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NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics

Sep 19, 2012, 1:58 PM EDT

Celtics' Garnett talks with Rondo during a time out against Knicks in the second half during their NBA basketball game in New York Reuters

Last season: They went 39-27 and won the Atlantic Division, which was nice but in Boston division titles are not how a team is measured. They handled the Hawks as expected in the first round of the playoffs, then in the second round ran into a plucky but inexperienced Sixers team and Boston won in 7 games.

But what really happened through the course of the season and the first two rounds is Boston found its identity — Avery Bradley starting at the two, going small with Kevin Garnett at the five, Brandon Bass at the four and playing great defense. That identity was enough to give the Celtics a 3-2 series lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. They had a real chance. Then Chris Bosh returned from injury, Miami won the final two and Boston’s season ended with a feeling this core wasn’t done.

Key Departures: Ray Allen, frustrated with being the sixth man behind Bradley and not thinking Rajon Rondo was looking out for him, signed for less money in Miami. Boston is also going to miss the size and solid play off the bench that Greg Stiemsma provided. The other guys that left — Marquis Daniels, Ryan Hollins, E’Twaun Moore, Mickael Pietrus and others — can be replaced.

Key Additions: They brought in one of the better sixth men in the league in Jason Terry, who will provide both points and shot creation off the bench. They signed Courtney Lee, who will start at the two for Boston until Bradley returns from shoulder surgery, and Lee will bring good defense and three-point shooting that goes well with their style.

While technically he was around Boston last year, it’s like they add Jeff Green after he missed a season due to heart surgery. Good to see him back. I think Boston overpaid for Green, but he is a solid player off the bench. They also drafted a guy who should be solid as a rookie in Jared Sullinger (but some Boston fans seem to overvalue what he did at Summer League — he is not near the quality of Brandon Bass right now). Chris Wilcox is there and that’s a nice pickup. Jason Collin is there and… well, he’s there.

Three keys to the Celtics season:

1) The old guys all stay healthy and don’t regress too much. Yes, it’s cliché to say Boston is old and, really, they are not as old as they seem. With Allen gone and the return of guys like Green and Lee, Boston is younger overall than they were last year. They certainly are a deeper squad.

But in the end, they need Kevin Garnett (age 36) and Paul Pierce (35 when the season starts) to still be elite players. And to stay healthy. While neither are really injury prone, as players get older injuries (and the length of time they need to recover from them) become more prevalent. Pierce played through a knee injury last playoffs and it slowed him (even if he refused to admit it). Doc Rivers gets it as a coach and he is willing to lose games and sit guys to have his team ready, rested and healthy when the playoffs start. But it is still a concern.

2) They have got to improve on offense. We know Boston is going to defend like beasts — Rajon Rondo is one of the best defensive point guards in the game, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley give them good wing defenders, and even a step slower Kevin Garnett’s defense in the paint is still quality. Boston will be a top three defensive team. But they were 24th in points per possession on offense last season (98.9 points per 100 possessions, when the league average was 101.8). One way to do that is to improve on their league-worst offensive rebound rate (they grabbed just 19.7 percent of their missed shots, the league average is 26.9 percent). Offensive rebounds are often easy buckets on put backs. Even if Boston is going small next season, they need to get more of these easy buckets.

3) Get to the free throw line more. This ties into No. 2 above. Doc Rivers has talked about this during the summer — last season Boston was 22nd in percentage of trips to the free throw line per possession. That number needs to come up for a couple reasons. It’s not Rajon Rondo’s game, but he needs to be part of the change. First, it’s easy points, just hit your free throws (and Boston is a solid free throw shooting team). Second, it lets them set their defense. Miami had success in the playoffs running off missed shots or turnovers, converting those into some easy buckets. Boston doesn’t score enough to make up for a lot of easy buckets. They need to eliminate them, and getting to the line more — meaning more guys attacking the rim and not settling just for jump shots.

What one thing should scare Celtics fans? Boston fans have let me have it on twitter when I suggested this before, but that may be because it strikes a little too close to home — even if everything goes right Boston still doesn’t beat Miami if the Heat are healthy. Boston fans point to getting to Game 7 with a host of injuries last year and a deeper team this year. Both true. But Miami had their second and third best players injured, they still won the series. Then they got better this summer. There’s a reason Rivers wants his team to hate the Heat. In the end, all the smart moves by Danny Ainge may not be enough.

How it likely works out: Boston is going to be one of the league’s better teams. They are going to defend. Jason Terry is going to have a big year (I think). The newfound depth will allow Doc Rivers to wear opponents down without wearing his own roster down. They are going to finish the season as one of the top three teams in the East… but the regular season is not how teams in Boston are judged. And in the playoffs the Celtics will be the kind of veteran threat that should scare opponents. They are going to make a run.

But in the end, their season probably ends pretty much like it did last year.

Prediction: 51-31, which I’m betting is the two or three seed in the East (the Heat will be on top and I think the Pacers will finish close to Boston in record). Come the playoffs, if they are healthy, another run to the conference finals is within their grasp. And if the Heat stumble at all, the Celtics could be right there. But don’t bet on a new banner in Boston, this team still remains a step below the league’s elite.

  1. jjordannba - Sep 19, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    How are you going to state it as a fact that if the Heat are fully healthy the Celtics wont beat them. How could you know that, you really don’t know that. Because it’s not like the Celtics were fully healthy last year either. And you can expect the same this year, the Heat likely won’t be fully healthy again, and same with the Celtics. When are two teams ever really fully healthy in the playoffs. So let’s quit with the what if’s

    • hehateme2 - Sep 19, 2012 at 6:38 PM

      um… you watch the last 2 years? Nuf said.

      • jjordannba - Sep 19, 2012 at 9:24 PM

        Oh both the team’s were fully healthy

      • jjordannba - Sep 19, 2012 at 9:24 PM

        Oh both the team’s were fully healthy?

      • jjordannba - Sep 19, 2012 at 9:25 PM

        Oh, both the team’s were fully healthy?

  2. mojosmagic - Sep 19, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Their stars are old. Real old. Slow down playoff style basketball is just that. This is not a strike shortened year and I believe age and slowness will finally catch up to the point this team may not make the playoffs.

    • passerby23 - Sep 19, 2012 at 3:39 PM

      Not make the playoffs? This team has the most depth in the league. The Lakers are really old too. Will they miss the playoffs?

  3. passerby23 - Sep 19, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    A couple things:

    1) Yet again another article from Kurt Helin that can’t go without saying Boston overpaid for Jeff Green. It’s becoming a fetish.

    2) If Miami has everyone healthy if/when these teams meet in the playoffs, I don’t think Boston can beat them. But, a healthy Boston team and a weakened Heat team, I would definitely give the edge to Boston.

    3) Saying Miami had two injured stars is a bit misleading. Wade seemed to have recovered from his enigmatic play from a bum knee about halfway through the Indiana series. If you look at his numbers, the knee injury wasn’t much of an issue in the Boston series. Bosh, meanwhile, was a non-factor in Game 6 where Lebron went off (the game was over at halftime solely because of Lebron’s play), and then hit 4 three-pointers in Game 7 (a bit out of character for him). So to say “they were a man down for most of the series, then Bosh came back and all of the sudden Miami ran away with the series” is ridiculous.

    People also seem to forget that Boston controlled 3 quarters of that Game 7 until it was clear they ran out of gas. Why did they run out of gas? By golly, it’s because there was no Bradley, Green, or Wilcox and two injured starters were forced to log huge minutes.

    My prediction: Boston #2 seed and battles Miami to 7 hard-fought games just like last year, but Miami prevails.

  4. paulhargis53 - Sep 19, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    mojo, that has to be one of the top 10 dumb things I’ve seen on here. You do realize that the lakers average on the roster is higher, right?(for comparisons sake) Stars may be older, but they are playing at a high level still.

    Calling them at best 9th in the conference is an idiotic statement.
    Maybe you should just read, and not post…

    • borderline1988 - Sep 19, 2012 at 4:26 PM

      There’s a huge difference between the Lakers and Celtics.
      The Celtics desperately rely on Garnett for interior defense, and really rely on Pierce for scoring.

      If either one of those guys goes down with injury or if they show up a step slower (and they are both getting older and slower..analysts have been guessing for years regarding when they will slow down; it has to happen one time or another) then the Celtics will be in big trouble. While their defense is tremendous, Garnett is really the base of it. Without him, the Celtics’ defense is maybe middle of the pack.
      And the Celtics already have trouble scoring and getting to the line. Which is why Pierce is essential to their success.

      The Celtics made some great off-season moves, but at the end of the day, their success still comes down to whether their aging players can keep their forms.

      • Foul Dwimmerlaik - Sep 22, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        Laker fan here. Dude, what about Rondo? He makes the Celtics a cohesive team… with or without Pierce and Garnett.

        Methinks a back court tandem of Rondo and Terry is one dangerous combo.

      • passerby23 - Sep 22, 2012 at 3:34 PM

        The Lakers’ success still hinges largely on Kobe’s scoring and – to some degree – his defensive prowess. He is getting long in the tooth too.

        Pierce is still the go-to guy to make a shot when it matters, but scoring doesn’t seem to be an issue with the upgrades they’ve made. Rondo, Terry, and Green are all guys who can score and create a shot for themselves. I don’t think Pierce needs to do more than 15 pts/game and step up when it counts. He doesn’t need to log 38-40 minutes and do as much as he used to.

        I do agree that Garnett is still the anchor of their defense and the primary offensive post presence, and an injury to him would be fatal. They’ve attempted to alleviate that by bringing in more depth upfront with Wilcox, Darko, Sullinger, and Collins (plus Bass and Green).

        Boston management did everything they had to with Garnett and Pierce aging: attempt to bring in more depth, cut their minutes considerably, and keep them fresh for the playoffs.

    • bozosforall - Sep 19, 2012 at 11:36 PM

      Maybe you should just STHU, pudhummer53. Biggest know-nothing here.

  5. bjcorey - Sep 19, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    Posts like mojo’s are why comments should be disabled.

    “This is not a strike shortened year”…you’re absolutely right. There won’t be sets of back-to-back-to-backs, or multiple back-to-backs, things that absolutely ruined the Celtics last season. Playing a regular 2-3 games a week, with a deeper, more athletic roster, actually sets up BETTER for Doc, KG and Pierce than last season did.

    With D-Rose out for a bit, unless Philly and Indy make the leap and sustain it all season, they’re still the 2 seed in the East.

  6. hehateme2 - Sep 19, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    What one thing should scare Celtics fans? LE BRON AND THE HEAT. Anything else is a homer’s pipe dream.

  7. tcclark - Sep 19, 2012 at 9:10 PM

    I really like what Boston is doing right now. They’ve capitalized on their resurgence in popularity and are building for the future while remaining highly competitive in the present. Rondo, Bradley, Lee, Green, Sullinger, and Bass are all good players with a lot of years of playing left on them. They have the pieces to make a quick turn around when older players like Garnett, Terry, and Pierce retire or start to fade as players. They’re still gonna have a tough time beating my Sixers, but I don’t think we’re going to see the cellar-dweller Celtics that were around for all of those years after Bird, McHale, etc

  8. dysraw1 - Sep 19, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    Celts will be good this season how good depends on their new editions making hay, which i don’t anticipate to be problem. they will take the atl. div. an if Miami doesn’t bulldoze the league they may take the eastern div.

  9. paulhargis53 - Sep 21, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    bozo- You’re nothing but clownshoes.

    Your formulatic posts are a joke. I haven’t ONCE. seen you say anything of knowledge on basketball on here.

    Lame name changes, and telling people to shut up.
    Sad little man, that daddy didn’t love enough, or did he love you too much?

    Either way, you’re garbage. You suck at life.

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