Saturday, February 9, 2013

Without Rondo, Celtics Roll

Pierce reacts as the Celtics cruise to a 21-point win over the Lakers 
The Boston Celtics have been up and down all season long, but who would have expected them to hit their stride mere seconds after losing star point guard Rajon Rondo to a season-ending ACL tear?

Well, um, not me. That's for sure.

The day Rondo was declared done for the year, Boston outlasted the Miami Heat in a double-overtime thriller. They spoiled Ray Allen's return to the Garden nearly two weeks ago and haven't lost since, despite losing promising rookie Jared Sullinger for the remainder of the season to back surgery.

In that time, they've taken down the defending NBA champions/top team in the Eastern Conference and both LA teams--the Chris Paul-less Clippers (who reportedly want Kevin Garnett) and Lakers minus Pau Gasol. They've also crushed the Kings, trounced the Magic (sans Arron Afflalo) and dropped the new-look Raptors, who welcomed back Andrea Bargnani from a torn ligament in his elbow.

The driving force behind Boston's recent success is that many Celtics players who struggled earlier in the season are now receiving more minutes/touches. As a result, they look more comfortable on an offense that is more free-flowing without Rondo's dominating the ball and have finally stepped up. Jason Terry, who's struggled with his shot all season, has knocked down nearly 56 percent of his field goal attempts during Boston's winning streak. Jeff Green strung together five double-digit scoring performances for the first time since Boston traded away Kendrick Perkins for him two years ago. Courtney Lee, whom Doc Rivers slotted in as the starting two guard while sliding Avery Bradley over to the vacant point, has acquitted himself well. Leandro Barbosa's been a sparkplug on offense as well.

The Captain has done his part, too. Paul Pierce, the team's top scorer and most versatile weapon, has embraced more of a point forward role on offense similar to the one Andre Iguodala adopted during his last few years with the Philadelphia 76ers. Before Rondo went down, Pierce was averaging 3.8 assists per game, right in line with his career average of 3.9. Since then, he's bumped that figure up to 6.2 without sacrificing his scoring numbers. Expect Pierce to continue racking up the dimes in Rondo's absence and possibly establish a new career high in that department.

The Celtics don't play again until the Denver Nuggets come to town on Sunday, a timely break given the enormous weekend snowstorm currently blanketing Boston with several feet of snow. After that, the Green have a hellish month of basketball in front of them that includes ten road games (versus just three at the Garden) and represents Boston's most formidable challenge of the second half. Their new-look offense will be tested, and Rivers must adjust accordingly if opponents catch on. GM Danny Ainge doesn't expect to make any major moves before the trading deadline, meaning Pierce and Garnett probably aren't going anywhere.

But after months of twists and turns, anything is possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment