The regular season that almost never was, is finally, mercifully over. It was hard on everyone, from players, to coaches, to bloggers, to fans, but we all made it through together. Now we turn our attention to the postseason.
Team Record: 39-27
First Round Opponent: Atlanta Hawks
How would you describe the Celtics in the regular season?
A tale of two seasons. Everyone expected them to come out of the gates fast and fade down the stretch. That was the script last year and the schedule was back loaded with the worst stretch of games in the last few months. But they flipped that script. They played poorly out of the gates, looked to the world like they were on their last legs, and endured endless speculation about the core being broken up.
Then something clicked and all at once Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce all started playing out of their minds. Unexpectedly Avery Bradley emerged as a starter and key piece of the equation and Greg Stiemsma came out of nowhere to supply some depth at the center spot (despite playing through pain for much of the last few months).
They enter the playoffs on a roll and even got to use the last week of the season to strategically rest the veterans.
What are the Celtics' strengths? Are there any areas that concern you?
Basically the same strengths as they've had for the last 5 years. The Big 3 are headed to the Hall of Fame but not before at least one more run and Rajon Rondo is the NBA's assist champ and playing the most consistent stretch of his career. Oh yeah, and they are still the best defensive team on the planet, which I'm told helps in the postseason.
Concerns are the same as always as well. Injuries and age are never far from our subconscious and while KG and Pierce have looked positively spry recently, Ray Allen's lingering ankle issue is a painful reminder that these guys aren't the whippersnappers that they once were. If Ray or any of them misses time, they become much more vulnerable. But you knew that.
What is your likely playoff rotation? Who is likely to see their minutes increase? Who might fall out of the rotation completely?
For those not following the team regularly: Avery Bradley is now the starting shooting guard even when Ray Allen is healthy and Kevin Garnett has moved over to the Center spot, which puts Brandon Bass in the starting lineup as our power forward. Obviously Rondo is the point and Pierce is at the 3.
Assuming full health, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, and Greg Stiemsma fill out the 8 man rotation. Other guys have been playing well as of late (Daniels, Pavlovic, Dooling) and could see time situationally and to cover for injuries, but expect the rotation to be tight.
The only other guys that might see the light of day are Ryan Hollins or maybe even Sean Williams because as they say, you can't teach height. Rookies Moore and Johnson will likely have to keep taking notes.
Who is most likely to step up their level of play? Do you have a potential "breakout" peformer this postseason?
I'd say that Avery Bradley has already stepped up his game, so if he can just keep it going in the playoffs I'd consider that alone a breakout performance. He's got the defensive chops to be a real game changer in the playoffs and if his shots are falling he's invaluable.
For those same reasons I'd tap Mickael Pietrus as a guy that could sneak up on people. He is streaky with his shooting but when he's on he stretches the floor and he's got the talent to be a James Posey type of defensive pest as well.
How far can you realistically see the Celtics advancing in the playoffs?
I don't see why they can't realistically compete for the title. Sure, anything could go wrong and they aren't the favorites, but they are playing their best basketball of the year (perhaps of the last 2 years) at exactly the right time and every other contender has their share of flaws. Much like the Mavs did last year, I could see this team using their veteran experience and good coaching to grind their way to a title.
Banner 18 is my prediction and I'm sticking with it.