The Celtics started out the season making an emphatic statement to the league that this team is for real. The players simply couldn't contain their excitement to finally be on a team with title aspirations. Everyone checked their ego at the door, the ball moved like a hot potato, and every shot seemed to fall.
Of course it couldn't last forever. The huge win over the Pistons on January 5th really marked the peak of the season thus far. Critics were looking for the Celtics to get tested, and the team handled the playoff atmosphere in style to run their record to 29-3.
After that, the team either let its guard down or finally started feeling the effects of the 100 mph pace they had set from the start of training camp. They dropped the next game to the Bobcats and got beat back to back by the Wizards.
Nobody likes losing, and after last year I'm not about to start back down the road of applauding moral victories. However, there are some silver linings I see as a result of the recent downturn.
First of all, the team currently has a built in excuse for any loss. No KG, no pressure. Ray Allen has missed time with still-sore ankles. Even Pierce has found himself victim of whatever bug that seems to be going around these days. It is no surprise that these 30-somethings are starting to feel old. But the team seems to be handling it well. Doc and the trainers are erring on the side of caution and when they know a guy is hurting (read: when Ray and others are willing to admit it) they make sure he gets all the rest he needs.
The team has already proven that they can beat anyone when fully loaded. Recently we're seeing that the team can still pick up its share of W's shorthanded. Give credit to the other players stepping up when called upon. We've seen Perkins drop 24 points on the Knicks and 21 on the TWolves. We've seen Rondo grow by leaps and jumps in recent weeks. And the bench that was much maligned in the preseason has proven its worth.
Posey seems to be the Captain of the second unit, providing a solid foundation even when he's not scoring. Tony Allen is progressing day by day, little by little. Eddie House is still deadly from outside. And the two headed monster of Powe and Big Baby has been a delight to watch.
So the team has fallen back to the pack a little bit. So what? They aren't the story of the day anymore. The media has moved on to the Lakers and Suns and the upcoming trade deadline. No problem. I kind of like them flying under the radar a bit. They still hold the best record in basketball and have a very good shot at getting home court advantage in the playoffs for at least the first few rounds.
Coming out of the gates strong was good for this team. But ultimately the most important time to shine will be the end of the year. Hopefully we can get Kevin back at full speed in a week or two and Ray will be honest with the trainers about when he needs some time off his feet. In the meantime, role players are getting a chance to step up and gain valuable experience.
I'll take a market adjustment in the mid months if it means the team will come back stronger in the last third of the season leading up to the playoffs.