After watching their season come to a grinding halt in the wake of Kevin Garnett's knee injury last year, this season was supposed to be different for the Celtics. KG was supposed to come back healthy. Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels and Glen Davis were supposed to re-solidify a bench that was backing up the best starting five in the NBA. No team with championship aspirations is supposed to suffer through two consecutive injury plagued seasons. Unfortunately, that's the harsh reality these Celtics are facing. All of the players mentioned above have all missed games due to injury this season, with Garnett, Daniels and Davis having each suffered through (or are currently suffering through) extended absences.
And as a result of those injuries, along with Paul Pierce missing five games, Rajon Rondo battling a sore left hamstring earlier this month and a bout of the flu coursing through other members of the team, the Celtics are just 27-11.
Hold on a minute. Did I just say what you thought I said? You bet I did. Don't believe me? I have proof. Despite a horrendous stretch of injuries to some of their most important players, the Boston Celtics are still 27-11 and sit a mere game and a half behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. What does that mean? It means that in spite of everything, the Celtics are still right where they need to be, and as of today, things should only get better as the season continues to progress.
And hopefully they are progressing soon. Mark Murphy's latest blog post says that the Celtics are targeting the January 22nd game against the Blazers for Garnett's return.
“We would have a practice day the day before (the Portland game),” the Celtics coach said before tonight’s game against the Bulls. “I’m just glad that he’s running right now. We’ll have a couple of practices over the next week where he can get on the floor and work with us.
“We’ll play him when he’s ready, and that’s it,” said Rivers. “But there’s an outside chance that Portland could be the return game for him.”
While it's still fair to critique the players who have taken the floor for the Celtics over the last 10 games and amassed a 4-6 record, it's difficult to critique this team as a whole, simply because all of the members of this team have been incapable of finding the floor at the same time. Glen Davis punched his way to the sideline just before the start of the season, and near the eve of his return, Marquis Daniels was forced to the shelf with a hand injury of his own. One comes in, another goes out. The absences were bearable, but only until Garnett and Pierce got in on the act. Once those two hit the sidelines, things got slightly ridiculous.
But this is where the patience part comes into play. Because a team with championship aspirations isn't supposed to suffer through two consecutive injury plagued seasons, especially one with such a short championship window, we allowed ourselves to get caught up in the early season talk of this record and that record and the regular season success this team was expected to achieve. Unfortunately, the Celtics proved to be the exception to the injury rule even before the season officially started, and now, we're beginning to realize just how little the regular season actually means, in favor of the glaring importance of the playoffs. It's easy to let impatience build up inside of you at a time like this - when a team that was supposed to be so good finds itself struggling. It's difficult to stomach because the wins are expected, but what cannot be lost in translation is that this is not the team that Danny and Doc had in mind at the start of the year.
The 72-10 nonsense is officially over. The new regular season goal: Tough this stretch out, get healthy, find a groove and enter the playoffs ready to knock opponents in the jaw. We certainly can't dismiss these last 10 games as if they never happened, because even with injuries we could still see improvement from guys like Rondo and Kendrick Perkins and we can still expect guys like Pierce and Ray Allen to lead the team late in games. So while we still want to win, we know deep down that this team is a shell of the one that was constructed over the offseason. This current group is not the 2009-2010 Boston Celtics. A quarter of what would be Doc's every day rotation is stuck in street clothes. We can't judge this team right now. We can't make any unfair assessments about who should be traded or who should be fired or who deserves more playing time. We have yet to see a polished final product, and until that day comes, the jury is still out.
Think ahead to when Daniels and (now) Rasheed Wallace and Garnett all come back healthy (let's put our optimistic hats on and say Garnett will come back healthy). Sure we'll love seeing Daniels back for his versatility and we'll enjoy seeing Wallace back for his swagger and we'll of course praise Garnett's return for his defense, intensity and overall presence. But beyond that, we're most excited to finally see a fully loaded 2010 Celtics squad. It's not necessarily the individual players themselves, but those players uniting with the healthy ones to form one of the most formidable teams the NBA has seen in recent years. It's the collective whole, not the individual parts that we now long for.
It's the idea of the starting five of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Perkins once again playing that lockdown defense, along with the Pierce and Garnett pick-and-roll play, the Rondo to Garnett alley-oops and the Garnett and Perkins block parties. It's the idea of Wallace strutting in from the bench, dominating second unit front lines, both outside and (hopefully) inside. It's the idea of Daniels filling in at point guard, making Eddie House that much more effective, and leaving Tony Allen free to think primarily about his defense, which he can hopefully convert into his own offense. It's the idea of Glen Davis rounding out one the most balanced second units in the league. And it's the idea of Shelden Williams becoming arguably the most talented insurance man the league has to offer.
The worst of this injury business should be over. We've for the most part flushed it out of our systems. It's time for these guys to slowly trickle back into the lineup. And then it'll be time for this team to become what it set out to be.
Until then, you know what they say:
Patience is a virtue.