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NBA Season Preview: The Boston Celtics

Sep 15, 2010, 12:44 PM EDT

Thumbnail image for Pierce_celebrate.jpgLast season: 50-32 during the regular season, but 17-17 down the stretch as key players got rest and healthy for the playoffs. Then they played like the 2008 Celtics in the postseason and advanced all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals before falling.

Head Coach: Doc Rivers, back for what may well be his final season. That may come up in motivational speeches by team members.

Key Departures: Tony Allen will be missed; Rasheed Wallace will only be missed by sports talk radio hosts on a slow day looking to piss off Celtics faithful by bringing him up.

Key Additions: Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal, who will bring some scoring to the Celtics front line that Kendrick Perkins could not. They will not bring his defense, however. Also added were DeLonte West and Von Wafer, the former of which will make good contributions.

We also need to note under additions that they kept the core of this team together. Boston could have let Paul Pierce and Ray Allen go and started to rebuild this team around Rajon Rondo, but they brought everybody back for a couple years and a couple more runs at it. Then the rebuilding will start.

Best case scenario: An NBA Championship. They were within one game of it last year and may have pulled it off if Kendrick Perkins had been healthy for Game 7 in Los Angeles. (But the Lakers dealt with injuries, too, so it’s a slippery slope.) This team is poised to make two more runs at a title, then the rebuilding will start in Boston.

For that to happen: Two key things will have to take place. First, this team has to stay healthy. That is true of the contenders in Miami and Los Angeles and everywhere else, too, but it is particularly key for a Celtics squad just slightly younger than Dick Bavetta.

The health thing starts with Kevin Garnett coming back healthy enough to be 90 percent of his 2008 self. He is still the heart and soul of this team, he is the guy who makes the defense work, who can get some easy buckets in the halfcourt. Along with that, Kendrick Perkins needs to come back and by the playoffs be close to the defensive force that he was before Game 6 of the finals last season. And, of course, no other key players can go down with big injuries.

The other key thing is that the Celtics defense has to remain as good as any in the league. It is going to have to do that with Lawrence Frank in charge of it, not Tom Thibodeau. It is going to have to be that way with Shaquille O’Neal and his defensive freelancing, his terrible pick-and-roll defense, getting key minutes. It’s going to have to be that good with Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center. It’s going to need that healthy Garnett we talked about before.

If the defense slips, so does Boston. It’s that simple.

More likely the Celtics will: Be right in there for an NBA title run. Just like in the paragraphs above. This team is one of your handful that is a legitimate title contender. There are questions to be answered, things that need to go their way, but they are in the mix. That is all you can ask to start the season.

I expect Rajon Rondo to continue is upward climb, to become more of the key cog of this team on offense.

Boston is going to need to work on integrating those additions. Particularly the two O’Neals along the front line — those two will bring more offense out of the five spot than the Celtics have seen in the Big 3 era. But neither of them are defensively focused. DeLonte West again is a good fit but will need to blend in. When Perkins comes back the front line rotations will need to be figured out and stabilized.

Still this is the core of a team that went to Game 7 of the NBA finals last season and won a title a couple years ago. This team knows how to answer the questions that are out there. If they can hold up physically, they will be able to answer them. They will be contenders.

There will come a time this season when the Celtics play .500 ball or below for 20 games or so. And we will all put our short memories on display. We will say they don’t look like contenders and this is different than last season, different than 2008. And Rivers will ignore everyone and work on getting guys rested and healthy for the playoffs. He knows if they are, they will be right there, knocking on the door of another banner for the crowded rafters.

Prediction: 50 wins. Same as last year. Certainly, the Celtics could easily win more, but like last season the focus by the Celtics will be less on the regular season and more on being healthy and rested come the playoffs. The depth up front could give them more wins, but the East is deeper too so there will be fewer nights when they win by just walking on the court. I think it all balances itself out.

Basically the same team as last year. One capable of winning a title if things go right.

  1. JoeSixPack - Sep 15, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    An injured Celtics team was 15 minutes from an 18th banner last season and they’ve only gotten better this season.
    If not for the Heat, the Celts would be the team with the most buzz, likely considered the front runner for a championship.
    They proved that earning home court advantage in the playoffs isn’t as important as resting players and getting them healthy… and they also proved that even a LeBron-lead team with the best record in the NBA is beatable.
    Health of the older veterans is the only question – and it’s a big one – but if the Celts Big Three is healthy come the playoffs, they can beat anyone, including the Heat.

  2. trueballs - Sep 15, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    I think the loss of Tony Allen is a little understated. Who’s the guy that’s going to actually give LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Melo some problems? Because he’s one of the few people in the league that can. Delonte is a fierce defender, but a little undersized for that role.

  3. Drew - Sep 26, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    I agree, although Boston is deeper this year, Tony Allen was a defensive stopper with great athleticism. I think that will be a blow to them come playoff time. But, they are deeper which may allow some of the aging players to get some needed rest throughout the year.
    Starting: Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, J. O’Neal.
    Bench: Robinson, West/Daniels, Wafer, Davis, Shaq, Perkins when he comes back.
    By playoff time, they should be 11-12 deep.

  4. Bryan Soroka - Oct 7, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    I think it’s very interesting (and telling) of how many are downplaying the C’s this year. Whether or not this is because pundits love to hate this team is beyond me. Regardless, how can any sane person refute the fact that if this team goes into the playoffs at full-strength, nobody this side of Krypton can beat them in a seven game series. Just look at the past few years, especially last year. Without any beef in our front line (this weakness was further exascerbated when Perk went down), we hung with the deepest, biggest front line in the NBA. With the O’Neals climbing on board and with a healthy Perk? Man…there is gonna be hell to pay. No NBA team can hang with this squad, and now with a bench that’s deep and experienced, we’ll see who comes out on top for the O’Brien this year.

  5. bdevil1952 - Oct 24, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    The addition of Rasheed Wallace in February will be a plus as well. You heard me, Rasheed Wallace. He never left Boston after the season last June and he was recently spotted on the C’s bench during a pre season game. This is a great for Sheed to stay motivated which has been his problem in the past during the the course of the long regular season. You may ask who he will replace or whose minutes he’ll take? I’m telling you it doesn’t matter after the way he performed in the post season last year. Sheed brought his game to a different level in April, May and June. His rebounding and defense was all pro caliber. His offense improved too but that’s not where Wallace is most effective.

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