Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma have played well on both sides of the ball at center, anchoring a position which has been plagued by injuries to Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox. Their work on defense has been especially valuable, serving to bring the entire unit together with tough interior defense in the middle.
The Boston Celtics are in second place in the Atlantic Division; wait, that can’t be right, can it? But it is. The team who everyone thought would make a move before the NBA trade deadline, no matter what Danny Ainge or Doc Rivers said, the group that was too old to make another run is currently 28-22 and in line to make the NBA playog. At a 0.560 winning percentage, the C’s are tied with Philadelphia record-wise yet behind them in the standings due to the 76ers’ edge in the tiebreaker between the two teams. They currently sit as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, in front of only the New York Knicks in rank. Despite their low seeding, it seems as though the C’s are beginning to heat up just as the weather outside the TD Garden is.
Winners of five out of their last six, including a recent three-game streak culminating in a 94-82 victory over the Utah Jazz at home last night, the Celtics are patching up their inconsistent defense and getting solid efforts from their starters every game. Veteran Kevin Garnett has anchored this effort, playing the tight D he is known for while playing at the unfamiliar position of center due to injuries to starter Jermaine O’Neal and bench big Chris Wilcox. The move to the middle of the floor has also improved Garnett’s offense, opening up his game as far as shot availability and pass outlets go. Rookie Greg Stiemsma has also stepped up in the turnaround on the defensive end, blocking shots seemingly left and right and even contributing offensively with his quick-release jump shot. His athletic ability has also allowed him to hit the boards hard at both ends.
As he has done all season, Brandon Bass continues to play well whether he’s a starter one night and coming off the bench the next. Unlike most power forwards, Bass’ game is reliant on his ability to hit mid-range jumpers. From 12-18 feet, he is usually a sure make around 60 + percent of the time. He can either catch and shoot while open or spot up in a defender’s face. Bass is also a pretty aggressive defender. Fitting in with the theme of bench guys having success in starting roles, Avery Bradley has stepped up his play. Having started the C’s last three games due to an injury to Ray Allen (all victories) he has played impressively, including a career-high 23-point effort against the Wizards in Washington.
Paul Pierce has played well as usual, like he always does when his teammates need him to, playing some sound defense while also contributing significantly offensively. This team-leading play doesn’t come as a surprise from Pierce, who seems to have a clutch gene embedded in his basketball abilities. What has come as a surprise, however, has been the consistent performances coming from Rajon Rondo. Amid rumors of Celtics upper management wanting to deal him, the point guard has maintained his composure and kept his mind on the game of basketball. This has caused him to record double-digit assists game-in and game-out, finding teammates with the ball no matter where they are on the parquet floor.
With just 16 games remaining in the regular season, the Celtics need to keep up this identity they have established for themselves. Since they are tied with Philadelphia in the win-loss column, a sub-.500 stretch could push Boston into first place in the Atlantic Division. Such a change in the standings would land the C’s the fourth seed due to their status as a division leader. The home stretch is no walk in the park, however, including match-ups with the Miami Heat three times, Atlanta Hawks twice, and the 76ers once. And with only seven games at home and nine on the road, where the Celtics are 10-14, the schedule certainly doesn’t favor the team finishing the season strong. Well I say we prove the schedule wrong! What do you say, Celtics?
Here are a couple of highlights from the C’s recent 10-game stretch (7-3):
Later on that very game…
And last night against the Jazz…