No buzzwords necessary; Celtics are finally healthy
Monday, May 17, 2010
They call it “flipping the switch,” which, in it of itself, is a simplistic – and somewhat insulting – explanation of a team’s ability to right its own ship at the most important time of the year.
Knowing full well the term isn’t meant to be taken literally (so save the smart-ass replies), it still grinds my gears when “experts” shun thoughtful analysis in lieu of a tired cliché, particularly in the curious case of the Boston Celtics, who are now seven wins away from their second NBA title in three years despite this writer leaving them dead in the water just over a week ago.
The Celtics’ unexpected playoff resurgence – they finished the regular season 27-27 after a blistering start, but are now 9-3 in the postseason following Sunday’s win at Orlando – has nothing to do with a flipping a switch, turning the page on a calendar or plugging in any sort of inanimate object.
They’re just healthy now. Finally.
When the Celtics jumped at the opportunity three years ago to acquire Kevin Garnett (31 at the time) and Ray Allen (32) in the same offseason, they knew they weren’t signing up for long-term success. At best, they’d have three years – maybe four if they were lucky – to bring an NBA title back to Boston before their “Big Three,” which also includes 32-year-old forward Paul Pierce, would eventually stall in the breakdown lane.
Year 1 of this project was an obvious success with the Celtics winning 66 games and ousting Los Angeles in the NBA Finals for their record-setting 17th world title. The ship sank last year when Garnett missed 25 games, including the entire postseason, with a sprained knee. The Celtics still finished 62-20 to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but Garnett’s absence came back to haunt them in the playoffs when they coughed up a 3-2 series lead to Orlando in the semifinals, including a Game 7 blowout at home.
With the “Big Three” together again at the start of this season and the addition of veteran free agent Rasheed Wallace adding depth to the roster, the Celtics drew universal praise as a legitimate threat to dethrone Orlando and return to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years. Considering how long the NBA seasons lasts, people tend to forget their early predictions by the time May rolls around, but there were some in this area who thought Boston would challenge Chicago’s regular-season record of 72 wins set in 1996.
I laughed – hard – only because I figured it’d be impossible for a team with three 30-something superstars (along with a 35-year-old role player/loose cannon in Wallace) to stay healthy over the course of an 82-game season. For a while, the overzealous optimists looked brilliant; the Celtics opened the season with 23 wins in their first 28 games. Then the inevitable injuries (and subsequent malaise) set in. Garnett, less than a year removed from knee surgery, missed 13 games. Pierce sat out 11.
Over the final four months of the season, the Celtics lost their rhythm and, according to head coach Doc Rivers, lost their way. While battling injuries and other internal problems, they played .500 basketball from January through April and backed their way into the playoffs looking nothing like the team that started the season 23-5.
Now they’re three more wins away from a trip back to the Finals. Why? Not because they’ve “flipped the switch,” but because they’re healthy – particularly Garnett, whose defense suffocated Antawn Jamison in the Cleveland series and shut down Rashard Lewis on Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, an exhilarating 92-88 win for Boston.
So save the clichés. This run is simple to digest. The team you’re seeing now is the team you thought you were getting in October. No switches or magic formulas – just healthy bodies.
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