The Celtics at the Break
If the NBA season were to end today, the Celtics would have the best record in the league, Kevin Garnett would be in the MVP discussion, Doc Rivers would be Coach of the Year, Danny Ainge would be Executive of the Year, Rajon Rondo would get votes for Most Improved Player, and Big Baby would be in the top 10 for Rookie of the Year. You can throw in James Posey for Sixth Man too, if you like.
So the first 50 games have been an unqualified success, better than our wildest hopes, and altogether awesome. The Garden is rocking again, and we are all looking forward to honest-to-goodness playoff basketball at least through May. But before the C’s head into the All-Star break, we take a look back at the first half of the season.Best Game: Oddly enough it was a loss. The Dec. 19 showdown with Detroit was a taut back-and-forth affair that the Pistons wound up winning, 87-85. But it set the tone for the two Eastern Conference heavyweights for the rest of the season.
Best Blowout: The 104-59 humiliation of the Knicks was beautiful on a number of levels, from Isiah Thomas refusing to even look at his players to Charles Barkley just destroying New York on the air.
Best Win: It’s a tie between the comeback win at Detroit in January and last Sunday’s victory over the Spurs. On a visceral level, the win over the Pistons was bigger, especially because they took exception to the C’s exuberant post-game celebration, but the Spurs are the Spurs and that win stamped Boston as a legitimate contender.
Worst Loss: Not too many to choose from, obviously, but losing to Charlotte at home wasn’t in the master plan.
Best hope for the future: Rondo, who has suddenly become a big-time point guard. We have known all along that Rondo will be forced, Dennis Johnson-like, to take 17-foot jumpers in the playoffs. That doesn’t seem like such a bad thing anymore.
Best under-the-radar acquisition: Posey is as important to this team defensively as any player not named Garnett, and his 3-point shooting has bailed out the second unit on numerous occasions.
Best out-of-nowhere contribution: Yes, we love us some Big Baby, but Leon Powe! Where did that come from?
Second-round opponent we’d least like to see: Toronto. The Raptors play the Celtics tough and they are getting better. If they’re making 3’s it would be a long series.
Acquisition for the second-half: All the talk is about getting a veteran point guard. The implication is people still don’t trust Rondo. Sam Cassell’s name has been thrown out a lot, but even though we’re charter members of the Sam I Am fan club, we’re not sure that’s the right fit. It’s size that the C’s need here to match up with Chauncey Billups, not necessarily scoring. Plus, do they really need a new, outsized personality on a club that has such great chemistry? Of course, 6-4 point guards who play defense don’t tend to be readily available.
The bottom line: When the season began, everyone was curious how Garnett and Ray Allen would fit with Paul Pierce, how Rondo and Kendrick Perkins would adjust to bigger roles, and how the bench would come along. It’s 3-for-3 and for that, you can credit Rivers.
Most people in October would have been happy with a run to the conference finals, but now the bar has been raised and it’s NBA Finals or bust. That means beating the Pistons in a 7-game series, and most NBA observers don’t think they can get there. The final 32 games will be about securing home-court advantage and getting Garnett healthy for the stretch run.
As much as we’d love to see banner No. 17 raised to the rafters this spring, we would be content with beating the Pistons and a trip to the finals. Anything after that is gravy.