Friday, February 3, 2012

Boston Back on Track

Remember when the Celtics were in the midst of that five game losing streak, a nightmarish ten day stretch over which the Green lost all their games (by an average of ten points) and saw their record through the first dozen games tumble to 4-8? When team captain Paul Pierce was ailing, the sparkplug Rajon Rondo got hurt, and the entire bench went MIA? When the elite defense that the Celts are known for looked rather, er, ordinary? When everybody and their mother was calling for Danny Ainge to blow up the Big Three and start fresh?  When the front office's idea to stick with this aging core for one more year looked like a grotesque miscalculation?  When it seemed likely that the Big Ticket, the Truth, Jesus Shuttlesworth, or any combination of the three might be shipped out of town to kick off Ainge's rebuilding procedure.  When everyone wrote them off and all hope seemed lost?

Dark times, indeed.  You remember all of them, don't you?

At the height of this mania, with all of the worries and trade rumors and losses colliding in one perfect storm, I tried to be a voice of calm and reason while many scrambled for the lifeboats or jumped ship.  I urged everyone to remain calm here. Like everyone else I was disappointed in the team's sluggish start, but I emphasized that the team wasn't healthy, that they were losing to great teams, and that the C's were bound to turn it around sooner or later.  Until then, all you could do was keep the faith and give them time to round into form.  After all, a team that talented just had to start winning some games eventually, right? (cut to Philadelphia Eagles fans wearing "Dream Team" tee-shirts shaking their heads).  Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long for them to prove me right.  That night, Boston ended their five game slide, the first in the new Big Three era, by decimating the Toronto Raptors (sans Andrea Bargnani, undoubtedly the team's best player/most potent offensive weapon/new Chris Bosh) 96-73.  It was a decisive, feel-good win, a confidence booster that allowed the starters to sit later in the game and get some much needed rest.  The only negative was that Rondo went down with a wrist injury, but he was listed as Day-To-Day and wasn't expected to miss much time.

The Celtics were all smiles after erasing a 27 point
deficit against the Orlando Magic
Fast forward two weeks, so now the team is about a third of the way through the lockout compressed season (that was fast, wasn't it?).  Wouldn't you know it, the Celtics are on a roll.  Despite losing Rondo, arguably the team's best player, they've won seven of their last nine and have allowed more than 90 points just once in that span.  The defense is allowing just 87 points per game, the second lowest mark in the Association.  Pierce has regained his form, Kevin Garnett (seemingly one wrong step away from a devastating knee injury whether he's leaping for a rebound or brushing his teeth in the hotel bathroom) hasn't missed a game, Ray Allen still has the sweet stroke and Christmas Eve pickup Mickael Pietrus is earning comparisons to James Posey circa 2008 with his defense and outside shot.  They provided one of the most memorable comebacks in recent history by overcoming a 27 point deficit on the road in Orlando (who they had beaten by 31 points three days before) and storming back to win the game with eight points to spare, prompting an emotional KG to equate the game to a bar fight.  On Wednesday they crept over .500 for the first time in nearly four weeks by crushing Toronto again, this time by 36 points.  Sure, they still had some "what the eff?" moments, like losing home games to Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns and Kyrie Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers, and they can't afford to drop those kinds of games if they want to be mentioned in the same breath as the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls.

Rondo may return tonight, giving the team an added boost against another big three in Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler (also known as the Knicks), who have lost ten of their last twelve games.  New York edged Boston in overtime, 106-104, on Christmas Day, but with both teams heading in opposite directions at the moment I like the Celtics' chances of evening the season series.  But the Knickerbockers, like the Celtics, are simply too good to keep playing this terribly, so it's only a matter of time before they snap out of their own funk.
Rondo, who has missed eight games, is a game time decision for tonight's tilt

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