Following a quick second round exit in 2011 at the hands of Miami, it appeared the window for the Celtics to challenge for an NBA title had come and past. And after a 15-17 start last season, there was talk that age had finally caught up with Kevin Garnett and co.
But Boston rallied after that slow start and hit their stride come playoff time, pushing a younger, more talented Heat team to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Defensive Prowess - Ever since the acquisition of Garnett in 2007, the Celtics have built their reputation around defence. Ranking at the top of the league in defensive efficiency and points allowed over the past five years, Boston's regular season and playoff success has come in large part from its ability to get defensive stops and keep other team's stars in check. Garnett will again provide the anchor in the middle, with Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo providing dogged perimeter work. Newcomers Fab Melo and Courtney Lee will only work to improve Doc Rivers' defence both in the paint and on the perimeter.
The Big Three
With Ray Allen gone to Miami, Rajon Rondo is now an official member of the big three in Boston.
Veteran Leadership - Despite their advancing age, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett -- both of whom will be on the wrong side of 35 once the season starts -- have shown little decline in their games. With a combined 31 years of experience, they are like coaches on the floor and are the unquestioned offensive and defensive leaders on the team. Their on court smarts and ability to get their teammates to play the type of basketball – at both ends – that is needed to win playoff games is unmatched around the league.
Improved Bench - Although Boston's off-season didn't go exactly as planned, as Ray Allen surprised many and signed with Miami, GM Danny Ainge was still able to improve the team with free agent signings, trades and through the draft. Former sixth man of the year Jason Terry was signed from Dallas, while sharp-shooting guard Courtney Lee was acquired from Houston. In addition to stabilizing his backcourt, Ainge used his two first round picks to land frontcourt help that should be able to contribute immediately. Those moves, combined with the return to health of swingman Jeff Green, should allow Rivers to rest his veteran stars which should pay dividends come playoff time.
Father Time - Defying many of the experts, Garnett and Pierce have been able to remain productive late into their careers despite having played over 2500 career games. Both men increased their points per game last season and have learned to remain effective through smarts and guile. But the Boston core is not getting any younger and teams like Miami and Oklahoma City are at or just nearing their prime, so if the Celtics are to return to their championship form, they must do it now because the clock is ticking.
Get ready for the season with the latest from TSN.ca.
The Celtics come in looking strong to start the year.
Rajon Rondo is one of the top sources of assists, ranked 27th overall.
Feel The Heat - While the Celtics were able to eliminate LeBron James both times they met when he was with Cleveland, Boston is winless in two playoff meetings with the reigning MVP's new team in Miami. Although they pushed the Heat to the limit in last year's Conference finals, Miami's athleticism and scoring ability proved to be too much for the Celtics to overcome. Realizing the team needed to improve offensively to counter the dynamic scoring ability of Miami's big three, led Ainge to bring aboard Terry and Lee. Boston will need both men to raise their games come playoff time to give the Celtics a realistic opportunity to reach their third NBA finals in six years.
Frontcourt Depth - Recognizing the weakness up front behind starters Garnett and Brandon Bass, Ainge was proactive in the offseason, signing two frontcourt players and drafting two others. Still, veterans Jason Collins and Darko Milicic are limited in what they can provide, and rookies Sullinger and Melo are untested and raw. Luckily the Celtics are very deep at the guard and small forward position, allowing them to play small when the starters need a break. That strategy may work against smaller teams, but against the bigger teams in the East such as Indiana, Chicago and Philadelphia it will be tough to implement.
X Factor: Jeff Green
After missing the entire 2011-12 season with a heart ailment, the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft is back and ready to contribute. His size and versatility allow him to guard multiple positions – something the Celtics desperately need. If he is able to return to his 15-point-per-game form, Boston will have another offensive weapon to counter the other high-octane offences that many of the NBA's top teams feature.
What to Expect
On paper, the Celtics look like an improved team in 2012-13. That being said, so do other championship contenders Miami and Los Angeles. But with the continued high-level play from their veterans to go along with the solid bench additions, Boston has as good a chance as any team in the East to dethrone the defending champs.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
The Celtics actually began their minor renovations last season, when the club moved Kevin Garnett to the centre position, Ray Allen to the bench and reinvigorated their season in the process.
They continued this summer when Allen bolted for Miami and was replaced by Jason Terry and Courtney Lee.
More interestingly, however, was the drafting of Jared Sullinger and the return of Jeff Green, who missed all of last season after heart surgery.
Sullinger has stellar basketball instincts and Green is a former top-five pick who is hungry to reinvigorate his career.
If they pan out they could have a huge impact on Boston’s success this season.