Jon Jacobson 1/23/2011 05:19:00 PM Tweet
The Celtics have played extremely well this season on their way to an Eastern Conference leading 33-10 record, despite getting hammered by injuries to their veteran big men. Starting center Kendrick Perkins has still not played in a game yet this season while he prepares to return in early February, while backup center Jermaine O’Neal will be out of commission until almost playoff time while he rehabs his knee. Luckily for Boston, their two other centers have stepped up big for the C’s in the meantime as a very seasoned Shaquille O’Neal has been playing like anything but a 38 year old, diving for loose balls and throwing down alley-oop passes from Rajon Rondo, while rookie Semih Erden continues to contest every shot and use his energy and size to make his presence genuinely felt in the paint where he can take control. Even when defensive leader Kevin Garnett missed nine games due to a calf injury, the Celtics still managed to win six of the games because of the sheer talent they have on the squad, and when healthy they possess what could easily be called the best starting lineup and second unit combo in the NBA. With all of the older all-star and former all-star veterans Boston has on the roster, they were guaranteed to have to combat some injuries this season, and the fact that they have been able to do this without losing their spot atop the conference means that any and all talk about trading players, sending more rookies to the D-League, or reacquiring Rasheed Wallace needs to stop now.
When healthy, this Celtics’ team is nearly unbeatable, as the starting lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, KG, and Perkins has never lost a playoff series. Their offense is incredibly versatile and can attack from any angle, while their defense plays very physical and as a unit to clamp down on offenses that revolve around only one or two scorers. Meanwhile, the offensive talent they have in their second unit can tear into opposing benches on any given night, especially when Nate Robinson and Glen Davis bring the energy that can spark huge runs for the Celtics. Barring any sudden season ending injuries, this team does not need to make any more changes to the roster, as they currently have a perfect combination of talent, leadership, and dedicated players who hustle in order to make another run to the Finals this season. Losing a game here and there doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to beat good teams in the playoffs, and last year they showed they have the ability to really turn it on and dominate in the big games that they need to win. With a record like 33-10, there is just no need for any improvement to the roster, especially if this “improvement” comes at the cost of messing up team chemistry and losing guys who are important to this team both on the court and on the sidelines.
Simply battling through these injuries with the guys they have right now makes this team stronger, as this Celtics team is stocked with players who can step up and take over a game when given the opportunity. Rookies Luke Harangody and Erden have developed into viable options who have genuinely helped Boston win some big games this season with sheer energy, tough play, and dedication to boxing out, making smart cuts, and doing all the little things right. As third or even fourth string big men when this team is healthy, these rookies will hardly touch the court in the playoffs anyway, but the energy they bring onto the court right now during these middle months is so valuable to the older veterans. These young guys will get to keep improving when players like the O’Neals, Perkins, and the Big Three are missing some games in order to stay healthy for the postseason. Not only are they learning a lot from their all-star teammates, but they’re gaining experience and now look much more comfortable on the court than they did at the start of the season. Bringing on new players to fill in for minor injuries, such as Shaq’s recent hip injury which will cost him about a week’s worth of games, will not help this team who has already shown they have the resiliency to battle through these injuries, and win the games that matter most. As for Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics have plenty of size with Perkins, the O’Neals, Erden, KG, Big Baby Davis, and Harangody, and bringing on some extra size with a washed up Sheed would not benefit Boston, especially when this size will be camped out around the three point arc for majority of the game. Sheed came up big for Boston in the playoffs last year, but they just don’t need him or his three pointers anymore as Shaq replaced him on the roster when Sheed decided to retire, and the guys they have now all control the paint far more effectively than Wallace did, while Boston has plenty of jump-shooting forwards and guards . The Celtics are working through these minor injuries much more effectively than other teams like the Bulls and Heat are, and with this much talent, leadership, tough play, and dedication, they look just about ready to dominate come playoff time.