The Celtics are, by most prognosticators, expected to have a moderately successful season, garnering between 50 and 55 regular season victories and falling in the Conference finals. We Shamrock faithful hope of course for a duck-boat parade in June. So how might the Green exceed those predictions of falling short of the Championship for a fifth year in a row?
Dateline: September 12, 2012––18 days until the start of training camp!
The new Big Three era has had an eerie parallel to baseball’s 1948 Boston Braves. The Braves had two Hall of Fame pitchers and really no other even remotely effective hurlers on the pitching staff. The woeful lack of depth prompted Boston Post sports editor Gerald Hern to pen a poem that spawned one of the most famous and enduring jewels in the language of sports.
“First we’ll use Spahn, then we’ll use Sain,
Then an off day, followed by rain.
Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain,
And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.”
These lines led to the rallying cry of that ’48 team, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”
For the past five years the Celtics’ basketball version where the fan’s hoped the All-Stars could forge a lead and prayed the backups could hold on while they rested. And everybody prayed nobody got hurt. Unfortunately every year since the ’08 Championship, the Celtics’ rotation has been decimated by injury and health issues.
This year the constitution of the team has changed. One aging All-Star is gone, the other two are half a decade older and part-time players. A new All-Star has emerged to quarterback the team, and the middle of the roster is filled with athletic talent to supplement, extend, and even supplant the dimming stars. It is from this developing strength that most of the hopes for improvement issue.
The first order of business for improvement is not to lose any ground. If Pierce and Garnett can fight the thief that is Time to a standstill, and contribute 26-32 minutes of superior play each game for most of the games, then they will have done their part. For five years Rondo has increased the number of flashes of brilliance while significantly lowering his errors, inconsistency, and games where he seems to have the blahs. If he continues this upward trend then he will have done his part. In our quest to exceed expectations, all we are hoping for from our stars is to meet expectations.
A jump in performance, any leap in production, soaring beyond expectations—these are incumbent upon the other dozen guys on the roster. The exciting part of the anticipation of this season is that there are more than half a dozen candidates to play over their heads. In the past several seasons, we have been lucky if there was even one player who we wistfully thought, “Well if he has a breakout season, my Celtics might be a little better than I’m hoping/expecting.” Too many to count on one hand—gads, no wonder we are giddy with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.
Depth and breadth of quality is a quality all its own. Consider for a minute how these multiple parts may be fit together.
I like Jason Terry as the backup point guard. With Rondo likely playing the most minutes of any starter, Terry may only spend 8-12 minutes at the point; but whether it is a Rondo pick and roll and penetrating to collapse the defense, or Terry using the screen forcing a switch or hard show, the defense will be on their heels and this year the second unit has multiple dangerous shooters. Terry, Lee/Bradley, and Green are going to get a lot of open looks. Run-outs at those open looks will create opportunities closer to the basket and even higher percentage chances. Wilcox and Sullinger may feast on the resulting breakdowns yielding those infamous 18” shots. Even Collins and Melo are scoring threats from 18”!
Once Bradley returns I will be really intrigued to see how a blitzkrieg team of Rondo, Bradley, Lee, Green, and either Sullinger or Wilcox might fare. The hanging tongues and dead legs of the opposition will make the return of the regulars seem like wolves among sheep.
Put Terry, Lee/Bradley, and Green/Pierce on the perimeter, with Garnett or Wilcox at the high post, and Sullinger will definitely have single coverage and lots of room to work in the low post. Or with Bass at the corner of the key and Garnett in the low post—once again the bombers will open up the middle. And few shots are as open as those coming from kick-outs past a defense collapsing to squelch an inside threat.
Whether Terry or Rondo is running the pick and roll, and whether Garnett, Bass, or Sullinger is setting the screen, the defense can’t cheat, or take a misstep. O.K. the defense will try to lay off Rondo, going beneath the screen, but Rondo is shooting the right corner of the key jumper with increasing regularity and consistency; and he only needs the slimmest daylight to turn the corner and throw the defense into scramble mode.
Note that all the things discussed thus far are essentially systemic attacks. They depend not so much on any individual player making a great leap forward, as the overall quality of the rotation— multiple shooters, screeners, passers, and finishers.
Tomorrow, individual breakout seasons—who and why.
Boston, and all points beyond