Irish Coffee: Five reasons not to panic about Celtics
|03.25.13 at 3:00 pm ET|
Add Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee to the list of walking Celtics wounded. While neither will join Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger on the season-ending injury manifest, only 13 games remain in the regular season, they’ve lost four straight and the goodwill built from a seven-game win streak without Rondo seems like ancient history.
So, is it finally time to bury the C’s this season? Not so fast. Here are five reasons not to panic about the current state of the Celtics, even if they only have 10 healthy bodies at this point.
They’re firmly entrenched in seventh place, even if they’re only two games up on the Bucks.
Even with Rondo, when the Celtics owned a 20-23 record and sat in eighth place, the best they could’ve hoped for was either a sixth or seventh seed and a chance to avoid the Heat until the Eastern Conference finals.
Well, Doc Rivers‘ Rondo-less charges play seven of their remaining 13 games at home, including a four-game stretch from April 3-10 that includes the Pistons, Cavaliers and Wizards. Not a brutal stretch by any measure. Meanwhile, the Bucks face the Thunder (twice), Lakers, Knicks, Heat, Hawks and Nuggets over their final 13 games — seven of which are on the road. As a result, a seventh seed seems to be the C’s most likely scenario.
Their road record isn’t as bad as it seems, even if they’re a putrid 12-23 away from home.
The Celtics play to the level of their competition and have since 2010. And that effort gets worse outside of Boston. They’ve played eight road games against playoff teams since Avery Bradley‘s return, when they began to resemble some semblance of the KG era Celtics, and they own a 3-5 record. Those five defeats …
- A double-overtime loss in Atlanta on the second night of a back-to-back.
- A seven-point loss in mile-high Denver coming out of the All-Star break.
- A blowout loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles the following night.
- A double-digit loss in Oklahoma City that unraveled in the fourth quarter.
- And Saturday’s loss in Memphis without Garnett or Lee on a back-to-back.
As Rivers so often reminds us, the Celtics don’t play back-to-backs on the road in the playoffs. If they can hold court in the Garden — where they own a 24-10 record this season, including an 8-3 record against playoff-bound teams since Bradley’s debut — the Celtics can withstand a .400 road record. All they need to do is win one road game in each series, as they did last season, when they came within a few minutes of the NBA finals.
Garnett will be well rested for the playoffs, even if it’s the result of missing three games in the last week because of a groin strain, the flu and an ankle injury that could cost him another two weeks.
KG averaged 36.9 minutes during his monstrous playoff run a year ago. He’s only eclipsed 35 minutes on 10 occasions this season — nine of which included overtime — and the Celtics are 7-3 in those games. It’s no coincidence Garnett played 35-plus minutes in some of the most memorable wins of the season: the infamous Honey Nut Cheerios game in New York, the Rondo-less double-overtime game against Miami, the Nemo blizzard triple-OT game against the Nuggets and the West Coast trip-salvaging overtime game in Utah.
Jordan Crawford won’t be playing crunch-time playoff minutes, even if he’s getting fourth-quarter time now.
Whether he’s resting guys down the stretch or testing Crawford’s will for the future, Rivers has given his deadline acquisition major minutes in the fourth quarter of 10 close games, and the Celtics have lost the last five of them.
While the C’s coach suggested he’s auditioning his new players to see who he can put his faith in during the playoffs, he’s only trusted two types of players in the past: his guys and battle-tested veterans. Crawford is neither. If history is any indication, you’ll plenty of Jason Terry and only a sprinkling of Crawford in the postseason.
Paul Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season, even if he’s had a pinched nerve in his neck.
After four months of hovering around 40 percent, Pierce has made a stellar 53.3 percent of his attempts from the field this month — including the same percent from 3-point range (and an oddly sub-par free throw percentage) — to go along with a remarkable 7.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game since Rondo’s injury.
Meanwhile, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass are also hitting their stride. You’re always going to get maximum effort from Garnett and Bradley, so if Terry raises his game in the playoffs, as he continues to remind everybody, there’s plenty of reasons to believe the Celtics can still beat anybody but the Heat.
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