This 2011-12 season was a tale of two halves for the Boston Celtics, a phrase I hate to turn because it is used by every slack-jawed postgame recapper. But it is so true in the Celtics' case, and it is really the only way to describe what happened during the course of this season. The first half (15-17 record pre-All-Star break) had the team earning their moniker of "old" and general manager Danny Ainge heroically declare that they were not contenders. It looked like a sad finale for the Big 3, and a divorce with superstar/sometimes petulant teenager Rajon Rondo seemed imminent. Then the All-Star weekend came and went, and the Celtics came out swinging with their media-delegated canes and walkers, and went 24-10 the rest of the way, earning a four seed in the Eastern Conference.
But how did we get here? How did the Celtics turn it around, but also how did they even get into the situation where they were five feet under? Here are the five moments that shaped and altered the Celtics season. I will obviously be missing a few, given the constraints, so comment below if you have any other ones that I skipped/neglected/ignored/forgot happened.
Rajon Rondo's Triple-Double Against the Knicks: March 4, 2012
This was the best game of Rondo's career, and for more reasons than his absurdly cartoonish stat-line. Rondo was buried in the midst of endless trade rumors, and endless speculation about what his future with the Celtics was. At one point, it almost seemed a matter of when, rather than if, Rondo was going to be dealt. The rumors of Rondo's perverse behavior, and the Celtics alleged subsequent dismay with it, ended up being nothing more than a snowball of rumors that seemed to get larger and larger by the day. Rondo's 17-18-20 line in an overtime win against the Knicks shut almost everyone up, and the cloud that had been hovering over the Celtics had been disintegrated almost instantly with his performance. An off-the-court problem with arguably the most talented Celtics player was not what this team needed, and Rondo's game (pretty much immortalized in this Simmons tweet) pretty much brought a halt to all the trade rumors, at least until the offseason.
A 103-71 Loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on March 7th, 2012
This obviously seems like a very sadistic addition to the list, but to me, there is no more important game this season. The Celtics entered the game still heavily competing with the 76ers for the Atlantic Division crown, since they were still only 20-17 heading into the game. They had just won five in a row following the All-Star break (Rondo's triple-double from the paragraph above is included in that streak), and they appeared to be beginning something resembling a roll. The 32-point loss that followed could have been absolutely crippling; a confidence destroyer that could have sabotaged the rest of the season. Instead, the Celtics were able to not self-destruct, won the following game against the Trail Blazers, and were able to stay solid for the rest of the season. The fact that this game did not wreck the Celtics season is very important, as what could have potentially happened is scary to think about. What if the team decides "Aw hell. Who cares anymore?" Think of how horrible and mind-bendingly infuriating that would have been. If I was a professional athlete, I definitely would have quit. I'm the worst. "Oh, our team is rapidly aging like a reverse Benjamin Button and we just lost by 32 points to our division rivals and now we are on the outside looking in for the playoff chase? COUNT ME OUT." Glad I'm not involved with the Celtics directly.
Without stuff like this, who knew how the season could have turned out? The clubhouse could have collapsed on top of itself. Via @RedsArmy_John.
Avery Bradley Starting
Ray Allen's injuries forced Avery Bradley into the starting lineup, and the Celtics skipped approximately zero beats. When Bradley starts, the Celtics have gone 14-4; without him, 25-23. Bradley has obviously made a huge impact on the defensive end, but what has surprised many and what really is forcing Allen to sit the bench (non-injury division), is his improved offensive ability. He's a very good spot-up shooter, and shoots well in transition, and that ability to contribute on the offensive end -- something he had a lot of trouble doing early on in his career -- has forced Doc Rivers to keep him in the lineup. The team has played better and seems to flow well when Bradley is starting, and Allen's willingness (or faux-willingness, depending on how you perceive his quotes) has allowed Bradley's transition to starter be smooth.
Bradley's "I BELONG" moment. Via @jose3030.
Kevin Garnett's Move to Center
Done in March, Garnett switching positions from power forward to center has improved his play tremendously, and the Celtics are flourishing because of it. Of course, the move hasn't come without criticism, mainly from Kevin Garnett himself. Said Garnett after Thursday night's game: "I hate the five spot. You put me anywhere on the floor I’m going to play it to the best of my ability. It’s not a preference of mine but it’s something my team needs so I don’t think about it." SO STUBBORN! But it's working insanely well. Garnett's caliber of play has gone way up since the move. Here are some advanced metrics via 82games.com.
Player Floor Time Stats by Position
If Garnett isn't feeling the positional change, he certainly isn't it let it affect his play. In fact, if Garnett REALLY hated the move so much, wouldn't he intentionally suck? Maybe it's some reverse psychologically thing that isn't panning out well. Whatever his motive is, it doesn't matter. Garnett's elevated play has consequentially elevated the Celtics' play, and along with Bradley's starting role, Doc Rivers has continuously been on point with positional and lineup moves this season. Doc's ability to feel which player's should be starting where and when is the underlying thing driving this team's narrative during the season, and Garnett is a prime example of Rivers' coaching abilities.
I always forget that this is how the Celtics season started. No regrets, though. Via @jose3030.
Doc's Decision to Rest Rather Than Go For Home-Court Advantage
In what has proven to be a somewhat polarizing issue amongst Celtics fans and followers, Doc Rivers decided to rest most of his starters in the last few games, instead of going after home-court advantage that was pretty attainable. Personally, I think this was the smart choice, given how certain starters (Allen and Garnett, specifically) were sort of falling apart and malfunctioning as the season came to a close. The Celtics, despite their second-half successes, are still a very old team. Due to the season being shortened, the Celtics were not subjected to what happened last year -- a prolonged dismantling where arms and legs fell off like decaying zombies. Toward the end of this season, there begin to be subtle signs (specifically those mentioned here) that it may happen again, so Doc decided to pull the plug on the rest of the regular season and save up for the playoffs. It's the smarter choice of the two presented to him, mainly because it is concerned with the future of whatever little time the Celtics have left. Of course, we'll have to wait for the playoffs to find out whether or not Doc's decision was correct, and if the Celtics come out in pristine playing condition.
Well, those are the five moments I saw being the most important during this 2011-12 season. Again, tell me what you think below! Here is my favorite GIF of this season:
This is perfect for so many reasons.
1. Rajon Rondo is involved.
2. The effort that went into that wrist-flick is registering at non-existent.
3. It happened against the Miami Heat.
4. Look who's the recipient of the half-court alley-oop:
5. SASHA PAVLOVIC!!!!!
6. He has inexplicably beaten LeBron James in a foot race to the ball.
7. Sasha Pavlovic beat LeBron James in a contest of speed.
Via Red's Army
Follow the author @brendohare