story and that is because outside of some one-off stinkers, this club is rolling along, regularly beating the teams it will need to beat if it is to win its 18th world championship.
There are already two wins over Lebron on the ledger. On top of that, there are a couple of home wins over San Antonio and Orlando. There is also a win over Chicago and another over Oklahoma City. And finally, the Celts capped it off yesterday by adding a road win over LA. That is pretty heady stuff. And it is a fair departure from a year ago when the club really struggled to post Ws over the league’s best.
No doubt, there have been some hiccups along the way. A loss on the second night of the season at Cleveland now seems almost inconceivable as the Cavs are riding a thirty game bender that might never end. The Christmas Day 4Q meltdown in Orlando was hardly exemplary. Nor was the mess last Friday night in Phoenix. And losing to OKC sans Durant is not something that will make the Celtics year-end biography. But given the length of the NBA season, this team’s health and the malaise that affects older teams, these transgressions can be easily tolerated. Plus, these stumbles are rarely coming after off-days and last I checked, there are no back-to-backs in May and June.
And that leads me to the confidence I have in this club. Now healthy, it is clear that this is a better club then the one that got passed at the tape last season. KG is far healthier and that alone would have been the difference in game seven a season ago. Think about it. The big ticket had THREE defensive rebounds in that game. Yesterday, he had twelve. Split the difference and the Celts would be defending a championship this season.
Beyond that, Paul Pierce is having an OUTSTANDING season, particularly shooting the ball. Ray Allen is having his best season as a Celtic, four years into an experiment that I am sure Seattle/OKC thought would be over in three. Adding Shaq has been a positive, albeit more in the locker room than on the court. Big Baby has taken the additional work thrown his way and run with it. And Rondo has done his thing, which is probably not worth the acclaim he has received but it should be noted that RR is still producing at near-elite levels. He’s NOT one of the leagues three best point guards but being number four (or five) in today’s class ins’t half bad.
All told, the team is clicking in a big way. Second in defensive efficiency, boosted greatly by KG’s better health. First in the league in “effective shooting percentage, helped along by super-high numbers from Pierce and Allen. And sixth in the league in turnover “rate” differential, despite a minor uptick from Rondo. Add it all together and you have a pretty impressive club even if the ranking formula set up by ESPN’s John Hollinger doesn’t always agree.
So good things are happening with the Cs. And that was clearly on display yesterday as they had far too much for the Lakers in the second half. Now the Lakers have an excuse and one the Celts played last year. And that is …… teams often have trouble keeping their focus after enjoying so much success. The Celts proved last season that teams can flip the switch come May and I am sure the Lakers are expecting to do as much this season.
That said, I wish the playoffs started in February because the Celts are already playing with the switch on. Better to take advantage of that power now than run the risk that the voltage is cut back by an injury. I’ve always said the NBA season is too long by 18 games. This year, I’d just assume that they cut it by 28.