This Just In: Celtics ‘Stiem’rolling Opponents
Just what the rest of the Eastern Conference didn’t want to hear: The 2011-2012 Boston Celtics have somehow managed to play themselves into game shape and are playing their best basketball of the season! Let’s be honest, what’s making this so sweet, is that no one saw this coming. Everyone, including Boston loyalists Bill Simmons and Bob Ryan, were digging the Celtics graves halfway through the season. NBA analysts were calling for Danny Ainge to pull the trigger on a Rajon Rondo deal, while I all but decided it was time to ‘blow up’ the Big Three. Man, am I happy I’m not always right. After the trade deadline came and went, with no deals for the C’s, a switch flipped. It was almost as if Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had been purposely been playing terrible basketball to diffuse any potential interest in their services. Anyways, once the Celtics knew they would have their core intact for the rest of the season they went to work, and it started with their chemistry. Garnett trusted his coach, and teammates, by making the position switch to center and suddenly started blowing by guys again. Before the switch, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw KG getting into the paint and getting to the 5-6 foot jump-shots ‘sweet-spots’ with ease. I make this point, because the only way I can remember KG over the past 2 seasons is with a 19-foot jumper (o and that’s still there by the way). Additionally, once March came around, Pierce decided it was time to start playing like the second leading scorer in Celtics history and has been pouring in about 22 points per game since. Pierce also took home the NBA player of the week hardware from March 26- April 1st (Garnett was runner up).
When it comes down to it, with a 19-7 record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have turned their season of mediocrity into a season where they are in a three-way tie for 4th place in the East and are battling for home court advantage. What’s more impressive is that they have been beating what were previously known as heavily favored opponents. Since the beginning of March, they have taken down championship caliber teams like the Miami Heat (2x), as well as other wins over playoff contenders such as the: Knicks, Hawks, 76ers, Clippers, and Pacers.
Honestly I always thought that if the Celtics could stay healthy, they could beat any team they faced in a 7-game series; however, when asked, I confess I didn’t have much of a supporting argument other than ‘that’s what I believe.’ Currently, this team is giving me more reasons to believe than I could ever have conjured in my wildest dreams. This line of reasoning led me to the realization that its not about the shock of the Celtics making a run like this, as the postseason approaches, it is more about how the Celtics have made this run. Who would have thought that when Ray Allen went down with an ankle injury, unlikely hero Avery Bradley, who was sandwiched in-between Ainge’s garbage pile (aka- draft picks) of JR Giddens and a combination of Luke Harangody/Semith Erden, would rise up and become one of the best on-ball perimeter defenders in the league. Not only that, but all of a sudden he can hit the mid-range jump-shot, make quick back-door cuts to the basket, and run the fast break with Rondo. It took awhile, but I think Celtics fans may be thanking Danny for this pick for years to come.
On the subject of unlikely Boston heroes, how could I not mention Greg Stiemsma? The ‘Steamer’ has to be one of the most unforeseen things to happen to the NBA this season, other than Jeremy Lin, it is just too bad he isn’t getting some attention. Greg has been coming off the bench and filling the ‘backup big’ role since Jermaine O’Neal’s 12 million-dollar contract had wrist surgery, and other oft-injured free agent signee Chris Wilcox went down with a heart ailment. Not only is Stiemsma filling the role, he is doing an admirable job blocking shots, switching in the defensive schemes, and knocking down open jump shots (Somewhere Ainge is thanking Stiemsma for saving his job).
With an extremely depleted frontcourt, Celtics fans have to be holding their breaths that the team doesn’t endure any more injuries before the start of the playoffs. Earlier in the season, this worry would have been laughable as many fans would probably just be happy with making the postseason; however, it is now a very real concern. While almost nothing is for certain, the ability for the Celtics to stay healthy very well may be the remaining key factor behind what drives them forward into the later stages of April and May. One undeniable fact for now is, with 8 games remaining, the boys are making a fervent push towards the postseason and, with restored hope, we will all be here to watch to see what happens next as Boston’s roller coaster season chugs along to the apex of their regular season and beyond.