The Boston Celtics ended the first half of the season with a buzz, winning 8 out of their last 9. What's next for our Celtics? Our panel weighs in:
1. What's your take the resurgence of this Celtics' team? (Winners or 8 out of last 9 before break)
Terry P: Well, I was totally wrong when I said the Celtics were going to fold. I am happy to see our team come together and play the best basketball of the season. Yes, our other opponents weren't so tough, but our grimy win against the Bulls on Friday is any indication on how the rest of the season will end up, sign me up. I don't know how long this will last but i am happy to be able to see this Celtics for maybe a last time.
Jun P: I'm of the opinion that it is still yet to be determined as to how good this team is. The record is nice but the strength of the schedule recently has to be taken into consideration, along with this interesting tidbit. Before the last 9 games, the Celtics were ranked 26th offensively and 7th defensively. After 9 games? The exact same. So the chance of this resurgence being fool's good is still looming, which makes it hard to define.
JZ: After failing to find reliable lineups for most of the year, Doc Rivers first found a winning formula during Boston's 6-game winning streak, which included wins over strong Eastern teams in Atlanta, New York, and Indiana. Their 6-game losing streak was painful to watch, but every single one of those games was winnable, and stage was still set for a strong second half. Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, and Jared Sullinger were coming into form, and Avery Bradley's return from injury helped bolster an improved perimeter defense. Rajon Rondo's devastating ACL tear put the season in doubt, but Boston came together and pulled off an amazing 8 and 1 run to close out the first half. Though the team will dearly miss his production during the playoffs, the silver lining of Rondo's injury was that Doc Rivers, who had been too reliant on Rondo, was forced to be more creative and involve the bench unit. Jason Terry and Jeff Green, both of whom were being forced into uncomfortable off-the-ball roles, have excelled greatly, while Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have put together. truly vintage performances. Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, and Avery Bradley seem to alternate between good and bad games, but ultimately have given the C's enough punch to win.
PBB: Inspiring. Great to see Pierce and Garnett leading the team and adapting to this new run-and-gun offense. If they want to make a run in the playoffs, another piece (or pieces) must be added in Rondos absence.
Eric: They are playing like the team that we expected at the beginning of the year and it's ironically because they don't have their best player. Are the Celtics better without Rondo? No. He's an incredible talent that will be most needed in the playoffs. The vets, KG, Pierce, Terry, are putting in way more minutes and energy than anyone would like and it'll show up in the playoffs with tired legs. Are they better without this year's version of Rondo? Yes. This was supposed to be the year Rondo took over and it was his team. Blame Doc for making that choice in changing how they play or Danny Ainge for signing players that need the ball to be successful, but most of the blame still resides with Rondo. Teams figured the Celtics out pretty quickly, give Rondo all the space and time in the world and shut down everyone else. And it worked. Rondo's biggest games this season came in loses. That's not a coincidence. He is supposed to be one of the smartest players in the league. Why couldn't he see how the team was playing was not working? Why didn't he make adjustments to get more guys involved? Rondo is also headstrong. Maybe he just didn't want to accept giving others more responsibility or trust his teammates to perform. Yes, he gets tons of assists, but those assists didn't turn into wins and the team as a whole is actually averaging more assists now without Rondo. If Rondo can (and I expect he will) turn up the defensive intensity and start playing more of a team game (like he did his first few years in green) instead of trying to be the be-all-end-all for the Celtics then this team's future will be just fine with Rondo. Ok, I'm done, no more Rondo talk this year.
2. In the spirit of Valentines Day, which Celtic player do you have a love/hate relationship with?
Terry P: Jeff Green all day! One minute I called him 6th Man of the year, then I go calling him a "bust" and he has the "worst contract in the league", to watching him play well and somewhat don't want to trade him for Josh Smith, then finally realizing trading two terrible contracts for Josh Smith is a great idea! Confused yet? Me too.
Jun P: Brandon Bass is definitely the guy I think of when I hear "love/hate". I love when Brandon Bass decides to stop thinking so much, and just go out and play. When he hustles and is aggressive, he can really impact a game. But way too often he gets in his own head and falls into a funk and just hurts the team. His maddening inconsistency this year has been a real source of annoyance, but when he is on, he's on.
JZ: For most of the season, my love-hate relationship has been with Jeff Green. His lack of rebounding and invisible moments were made all the more frustrating by his often impressive games. But lately, my love-hate relationship has been with Avery Bradley. Obviously, he's just coming back from double-shoulder surgery, but then again, most people seem to forget Green just had intensive heart-surgery. #0's D has generally been great once again, but he puts up so many horrible shooting nights (39.5% from the floor). His form looks good, but so far it's been highly inaccurate. I think Avery misses Rondo, because his best offensive stretches came when he would consistently make back-door cuts and get perfect feeds from #9. As evidenced by his 40% 3-point shooting last year, he can beat you with the J, but he usually sets that up by getting inside first. As badly as he's been shooting, I still love AB and I expect him to improve as the year goes by. This play epitomizes my experience with Bradley: he makes an absolutely boneheaded turnover, but comes up with an ungodly block on Kemba Walker. Those chase-downs are becoming a signature part of the AB experience.
PBB: Courtney Lee. I'm a big fan of Lee's game, but he hasn't played up to expectations. In my opinion, he should be involved in the offense much more while giving the playing time, or he will never get a good rhythm going as the season progresses.
Eric: The easy answer is Jeff Green, but I'm going to say Courtney Lee. I loved the Lee signing, then hated how he played most of the first half of the year and now love his defense and scoring when needed. Did you see Lee dunk on Biyombo the other night? Who didn't love that?
3. Biggest thing the Celtics need right now? A trade? A signee? Rest?
Terry P: Did the Demarcus Cousins trade rumors start up again? I think we just need rest. We have a tough schedule coming up, so the rest will really be what we need. Do NOT break up this team Danny unless he definitely gets the best deal possible. Trading KG for Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan is NOT the best idea.
Jun P: Bodies. The current three main pieces (Pierce, Terry, Garnett) are all over 30, and cannot be depended on to play at such a high level for the rest of the season. If Jeff Green continues to play better, Pierce's minutes can be cut. With Rondo and Barbosa out, the backcourt depth has been diminished. And Collins should not be playing. Terry and Garnett need some better backups, so that they can ease up a little. With 3 roster spots, Ainge has some work to do.
JZ: Danny Ainge needs to sign another Barbosa-like microwave scorer. If Lee and Bradley stay in Boston, we will still have solid perimeter defenders, so it's most important that the replacement can create his own shot. Though they are unlikely to find a player as good as The Blur, the ideal option would be a gaurd who can shoot the 3 and get out in transition. This might sound like the perfect Allen Iverson comeback, but it's more likely to be Jannero Pargo, Shelvin Mack, or even Delonte West. Danny also needs to buffer the front line with a long big-man. Hopefully, Bass can keep playing with last night's intensity, but particularly without Sully to take away second-chance shots, Boston needs to find a tall rim-protector to take pressure off KG. Again, this won't be a big-time player, but a guy like Timofey Mozgov could pay significant dividends on nights when Garnett tires out against a tall opposing front-court.
PBB: For Garnett and Pierce - Rest, obviously. Both have been logging in big minutes in the past few games (cough*, Bobcats?!) - a game the C's should've handled. But Ainge should definitely look to add at least one big and/or another guard to our thin back court via trade or a signing.
Eric: Rest will be nice, but the Celtics need bodies. A trade just isn't feasible unless Danny Ainge goes nuclear and completely dismantles the team. That makes even less sense because the Celtics look poised to make a decent playoff run and he'd be getting pennies on the dollar in any move. Ainge should bring in a couple free agents, a big and a guard, to give the vets a spell so they can try to save some energy for the playoffs. The Maine Red Claws have five D-League all-stars on their team. None of them could contribute in some way? The who doesn't necessarily matter because everyone knows Doc goes to short rotations come the postseason, just get some guys who can lessen the burden on the old men.
4. What is your opinion on KG's words "This is my last All-star Game"?
Terry P: I hope he just realizes that he is old and probably won't get the nod again. Kevin Garnett, if you retire on me this summer, I will be extremely upset. Kevin Garentt has been a staple in my generation of playing in the NBA. Being 23, I grew up watching him ever since I started becoming a fan. Don't let this be your final season KG!
Jun P: I took it as a subtle reference to his retirement. And I really wish I am wrong. But when he said "y'all don't know what I know", I took it to mean that he knows his body can't keep up anymore. Maybe I am overreacting, and he is honestly just talking about not making more all-star games, but KG is rarely so blunt. He always seems to have something odd within his words, and considering the amount of stress he has taken this season, a retirement would not be surprising.
JZ: KG's cryptic words only complicate Danny Ainge's dilemma. Hopefully, The Big Ticket was merely savoring the moment and acknowledging that he is unlikely to make another All-Star team (though I wouldn't be surprised if he did). If KG and Pierce are willing to play at least one more season, I think Danny should keep them, both for their talent and meaning to the Boston faithful. However, if Garnett is seriously considering retirement, you have to try to trade the guy. Though we can make another exciting playoff run, our chances of actually winning it all are slim, and you just can't let an All-Star starter walk away for nothing. Look at Denver or Utah, by trading away stars who were probably leaving anyways, they shortened their rebuilding window by several years. All that being said, Kevin Garnett is still my favorite player in the NBA, and I certainly hope he stays a CELTIC FOR LIFE!
PBB: I REALLY don't want KG to retire after this season. His numbers have been consistent over the past seasons since his knee injury. Obviously he has lost some athleticism, but he should definitely make ONE MORE run in Boston (feels like we've been saying that forever).
Eric: Kevin Garnett isn't one to mince words. He could be saying this because of all the anger and confusion analysts and former players spouted off against him when he was voted a starter and the odds of him getting voted in again next year could be slim. But, as much as this pains me to type, Garnett is talking about retirement. He is the ultimate competitor and teammate. It would kill him if he felt like his game was hurting the team. We can all see he has plenty of game left, but if it got to the point where clowns like Joakim Noah were absolutely dominating him, it would kill his spirit (and mine). His game is slipping and remember the Celtics had to beg to get the Big Ticket to even come back this year. He wants to go out on a semi-high note. Nothing wrong with that.
5. Sum up the first half of the Boston Celtic's season.
Terry P: A roller-coaster and possibly watching our last hurrah. It has been fun, disappointing, injury-prone, but also very exciting. We can still be the team we envisioned at the end of the summer. We just need to continue to play hard and play unselfish.
Jun P: Depressing. After a summer of hype, the ensuing failures really took a toll. The maddening inconsistency and the flashes of greatness completely intrigued me. But when all hopes of contention died when Rondo tore his ACL, the flashes no longer meant anything. But then this new streak came up, and it brought a lot of questions. Nobody knows how this season is going to end, but it probably won't end like most people envisioned it would end over the summer.
JZ: After sky-high preseason expectations, the Celtics failed to gel for the first 33 games of the season. Just when pundits started calling for a demolition of the roster, Boston followed a 2-8 slide with an impressive 6 game winning streak. Inexplicably, they lost 6 straight games, all of which were winnable. Despite our struggles, I was not too worried, because of our most important asset: health. Just when Celtics had managed to go half a season without any major injuries, the doors fell off as floor-leader Rajon Rondo, promising rookie Jared Sullinger, and Brazilian Microwave (no, that's not a sexual term) Leandro Barbosa went down with season ending injuries. The Celtics have stepped up mightily in their absence, as veterans KG, The Truth, and Jason Terry have all turned back the clock a few years. Jeff Green has put together an excellent string of games, and Brandon Bass seems to have awoken from his winter hibernation. Closing out the first half with an 8-1 run, The Celtics have shown that they can still mix it up in the East, but the shadow cast by crippling might be too great to overcome.
PBB: Not pretty. Roller coaster. Underachieving. To start the season we looked like a 2nd seed and a serious threat to Miami, now we are a 5th-7th seed by seasons end. The postseason is gonna be a serious battle without Rondo.
Eric: Wow. Boston came into the season as a real threat to the defending champs in Miami, played horrible, lost their best player, started playing great, lost a great rookie, kept playing great, lost another player and still sit comfortably in a playoff spot. Roller coaster doesn't even begin to explain it. As great as the Celtics are playing now, the first half of the season has been disappointing. With all the injuries and how badly they played when everyone was healthy, the only thing that has been consistent so far is the realization that this team is not going to win #18 this year.
Extra: Should Paul Pierce have been an All-star, or did you like him having a break.
Terry P: I rather have him relax, he had glimpses of his All-Star self but I don't think he was an All-star, heck I did not think Kevin Garnett should have been an All-star. We had enough Celtics in those games, let's rest up and finish the season strong.
Jun P: I'm in the camp that you can be an all-star and still rest up. I think it's debatable whether or not Pierce deserves to be on the team if there are no injuries, but if spots open up he definitely deserves one. And I would have no problem with him going, doing some courtesy events, and enjoying himself. After all this season is going to be a grind, and he needs all the relief he can get.
JZ: Paul Pierce's season has been marred by his shooting slump, (a shockingly low 41.5% from the field), but especially with the news that he's had a pinched nerve for two months, it's been another strong year for The Truth. As inefficient as he's been, he's had the best rebounding rate OF HIS CAREER, gathering 11% of all available boards. He's also been a great facilitator in Rondo's absence, coming through with 3 triple-doubles during the win streak. It would have been great for Pierce to get the all-star nod, but with the amazing talent in the East this year, the shooting percentage was a deal-breaker. Still, his game winners against the Knicks and Clippers along with his last second 3's against Milwaukee and Denver have provided the most memorable moments of the year, and watching #34 has been a pleasure.
PBB: Do I think he was snubbed? A little, but did he deserve it? No. He hasn't had an 'All Star Paul Pierce' type of season, in my opinion. His shooting numbers have been up, then down - way too inconsistent, and not Paul Pierce like. Would have been nice to see him hit a clutch 3 in the face of Kobe in the ASG though :)
Eric: Well the pinched nerve issue with Pierce makes one think rest, but it would be nice for Pierce to get another all-star selection under the belt before he hangs up the high tops. His stats support it, and even if he did get picked, its not like he'd be playing 30 minutes in the game. It's just an exhibition anyway so he won't put a ton of effort into the minutes he would play and Dwyane Wade would be on his team so he wouldn't have to worry about getting his nose broke.
If you have your own opinions, comment below please.