The Resurgence of KG and the Boston Celtics
Written off by myself and many others as too old, slow, and injured to compete with the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Boston Celtics have slowly worked their way back into contention. Though they have been decimated by injuries and lack depth at several positions, the fill-ins and resident stars have meshed together famously in recent weeks while Doc Rivers continues to coach his team up like few in the game.
One of the reasons LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh joined forces in Miami was so that individually they wouldn’t have to keep going against superior all-around teams (like the Celtics) with the deck stacked against them. The move seemed to pay off for the group in the 2011 playoffs, as they dispatched their longtime tormenters decisively in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, taking the series four games to one. You may recall James’ and Wade’s over the top celebration following the series victory, acting as if they had just won the NBA Finals. It seemed gratifying for them to end the Celtics season and obtain a measure of payback for similar treatment in years past, and in their minds they probably thought they had slayed the bullies for good. Based on their performance in that series and their slow start to begin this season, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to think the best days of Boston’s Big 3 were clearly behind them and that a quick playoff exit was on tap for them in 2012. However, after beating down the Heat for the second time in a little over a week, what seemed like a good assumption earlier in the year must now be reevaluated.
The Heat are the betting favorite to win the 2012 NBA title, and while they trump the Celtics in terms of youth, athleticism, and overall talent, Boston will have no fear of a playoff matchup with LBJ and company. You can’t stop LeBron James or D-Wade, but Celtics do have a few players that can make them work for every basket in Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Avery Bradley. Pierce and James have had some classic duels in recent years, and even though he is quite a bit older than his Miami counterpart, the Celtics swingman still picks his spots and can score in a variety of ways. Bradley is an outstanding on the ball defender who seems to give Wade fits, while Allen has been running opposing two guards ragged off of screens since 1996. A clear advantage the Celtics do have over the Heat is at the point guard position with Rajon Rondo. Rondo, who last night notched his 18th straight game with ten or more assists, is the conductor that makes Boston’s offense go. Constantly wreaking havoc on fast breaks and in the paint with the ball, Miami never seems to have an answer for him on the court. Friends of mine who are Celtics fans are quick to point out that last year’s Miami series might have played out differently had Rondo not hurt his elbow in Game 3.
Most impressive and somewhat surprising has been the resurgence of Kevin Garnett. The anchor of the Celtics since he joined the team in 2007, KG has been playing like a man possessed of late. Last night he torched the Heat with 24 points, hitting a few back-breaking jumpers to close the game out. As much as I disdain KG’s snarling and false bravado, it’s amazing that at his age (35) and with the amount of tread on his tires that he is still able to regularly dominate the younger Chris Bosh in their individual matchups. Though his defensive intensity has never waned, in the 2010 and 2011 playoffs he looked like a shell of the explosive athlete he once was, routinely struggling to convert on easy opportunities around the basket. Lately he has looked as spy as ever - barking orders and blocking shots on defensive, scoring on drives to the hoops and dunks, and still drilling that smooth jump shot with ease. The manner in which he competes night in and night out is a testament to the type of player he is and the responsibility he feels as a core member of the Celtics “Big 3”. It was clear from watching “The Association” last year that he is a proud Celtic who relishes the bonds he has formed and wars he has been in with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and if this is the last season he wears the green and white he definitely wants to go out swinging.
I hope we get to see one more playoff battle between the Heat and the Celtics next month, as the NBA is lacking in rivalries born out of comparable talent and mutual disdain. Nowadays it is increasingly rare for us to see two teams with largely the same cast of players meet in the playoffs in consecutive years. It’s entirely possible that last night’s game was simply an anomaly caused by Boston’s ridiculous shooting from the field and that in a 7 game series the Heat would once again wear the Celtics out. Either way, with Boston peaking at the right time it would definitely be a series worth watching, as Rondo, KG and the rest will be a tough out in May.
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