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Rich Conte

Rich Conte

Rich Conte has been passionately following the Boston Celtics and the NBA for almost 40 years.  That interest began with the classic Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Final, blossomed during the original Big Three era, and persisted through the lean years of the 90s and the "Thanksdad" Gaston era.  Rich has been blogging and podcasting through CLNS Radio for the past two years  and also hosts a technology podcast; The Tech Life on the Beats and Eats network.  You can follow him on Twitter @richconte and find him as a frequent contributor to the Celtics Beat Podcast discussion group on Facebook.

There has been a surprising amount discussion about Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers’ status for next season considering there are three years remaining on his contract.  The latest news is that President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge has denied a request by the Brooklyn Nets for permission to talk to Rivers about become their next head coach.  This comes in the wake in speculation, since the postgame press conference following the Celtics Game 7 loss to the Knicks that ended their season, about whether Doc would return next season.

Rivers has served as head coach of the Celtics for the past nine seasons compiling a 416-305 record and signed a lucrative five-year extension in 2011.  In past offseasons, emotional playoff exits, his relationship with veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul (whose future with the team was itself in doubt), and his family situation combined to cloud his status.  However, once he signed this most recent extension, the assumption has been that he would be part of the team’s post-Big-Three future.

The Nets are searching for a replacement to recently dismissed interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.  Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson in December and led Brooklyn to a 35-19 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference before losing to the Chicago Bulls in 7 games in the first round of the playoffs.  It is expected that Nets owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, will seek a high-profile coach to lead the team next season.

Rivers has been previously linked with the Nets opening in one of several reports by NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith that suggested that he would not return to coach the Celtics next season.  Other reports indicated that a rift had developed between Rivers and Ainge over the past season, and that the Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers were discussing a trade that would include Rivers as part of the deal.  Since most of the chatter suggesting Doc would not be back in Boston next season has originated with Smith, who happens to have a close relationship with Nets GM Billy King dating back to their days in Philadelphia, it is reasonable to consider these reports as an attempt to muddy the waters of Doc’s status.

Several sources including ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan as well as Ainge and Celtics owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck  indicate that Rivers is expected back at the helm in Boston next season.  Considering all the evidence, it seems that Stephen A. Smith’s insistent reports to the contrary are, at best irresponsible, and at worst, part of a calculated agenda to help land his friend a new, much sought after, coach.

The Big Three and Rondo

I’m not a big believer in “eras”; at least not as clearly demarcated periods in a franchise’s history.  I’m even less fond of talk about “windows closing” on a team.

Reality is a lot messier than that.

Each season is unique; even for teams with little or no roster turnover.  Rosters change.  Individual players change.  Roles change.  Rotations change.  The league changes.

Some seasons, the changes are small.  Other seasons, they are substantial.

Next season may include substantial changes for the Boston Celtics and it’s very likely those changes will center on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

The next couple of weeks will be overrun with speculation about whether or not Pierce and KG will be wearing green come next October, but even if they are part of the roster next season, it is reasonable to expect that they will be cast in reduced, complementary roles.  Other players like Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley will take on more prominent roles.

The identity of the team will change dramatically, just as it did 6 years ago when Danny Ainge, like an NBA necromancer, raised a championship team from the corpse of a once-great franchise.

Many observers think Ainge’s spell has worn off and the team is settling back into a grave.

I have no interest in eulogizing an era or writing Pierce and Garnett’s Boston Celtics obituary.

I am simply going to share some memories of the past six seasons.  These moments aren’t necessarily the most important.  They are just particularly meaningful to me.  They are the moments that heralded the evolving identiy of the team and punctuated its journey through those years.

 

November 7, 2007

Eddie House hits a three pointer at the buzzer to give the Celtics a 77-38 halftime lead against Denver.

While, the Celtics 119-93 win over the Nuggets seems like a meaningless early season blowout win, it is etched in my memory as the first glimpse of what the team was capable of at the top of their game.  House’s jumper capped one of the best halves of two-way basketball I have ever witnessed.  The vise grip defense held Carmelo Anthony, and the high-powered Denver offense in check while unselfish ball movement fueled a balanced, and impossibly efficient offensive attack.

 

June 17, 2008

Kevin Garnett overpowers Pau Gasol for an “and 1” in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

For many, the signature moment of that series was the stirring 24-point comeback in Game 4 at the Staples Center that gave the Celtics a 97-91 victory and a 3-1 series lead.  The 131-92 final score made Game 6 more a coronation than a contest, but Garnett’s basket and free throw (which gave the Celtics a 21-point lead) just before halftime stands out for me.  Garnett took an entry pass in the lane and without hesitating went, not just at Gasol, but straight through the Laker big man’s chest with a half-dunk, half-hook.  The play was emblematic of KG’s on-court fury and iron will and the embodiment of one of Doc Rivers’ pet phrases; “playing with force”.

 

February 19, 2009

Garnett strains his knee late in the first half against the Utah Jazz.

In the fall of 2008, the Celtics picked right back up where they had left off in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals.  The blitzkrieg they had unleashed on the Lakers in the decisive 131-92 win was now turned on the rest of the NBA.  A 19-game winning streak from mid-November to late-December left them with a record of 27-2 heading into a Christmas Day rematch with the Lakers.  They would stumble a bit in late-December and early-January, but then ran off a 12-game win streak into February and were sitting on a league-best 44-11 mark when they traveled to Utah to face the Jazz.

Just before halftime, Rajon Rondo lobbed an alley-oop pass to KG – a play that had become one of the team’s signatures – that ultimately changed the team’s fate.  KG strained his knee as he rose up to collect the pass, landed gingerly, and left the court immediately.  Garnett’s status was an ominous "day-to-day" for what seemed like the rest of the season.  The team still finished with a laudable 62-20 record but succumbed to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  That moment in Utah marked the Celtics transition from league-demolishing juggernaut to the tough veteran squad that could never be counted out.

 

November 22, 2009

Garnett hits the game-winning jumper to lift the Celtics to a 107-105 OT win against the Knicks in MSG.

The Celtics were battling the newly resurgent Knicks in overtime.  Paul Pierce had scored all 7 Boston points in the overtime and the Celtics had the ball with 9 seconds left in a tie game.  The Boston captain surprised everyone in Madison Square Garden by dishing the ball to KG for a 19-footer from the top of the circle as time expired.  The play was a memorable example of how the unwavering unselfishness and symbiosis between the two veterans was the foundation of the team’s success.

 

May 22, 2010

Rajon Rondo hustles for the loose ball and layup in the 2nd quarter of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic.

The Celtics muddled through the second half of the 2010 season.  They went 27-27 over the final 54 games to finish with a 50-32 record and draw the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  However, once the playoffs came, they rediscovered their identity.  After dispatching the Miami Heat in 5 games, they shocked the NBA by dismissing Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 6 games.  They entered the Conference Finals a dangerous team, but still an underdog against an Orlando team that had sent them home the previous spring.

Boston won two close games on the road to take a surprising 2-0 series lead and returned to Boston hoping to put the series out of reach.  The Celtics’ hallmark resolve was on full display as they blew out the Magic 94-71.  The moment that best exemplified that resolve came courtesy of Rondo.  With just under 9 minutes left in the half, Tony Allen deflected a JJ Reddick pass into the Orlando backcourt and Rondo raced, and clawed past Jason Williams, dove for the ball, retrieved it and finished the play with a layup.

The moment marked the fourth-year guard’s ascension alongside Pierce,  KG, and Ray Allen.  Rondo certainly had a great postseason the year before, averaging almost 17-10-10 with three (nearly four) triple doubles as he tried to offset the absence of Garnett.  It was, however, that moment against the Magic when Rondo earned his place among the Big Three with his display of will and reckless abandon.

 

November 11, 2010

Rondo dunks over Chis Bosh in a 112-107 win over the Miami Heat.

The 2010 offseason belonged to the Miami Heat.  The gravity of Lebron James’ ‘decision’ and the assembly of a new "Big Three" created an NBA singularity centered on South Beach.  Before a game was even played, the media was penning paeans to the impending destiny and bandwagon fans were erecting statues to the presumed dynasty.

The proud and battle-hardened Celtics decided they had something to say about it.

They beat the Heat in Boston to kick off the 2010 season and two weeks later were in Miami determined to prove that win wasn’t just opening-night jitters for the self-anointed King and his self-important court.

Rajon Rondo punctuated the Celtics statement.  He shook old friend Eddie House on a pick and roll at the top of the key, drove to his left, and threw down a thunderous dunk as Bosh, the Heat’s erstwhile inside presence, stood under the basket helplessly.

 

June 5, 2012

Pierce hits a three-pointer in Lebron James’ face to steal a win in Miami.

The Celtics entered the 2012 NBA Playoffs as the fourth seed in the East thanks to a late run in the strike-shortened season.  They advanced past the Atlanta Hawks after a six-game tug-of-war.  They were fortunate to draw the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Semifinals after the Chicago Bulls lost MVP Derrick Rose and, with him, their first-round series.  Boston outlasted Philadelphia in 7 games and earned the right to be swept by the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals – or so most analysts thought.

Not only were the Heat heavy favorites, injuries left the Celtics down to a skeletal 7-man rotation and veterans Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were hobbled.  No one gave the Celtics a chance.  No one, that is, except Doc Rivers and the Big Four.

After dropping the first two games of the series in South Beach, the Celtics sent a tremor through the NBA, and the Heat’s confidence, by evening the series with two wins in Boston.  Still, heading into Game 5, most expected order to be restored in Miami, and for Lebron James to take control of the series.

Paul Pierce and the Celtics weren’t about to follow the script.

The teams battled back and forth through four quarters.  Udonis Haslem hit one of two free throws to cut the Celtics lead to one heading into the final minute.  Seconds later, Pierce rose to the occasion and left no doubt that the Celtics would not go quietly into that good night.

He took a handoff from Rondo on the left wing past the three-point arc and took a couple of dribbles to size up the MVP.  Fearing a drive, James flinched.  He backed up a half-step fearing a drive just as Pierce rose up and softly launched a shot that splashed through the net to put the game out of reach.  The Celtics captain simply shook his head as he headed back to the bench shouting, “I’m a bad man!”

 

January 27, 2013

Garnett blocks Lebron James’ layup in overtime.

By any account, this past season was a disappointment.  That willful pride was still there, but more often than not, it was overwhelmed by inconsistency, indifference and injury.  The Celtics were three games under .500 as they entered a Sunday afternoon matinee against the Heat at the Garden.

An ominous announcement just before game time indicated that Rajon Rondo would miss the game.  Then, at halftime, fans learned that Rondo was out for the season with a torn ACL.  Resignation and regret swept over Celtic Nation, but Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce refused to surrender to what seemed inevitable.

Garnett had 24 and 11 and Pierce submitted a triple-double in a double-overtime 100-98 win, but the biggest moment came as the first overtime was winding to a close.  The game was tied at 93 when Chris Bosh rebounded a Pierce miss with 35 seconds left.  With the shot-clock winding down, Lebron James, who had sent the game to overtime with a three-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation, drove to his right.  James was met at the basket by Garnett.  KG blocked the shot and preserved the tie.

 

Hopefully Garnett and Pierce return for one more season.

Hopefully Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger return to full strength.

Hopefully Jeff Green continues his rise to stardom.

Hopefully Danny Ainge adds a few more pieces.

Hopefully, I can add to this list of memories.

 

Listen to internet radio with CLNSRadio on BlogTalkRadio

Join us on Celtics Beat tonight.  Rich Conte will be stepping in for Daniel Baker on this Mother's Day and "Stats Adam", Adam Lowenstein will be cohosting.  We'll talking about the upcoming offseason, some rumors surrounding the Celtics, and the NBA Playoffs!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/clnsradio/2013/05/12/celtics-beat--512

 

A significant, but somewhat overlooked development in the wake of the Boston Celtics season-ending loss to the New York Knicks Friday night is the news that Kevin Garnett is likely to undergo surgery on both ankles during the offseason. One of the key questions facing GM Danny Ainge is whether or not Garnett plans to come back for a 19th season. Surgery and the ensuing rehab would almost certainly have an impact on the decision. In her excellent ESPNBoston piece on the future of the Celtics this past Saturday, Jackie MacMullan indicated that: Team sources said KG might undergo offseason surgery to shave down the bone spurs in his ankles, an operation that is not viewed as a major procedure. It is unclear whether the procedure referenced by the team sources is the same arthroscopic surgery that Ray Allen underwent on both of his ankles in the summer of 2007 before joining the Celtics. Allen spent three weeks in walking boots after his procedure but was ready for the opening of training camp and showed little, if any effect once the season started. Garnett surprised many with his decision to sign a three-year contract and return for this past season. One of the reasons he cited for returning was his relationship with Paul Pierce. His status is even murkier entering this offseason with Pierce’s future with the team in question, and the specter of surgery certainly doesn’t make it any clearer.

Boston Globe national basketball and Boston Celtics reporter Gary Washburn published a defense of his decision to cast his NBA MVP vote for Carmelo Anthony. Washburn’s vote prevented Lebron James from becoming the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. James received 120 out of 121 first place votes to win the award for the fourth consecutive season. Washburn’s decision has generated quite a buzz on Twitter with many questioning his decision (and whether he deserves a ballot) and others defending him for having the ‘courage to think outside the box’. In the article, Washburn cites the impact that Anthony had on the Knicks return to relevance and a perceived relative lack of talent surrounding him, especially when compared with the James’ Miami Heat. Washburn asserts that without Anthony, the Knicks “are a lottery team”. The argument that Washburn uses isn’t a new one. The question of how to interpret the intent behind “most valuable” when assessing candidates for the award has a long history across all of the major sports. There have been several instances in the NBA where the accepted “best player” was passed over for the award in favor of another player that carried his team to unexpected heights; Steve Nash over Kobe Bryant in 2006, Allen Iverson over Shaquille O’Neal in 2001, and Charles Barkley over Michael Jordan in 1993 to name three recent examples. On the other hand, given Anthony’s lack of contribution in any area of the game outside of scoring, his predilection for ball-stopping isolation offense, and his reputation as a less than exemplary teammate, the argument that he was the most ‘valuable’ player seems hollow. While the MVP is a regular-season award and the playoffs are not considered, this seems especially true after a playoff series in which he wasn’t even the most valuable player on his own team (that distinction belongs to Knicks point guard Raymond Felton). Considering that he called attention to his vote by writing a column on it, it is not a stretch to suggest that Washburn’s primary motivation was to create some national attention for himself. If that was his goal, congratulations on a job well done.

KG and Pierce raging against the dying of the light

The Boston Celtics cowboyed-up last night at Madison Square Garden and sent the first-round series against the New York Knicks back to Boston for Game Six.  Despite a few vestigial stretches of cringe-inducing offense and loss of focus on defense, there was a lot to like about last night’s 92-86 win.

The Celtic offense defied Kenyon Martin’s ill-advised eulogy and returned from the dead with a balanced attack including five players scoring between 15 and 20 points.

The Celtics defense continued to find success in encouraging, even baiting, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith into playing isolation, low percentage basketball.

Brandon Bass complemented his stellar work on the defensive end with incredibly timely and efficient contributions on the offensive end.

Jason Terry followed up his series-saving Game Four performance with some necessary baskets and even more necessary confidence down the stretch.

Terrence Williams came off the bench to run the offense, attack the basket and provide some toughness and rebounding in the backcourt.

Jeff Green stepped up with two huge threes and a couple of aggressive moves to the basket at a point where the offense had become tentative and stale.

Probably the thing to like most about last night’s performance is that it guarantees at least one more appearance in Celtic green for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.  Pierce shook off a poor shooting start and ongoing turnover issues to hit 4-8 three pointers and score 10 points during the critical third quarter.

Garnett was, in a word, immense.  His rebounding renaissance continued with 18 boards and he orchestrated a Celtics defense that once again stifled the Knicks’ potent offense.  Despite 38-plus minutes, KG had enough left in his legs to shake and bake Tyson Chandler and drain a 20-foot jumper to put the game out of reach for good with 48 seconds left.  He added two free-throws with 40 seconds left for good measure.

So, the series heads back to the other Garden and the Celtics have a chance to even the series at three games apiece and position themselves for an opportunity to make NBA Playoff history.  Equally importantly, it gives Celtics fans at least one more chance to appreciate the two iron-willed veterans and consummate professionals.

It also gives the fans, and the media, a chance to reevaluate the recurrent sentiment that these quixotic playoff runs are mere delays, even impediments, to an inevitable rebuilding effort.

The enthrallingly unexpected journeys to the Finals and Conference Finals in 2010 and 2012 didn’t result in championships but they are still important parts of the franchise’s legacy.  They are also critically important to the future of the franchise.

Celtics fans should treasure the privilege of watching Pierce, time and again, get up off the mat, shrug off missed shots and turnovers, and make a big shot or a heady play when it’s needed most.  They should marvel at the way Garnett stares the long odds of the series, and the even longer minutes he’s logged over his career, directly in the eyes without blinking and respond with ferocity rather than resignation.  These experiences are as big a part of Celtics lore as Havlicek and Bird stealing the ball.

Moreover, the impact of these experiences on Jeff Green, on Avery Bradley, and even on the injured Rajon Rondo and Jared Sulligner is much more important to the future of the franchise than middling draft picks or prospects like Eric Bledsoe or Deandre Jordan could ever be.

 

Sunday, 28 April 2013 15:17

J.R. Smith suspended for Game 4

 

 

 

 

 

New York Knicks guard and NBA Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith will miss today’s Game 4 against the Boston Celtics.  Smith was suspended by the league as a result of the flagrant two foul he received for elbowing Jason Terry during Friday night’s Game 3.  The foul occurred late in the 90-76 blowout victory that left the Knicks on the precipice of a sweep.

Smith is averaging a shade over 16 ppg in the series and is generally considered the Knicks most potent offensive threat next to Carmelo Anthony.  It will be interesting to see what the impact of Smith’s absence is on today’s game.  The mercurial guard has hit some big, and difficult, shots during the series but has been inefficient (shooting 43% overall and 31% on 3pFG).  Like Anthony, he is prone to becoming a ball-stopper which plays into the Celtics’ hands on defense.

 

 

The Boston Celtics kick off the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks Saturday at 3pm.  What can we expect?

The Big 3 era Celtics have always been a bit of a “box of chocolates” team when the playoffs roll around.

In 2008 they entered the playoffs as a juggernaut; winning 66 regular season games and posting a per-game point differential of +10.3.  When the playoffs started, they struggled to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, needing the full seven games to dispatch both the Atlanta Hawks and Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.  Of course, that first round series against the Hawks wasn’t as close as it seemed - it may have been the least competitive seven game series in NBA playoff history -  the Celtics outscored the Hawks by 101 points in their 4 wins (including a 34 point drubbing in Game 7) while dropping 3 games by a total of 17 points.  The Celtics finally rediscovered their Ubuntu in the Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons and eventually rolled to their 17th NBA Championship in the Finals against Los Angeles Lakers.

The following three seasons all seemed to follow a similar script.  Fast, even dominating starts – they started the season 27-2 in 2009, 23-5 in 2010, and 23-4 in 2011 – that gave way to lack of depth and inconsistent, even indifferent play.  The C’s were afterthoughts when those playoffs started, but managed to reestablish themselves as significant threats.

The 2009 and 2011 playoff runs ended in the Conference Semifinals – limited primarily because of injuries to Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo.  In 2010, the Celtics earned their identity as the prideful and ultra-competitive veteran squad that could never be counted out.  They led by 13 points midway through the 3rd quarter of Game 7 at the Staples Center and were poised to earn their 18th NBA Championship before falling just short.

Last season proceeded very differently than the previous four.  The Celtics struggled through the first half of the lockout-shortened season before Avery Bradley ascension into the starting lineup reenergized their defense.   They closed out the season on a 24-10 run but entered the playoffs with a thin bench and with Avery Bradley and veterans Paul Pierce and Ray Allen significantly hampered by injury.  They advanced to a Conference Final showdown with the Miami Heat after competitive series against the Hawks and the Philadelphia Sixers.  At that point, most observers considered the Celtics fortunate to make it that far and expected them to be nothing more than a token obstacle to Lebron James’ first title.

The Celtics shocked the NBA world with their stirring performance against James and the Heat.  They took a 3-2 series lead with a gritty Game 5 win in Miami and had a lead early in the 4th quarter of Game 7 before succumbing.  That series cemented the reputation of the KG/Pierce/Rondo/Doc Rivers core as gamers that can be counted on to rise to the challenge of the playoffs.

Entering this season, the Celtics were the presumptive threat to Miami’s dominance of the East based largely on that reputation and the depth added by offseason acquisitions Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Jared Sullinger as well as the return of Bradley and Jeff Green from injury.

Then the season started and the best laid plans appeared to have gone awry.

Through nearly three months, the Celtics sat at 20-23 and it was impossible to get a read on who they were.  They put together a couple of impressive wins against the Pacers and on the road against the Hawks and managed to run off a six game win streak.  That run was presumed to be a glimpse of the future, but it was immediately followed with a six game losing streak including disheartening losses to the Hornets, Pistons and Cavaliers.

When Rondo tore his ACL during a double-OT loss to the Hawks a lost season seemed inevitable.  After half a season of uneven, uninspired and underachieving performance and with the trade deadline rapidly approach, the loss of their floor leader (soon to be followed by season-ending injuries to Sullinger and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa) seemed insurmountable.  Fans and media called for a tear-down effort, positing that with short-term success out of reach, trading Garnett and Pierce would improve the team’s fortunes in the long run.  Some even suggested that it was time to end the Rajon Rondo era.

The next six weeks flipped the script.

The Celtics ran off 14 wins in the next 18 games.  Veterans Pierce and Garnett put the team on their shoulders offensively and defensively.  Bradley rounded into form after his return from offseason shoulder surgery.  Previously disappointing complementary players like Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and Jason Terry found their game when asked to shoulder a greater offensive load in Rondo’s absence.  Most importantly, the team rediscovered their identity on the defensive end and established a new identity as an uptempo, unselfish, ball-moving machine on offense. Their new style of play reenergized Celtics nation and led even the harshest media critics to rethink their positions and give the Celtics at least a sliver of chance in the playoffs even without Rondo.

Over the final 20 games of the seasons, the team reverted to its earlier struggles going 7-13.  In contrast to the sometimes inexplicable inconsistency and underachievement of November, December and January, the end of the season performance reflected three distinct characteristics:

The attempt to evaluate and integrate several newcomers into the team framework -  Terrence Williams, Jordan Crawford, Shavlik Randolph and DJ White all joined the team in the late February/early March time frame. Injuries to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Avery Bradley destabilized the rotation that had been established during the six-week stretch of great play. Team leadership resigned themselves to a lower-bracket seeding in favor of getting veteran players healthy and rested and experimenting with different lineups in preparation for the playoffs.

With the playoffs commencing tomorrow at 3pm in Madison Square Garden, which Celtics team can we expect to see?

Will it be the underachieving and inconsistent squad that stumbled through the first three months of the season as it tried to piece together the old and the new parts into a cohesive whole?

Will it be the tough-minded and exciting crew of February and early March that surprised the NBA by successfully integrating the championship-hardened core with the talented and athletic newcomers?

Will it be the injury-saddled and fragile team that struggled to the finish line and scrambled to find the most effective combinations of players before the real games started?

Here are four keys to look for that will go a long way towards answering that question.

The health of Kevin Garnett and his role in leading the defense

Simply put:

The Celtics will not be a factor in the 2013 NBA Playoffs unless they consistently capable of exerting their will defensively in every series they play. The Celtics will not be capable of doing this unless Kevin Garnett is healthy and focused in his role as the defensive centerpiece.

In due deference to Avery Bradley’s impressive defensive capabilities and credentials, KG is still the focal point of the team defensively.  His positioning, communication and intensity set the tone and create the beautiful “five guys on a string” mastery that marks the Celtics defense at its best.

This will be particularly critical in the first-round matchup with the Knicks.  The team must be capable of bothering the Knicks spread, three-point shooting attack, while still successfully defending against Carmelo Anthony post-ups and ISOs.

The health of Paul Pierce and his role as the focal point of the offense

Offensively, the Celtics inspired midseason run was driven by a commitment to playing uptempo and sharing the ball.  At the center of it, was Captain Paul Pierce.  Pierce, as he so often does, recognized the importance of ‘giving the game what it needs’ in the absence of Rondo and took on a significant responsibility for facilitating the offense in the half-court.

Starting with the thrilling overtime victory over the Heat that kicked off the run, Pierce recorded three triple-doubles in Rondo’s absence.  He still looked for his own offense but increased his assist numbers over the second half of the season and made a renewed commitment to rebounding.  Injuries, games off due to rest, and an inconsistent rotation limited his ability to perform in that role over the 6 weeks of the season.  Pierce will need to reestablish himself in that role, while also focusing on cutting down on turnovers, if the Celtics are to generate enough offense to be successful in the playoffs.

At least a couple of the complementary players having a reliable impact on both ends of the court

The most obvious candidate is Jeff Green.  After Rondo’s injury, Green’s play improved dramatically and he turned in some impressive performances on both ends of the court.  His scoring and rebounding steadily increased each month and his 3-point shooting percentage improved dramatically.  He also began to display the type of defensive impact that the coaching staff has long claimed he was capable of.

He’s shown flashes of being the type of impact player that the Celtics will need alongside Pierce and Garnett:

31 points with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocks against Phoenix on February 22nd 43 points with 7 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Heat on March 18th 34 points on 19 shots with 4 blocks against Detroit on April 3rd.

Unfortunately, he’s also had more than his share of single digit scoring games and games with little impact outside the points column.  If Green can provide a consistent two-way effort and impact throughout the playoffs it will make the Celtics a much more serious threat.

The next most likely candidate is third-year guard Avery Bradley.  Bradley’s defensive impact is unquestioned.  The Celtics have been the best in the league at guarding against the three since Bradley returned from his injury and his intensity and ball pressure at the point of attack are a huge part of the Celtics defense.  Unfortunately his defensive impact is mitigated by his inability to consistently provide an offensive threat.  The Celtics are limited enough offensively to begin with that they can’t afford to play 4-5 at that end for meaningful stretches.  Bradley must be, at least, a token threat from the perimeter, especially since his effectiveness at a cutter has been hampered by the absence of Rondo’s court vision and passing.

Fellow reserve guards Courtney Lee and Jason Terry also have the opportunity to expand their games and have a big impact on the Celtics fortunes in the playoffs.  Both have been wildly inconsistent throughout the year with Lee probably having the better overall regular season.  Terry is a fundamentally limited player at this point.  He’s best suited for making his unique offensive contributions as a pick-and-roll creator and clutch shooter in limited minutes and in specific situations.  He needs to maximize his effectiveness in his role and in those situations to have a meaningful impact in the playoffs.

Lee has a better chance to have a more expansive impact on the Celtics playoff performance.  He is a solid two-way player able to contribute in both the open floor and the half court.  His ability to guard on the perimeter will be critical in the first-round matchup with the Knicks.  The challenge for him, much like Jeff Green, is to get comfortable with being assertive about his own game while meshing with Pierce and Garnett.  It will be interesting to see if Doc Rivers’ game plans include running some plays for Lee early in the game to get him established and in his comfort zone.

In the frontcourt, Brandon Bass has been an enigma for much of the season.  Coming off a solid performance against the Heat in last year’s playoff, Bass seemed to be knocking on the door of the Celtics core.  He demonstrated a deadly mid-range shot and sometimes surprising ability to get to the basket against bigger front-lines as well as being a willing, if limited defender.  Through much of the season, he was unable to provide any type of consistent contribution and never really found a comfortable place in the rotation.  Most surprisingly, his normally reliable mid-range shot disappeared for most of the season.  While the team generally struggled down the stretch, Bass regained his shooting stroke (his FG% was 55% in March and 57% in April compared to low-mid 40% for most of the season) and may be poised to provide consistent level of play in the playoffs.

One member of the end of the bench crew stepping into the regular rotation

Even with all of the previously mentioned players playing at or near the top of their game, that still leaves the Celtics with a relatively thin seven-man rotation.  If they are going to advance more than one round, someone else needs to step in as reliable contributor to the rotation, even for 10-15 minutes a game.

Preferably, this would be one of the reserve bigs.  Chris Wilcox shows flashes and perhaps is still affected by the recovery from his offseason heart surgery.  He has the body, skills, and athleticism to provide consistent contributions on the boards and for the interior defense but his focus and effort waver too often to be counted on.

Shavlik Randolph has shown the ability to contribute on the boards and defensively when given the opportunity but has had difficulty staying on the floor because of fouls.  If he can limit his fouls and give the Celtics a reliable 15 minutes a game off the bench it will help their interior depth, particularly if they advance to face Indiana in the Conference Semifinals.

DJ White has shown much in his limited opportunities and would seem to be Ryan Hollins-esque measure of last resort.

In the backcourt, Jordan Crawford has shown an intriguing degree of assertiveness and creativity offensively and a willingness to play hard, albeit undisciplined at times, defense.  He is probably the biggest wild card for the Celtics in the playoffs.  He could potentially swing a game with a big offensive quarter or big play here or there, but his ability to provide a game in and game out contribution will be measured by his focus and willingness to stay on the same page with everyone else, especially Doc Rivers.

Terrence Williams has some interesting playmaking skills but it is hard to see a specific role for him in the rotation.  Like White, if he’s called on, it’s likely because of an injury and that certainly wouldn’t bode well for the Celtics longevity in the playoffs.

 

All that’s left is to see how things play out Saturday.  The Celtics probably need all four of these factors to play out favorably over the next couple of months if they want to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for another showdown with the Heat.  If that happens, perhaps momentum and confidence will build to the point where they can seriously challenge or even beat the presumed favorites and get another shot at Banner #18.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

Pitino enters the Hall primarily on his stellar work as a coach at the collegiate level with Boston University, Providence College, University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.  He leads the Cardinals into tonight’s NCAA Championship Game against the University of Michigan.  Pitino has one NCAA championship (1996 Kentucky Wildcats) and tonight marks his third appearance in the Championship Game (along with his seventh appearance in the Final Four). It was an unlikely Final Four run with the upstart Providence College Friars in 1987 that earned Pitino a shot at the NBA.

The New York Knicks hired Pitino as Head Coach in 1987 and he led them to two consecutive playoff appearances including a trip to the second round in 1989.  Pitino used that performance as a springboard to land an even higher profile position; Head Coach of the Kentucky Wildcats.  After eight seasons in the Bluegrass State, the Boston Celtics lured him back to the NBA to turn around the storied franchise.

Over three plus seasons, Pitino submitted a less-than-Hall-worthy performance as Team President and Head Coach of the Celtics.  During his tenure, he managed to enrage or alienate virtually everyone associated from the franchise – from legendary franchise patriarch Red Auerbach all the way down to a majority of the fan base – through a series of impetuous personnel transactions and curious coaching decisions.  He resigned his position with the Celtics in January of 2001 after posting a 102-144 record.

Another name with brief ties to the Celtics joins Pitino as part of the Hall’s Class of 2013. Former Seattle Supersonics point guard Gary Payton spent the 2004-2005 season with the Celtics during the twilight of an outstanding 17-year NBA career.

Former NCAA coaches Jerry Tarkanian, Guy Lewis, and Silvia Hatchell along with former NBA player Bernard King and former NCAA and WNBA star Dawn Staley round out the class that will be inducted on September 8th in Springfield.

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