B’s, C’s Primed For Playoff Runs?
Sunday, April 01, 2012
What a Sunday! The question is: was it a harbinger of things to come?
Both the Celtics and the Bruins entered play Sunday as sizeable underdogs. The Celtics hosted the defending Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat while the Bruins visited the soon-to-be Eastern Conference Champion New York Rangers.
At the TD Garden, Rajon Rondo’s triple-double (16 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds) led the Celts to a blowout win over the Heat. Paul Pierce scored 23 in the win for Boston who held Miami to just 35% shooting from the field and LeBron James without an assist for only the second time in his career.
Later Sunday night at THE Garden, Tim Thomas turned away 33 Rangers shots en route to a 2-1 win over the blue shirts. In the process, the B’s clinched the NHL’s Northeast Division and the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
These have not been the easiest of seasons for the Celtics and the Bruins. Injuries, illness, age or simply long stretches of inconsistent play have led most of us to believe that the chances of either team competing for a championship this year might be slim. Our judgement may have been too hasty.
Of the two, the Bruins clearly have the better chance to make a deep run in the postseason. After all, they are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and they still have Tim Thomas between the pipes.
But this team has been strangely inconsistent this season. They slumped out of the gates with what many believed was a “Stanley Cup hangover” before the caught fire winning 22 of 26 games. However, since late December, the B’s have been little more than a .500 team. Thomas had a brutal month of March by his own standards going (7-8) with a 2.60 goals against average and a save percentage of .884.
But Thomas started the month of April Sunday like the old Tim Thomas, which is to say spectacular. That alone should give Bruins fans hope with an eye toward the postseason. The Bruins offense has also started to come back to life of late having lit the lamp 25 times in the last 7 games.
It would appear that the B’s opening round playoff opponent would be Ottawa, a team they have owned during the regular season.
Could another Cup run be in the offing? Don’t count them out.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are a bit of a different story. The consensus seems to be that Boston can win an Eastern Conference quarterfinal round series, but that their run will likely end there with either Miami or Chicago standing in the way next.
But Sunday’s trouncing of the Heat may force us to think differently about this team. Yes, they are old. Yes, they are hurt. Yes, their roster is thin. But this is a veteran team whose heart, determination and talent should never be underestimated. Sunday showed us that.
This team wins when they defend and they have been a significantly better defensive team ever since they moved Kevin Garnett to the center spot with Brandon Bass at the power forward. Are they a small team? Yes, but in size only.
The NBA did the aging Celtics no favors by handing them an absolutely brutal schedule to close out the regular season. In addition to 3 games against the Heat, the Celtics will battle the Spurs, Bulls, Magic, Pacers, Hawks, Sixers and Knicks among others. They will also play 8 of their last 14 away from the TD Garden.
But their mission will be simply to make the playoffs. Because there are no back-to-back games in the postseason meaning that they will be able to catch some rest. Grabbing home court advantage in the opening round would be nice but it’s not imperative. This veteran team is capable of grabbing wins on the road.
Still, having to go through BOTH Miami and Chicago just to get to the NBA Finals seems like a daunting task for this Celtics team. But you can be assured of one thing: they won’t go down without a fight.