The Beantown Blogger is back and Niall Gray still believes in the Celtics, despite their slow start to the season.

The good thing about writing for a website is that in most cases, most of you reading the article will be sitting down as I’d hate for you to keel over in hysterics when you read the following;

When it comes to the play-offs this spring, DON’T RULE OUT THE CELTICS.

I can hear you now, chuckling over your keyboards and your i-whatevers about a team who have been hovering around seventh and eighth place in the Eastern Conference; an aging team for whom a three-year plan is now in its fifth year, and a team that could potentially see none of the Big Three wearing the Celtic green next season.

However, I am being serious as the results to date don’t show what the Celtics are capable of. As we’ve seen with the Lakers and Mavericks, the lockout and abbreviated pre-season affected the older teams around the league and none more so that the Celtics.

Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers recently commented that with the obvious exception of Ray Allen, the Celtics were out of shape when they returned.

None more so that Paul Pierce who didn’t even play until the fourth game of the season because of a heel injury, and he needed until about a fortnight ago before he finally got into game shape.

But it wasn’t just that, injuries have really taken a toll this season and at the time of writing, only Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass have played in every game  — just two players out of a roster of fifteen.

Since the start of the Pierce-Garnett-Allen era, the Celtics have had injury problems but most of the time it was only an absence of one key player at a time.

Last season was one to forget in terms of injuries and although the Shaquille O’Neal experiment ultimately ended in failure, I’m still grateful one of the best players ever spent a season with the Celtics (helps me erase memories of Shaq being a Laker!).

That said, bar Rajon Rondo missing about a dozen games, most of the injuries were to the supporting cast, i.e. the bench. Although I hoped for a miracle, going out in the second round to Miami was about right for that team, we didn’t deserve to go any further.

This year the injuries have been all over the shop and Kevin Garnett is the only starter to have escaped unscathed so far.

In the last couple of weeks Rajon Rondo has succumbed to a wrist injury, Ray Allen missed games with an ankle problem, Jermaine O’Neal has been slowed by a number of injuries and yet the Celtics have played their best basketball all season.

While Paul Pierce finally getting into game shape is part of the reason for the turnaround (and he has put in a number of great performances lately), the real reason has been the bench.

Rondo went out and with backup Keyon Dooling also sidelined, Doc Rivers has been forced to turn to 2nd year guard Avery Bradley and rookie 2nd round draft choice E’Twaun Moore.

Neither is a point guard like Rondo, but then again who is, and to be honest neither I would consider a true point guard.

But they have both contributed, each in their own way. Do you remember that spanking Boston handed Orlando the other week? Well if Paul Pierce is to be believed, it’s down to Bradley who Pierce said led from the front with his tenacious full-court defending.

While Bradley’s shooting is a bit suspect (but then again Rondo is hardly a offensive force), he makes up for it with his defending, barely giving the guy he is marking room to manoeuvre.

The other win over Orlando, where the Celtics overturned a 27-point deficit on the road, was in part thanks to the rookie Moore. Where Moore is not as intense defensively, he does have a sweet stroke when it comes to shooting the ball.

With the Celtics down by a fair margin late in the third quarter, Moore came into the game to give Bradley a breather. He ended up remaining in the game to the very end as his shooting propelled the Celtics to an unlikely victory.

Let’s look at his stats during the 14 minutes he played at the end of the game; 16 points consisting of a lay-up over Dwight Howard, four out of four from downtown and a couple of free-throws thrown in for good measure. Add in 3 rebounds and a blocked shot, and not a bad night’s work for someone expected to be riding the pine all season.

No doubt he and Bradley will see a lot more pine when Rondo and Dooling return, but Rivers knows he has two guys he can turn to and more importantly, be able to rely upon.

But it’s not just these two guys. Brandon Bass is easily showing that the trade that sent him to Boston for Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis is benefiting Boston a lot more. On defence I would give the edge to Big Baby, but offensively Bass is head and shoulders in front.

And there’s Mickael Pietrus who brings raw energy (and a deadly three-point shot) every time he sets foot on the floor. Marquis Daniels is filling a role nicely having come back from spinal surgery, while the likes of Chris Wilcox and Sasha Pavlovic have both had their moments this season.

There has been talk all season that Celtics GM Danny Ainge should pull the trade trigger and use the expiring contracts of Garnett and/or Allen to build for the future, or perhaps even let Pierce move to a contender.

I can understand why Ainge wants to do this, he remembers when Boston’s original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish got old.

I say, let things stay as they are. Pierce, Garnett and Allen may be aging but we’ve learned in recent weeks that the Celtics have in place a bench who can contribute and allow Rivers to cut back on minutes for his starters, keeping them nice and ready for the play-offs.

Let’s make this one last run and then over the summer, Danny Ainge can do whatever he wants in order to keep the Celtics competitive.

Chicago and Miami are the favourites to come out of the East and on current form deserve that honour, but with no pressure to win the title, I’m willing to believe a healthy Celtics can spring a surprise or two come May…




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