NBA

Chisholm: Celtics ready for another shot at the title

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Tim Chisholm
9/10/2009 12:24:30 PM
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Season Previews: Boston CelticsNBA Preview Archive

It was never a secret that the window was only going to stay open for this team for so long. When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were acquired in the summer of 2007 to join with Paul Piece, the ages of the three players made for a pretty overt circumstance: win as much as possible and fast before time robs us of our youth.

Last season, the Celtics burst out of the gate in an attempt to disprove the doubters that felt this team wouldn't have the requisite motivation to compete for another title. They went into Christmas with a dominating 27-2 record and the team looked poised for a return trip to the NBA Finals. After struggling through three weeks of up-and-down ball after that, they rattled off another 12-straight wins to bring their record to 41-9. However, Garnett injured his knee in February, they got eclipsed by Cleveland and Orlando in the East and questions ensued about how this team could best position itself to return to dominance as swiftly as possible.

The solution this summer was to ink Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels to contracts, with a very naked ambition behind them; lessen the on-court responsibilities of the Big Three during the regular season. Wallace will be counted on the keep Garnett's minutes low after injuries robbed him of 36 games during his two seasons in Boston. Daniels, a versatile 6-foot-6 swingman, will be tasked with spelling both Piece and Allen, possibly even approaching their minutes-per-game averages between October and March. The thinking is that if these three can still have lively legs in April, May and June, then this team has a shot at grabbing at least one more title before age (and contracts) break this unit up.

However, standing in their way is a Cleveland and Orlando tandem that did as much as Boston to reload this summer. It could be said that at this early date there is no margin that separates these three challengers to the East's crown.  All three have been the Finals, all three know what it takes to get out of their Conference, and the only edge Boston could be seen to possess is that they have had the experience of going all the way whereas the other two were beat by San Antonio and the Lakers, respectively.

So all Boston can do, then, is play their game and hope that some edge emerges in their springtime matchups. Keep in mind, this team did eliminate Cleveland two seasons ago and pushed Orlando to seven games last May despite not having Kevin Garnett or Leon Powe at their disposal. They are a very solid team with tremendous competitive fire and nearly unmatched basketball I.Q. Their defensive intensity keeps them in just about every game against any opponent and that kind of focus has helped them survive injuries before and will inevitably have to help them survive them again at some point. There is no escaping that this team has two, maybe three, years tops as an elite outfit as constructed. If they want to add an eighteenth banner to the Garden they are going to have to do it now while they can still be said to be at the top of their games.

Will they do it? Who knows? Even if this team can emerge in the East, they'd still have to contend with a mighty power out West, be it the Lakers or some team powerful enough to have beaten the Lakers to the Finals. They are certainly as legitimate a contender as any other club that could be said to be a one, it just might be that their timeline for staying in that classification is shorter than any of their contemporaries. It might just be that fact, though, that gives them the requisite motivation to push through those that stand in their way.

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP

PGRAJON RONDO

It was an unexpectedly dramatic spring for Rondo; not only did he manage to nearly average a triple-double in the Playoffs (16.9 ppg, 9.8 apg and 9.7 rpg), but he then had to endure weeks of trade rumors and a public tongue lashing from his boss leading up to the Draft. While he's known to be a tad headstrong, perhaps even stubborn, it caught many by surprise just how uninterested the Celtics were in pledging themselves to their dynamic point guard. It could be because Rondo will be in line for a new contract next summer and the team doesn't feel like giving him the money that his statistics would suggest that he's owed, especially given his divisive personality. It could also be that once the Big Three hang ‘em up they don't want a guy like Rondo representing the face of their franchise. This story certainly has more twists and turns in store before it concludes.

SGRAY ALLEN

Like Rondo, Allen is playing for a new contract this season. Since his production has dropped off considerably since joining the Celtics (partly due to his sacrificing of his own stats for the good of the team), he has put the club in a precarious position; do you pay Allen based on his skills or based on his production? His post-season production was once again less than consistent – game-winners versus Chicago measured against 34% shooting versus Orlando – and his 34-year-old frame has been as riddled by injuries as any in the Celtics clubhouse. Still, he possesses a complete game at the guard position that would be incredibly difficult to replace and it is always as dangerous to undervalue one's support players as it is to overvalue them. Allen will have no shortage of contenders looking to ink him next summer, we'll see if and where Boston ranks on that list.

SFPAUL PIERCE

Pierce is the youngest and traditionally most durable of the Big Three. His legacy has been the most positively impacted, too, by the recent success of the club (Garnett was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer with or without a title). The last two seasons has brought a legitimacy to Pierce's career that he would never have attained otherwise. He's proven that he can perform at the highest levels of professional basketball and the Celtics have benefitted from having tuned out the many demands for his trade by outside sources. Even if the club never achieves another title, he can feel secure in knowing that he won't be first star on the club to have never brought home the trophy - of course, if he brings home another one or two no one in Beantown would complain.

PFKEVIN GARNETT

Kevin Garnett's body has begun to show signs of the extensive wear that comes from a fourteen-year career playing over 37 minutes per game. The nicks and scrapes that he could once shrug off have begun robbing him of swaths of seasons. Plus, Rasheed Wallace or no Rasheed Wallace, this team needs Garnett to do what they want to do because he is that unique force that no other team can replicate. It's more than just his intensity, too; it's his long arms and mobile frame. It's his ability to stretch defenses as well as blow by them. He can pass, rebounded and block shots like few at his position and replacing him on this (or any) roster is an impossibility. Having him healthy for a post-season run is going to be the first and only priority for the next seven months, so we'll have to wait to see how they do.

CKENDRICK PERKINS

Perkins has really developed into an old-school centre. Opposing team's hate him because he's dirty, cheap and arrogant, but the Celtics love him because he gets in the heads of the guys he's playing against. The league has too few players that can really inspire the kind of animosity that Perkins can because of their play on the court (as opposed to their activities off of it) and it seems fitting that such a throwback would play for the league's most storied franchise. Hate him or not, though, his 8-and-8 averages, which went up to 12-and-12 in the Playoffs, along with his succulent post defense would make just about any team better by their presence. He's a pest in a league full of wannabe nice guys, and that's oddly refreshing and welcome in this day and age.

Pierce and Garnett (Photo: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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