Celtics need their superstars to shine

Celtics need their superstars to shine
April 24, 2013, 1:15 pm
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OK, so the Celtics are down 2-0. And that depressing fact only gets more depressing with details. For instance, these first two games mark only the third time in the KG era that the Celtics have failed to scored 80 points in consecutive games, and the first time it’s happened in the playoffs since Games 6 and 7 of the 2010 Finals. Yesterday’s second half performance (23 points) was literally the most pathetic in franchise playoff history (and this is a franchise that once rolled out a playoff starting five that featured Eric Montross and Derek Strong). The Celtics also became the first team in the NBA shot clock era to score 25 or fewer second half points in consecutive games (in the regular or postseason). Finally, with their two losses to the Knicks, Boston has now dropped 13 of its last 18, and of the five wins, only one has come against a team with an above-.500 record — the Atlanta Hawks, on March 29, who were playing without Al Horford and Devin Harris.
 
Yet, despite all this, we’ll spend the next few days trying to convince ourselves that the Celtics still have life.
 
Why?
 
Truthfully, the only reason is a seven-game win streak almost three months in the past.
 
If not for that stretch of Celtics success (January 27-February 10), this season and team would have long been written off, a casualty of old bones and bad luck, and this current 0-2 first round deficit would just be par for the course. In fact, the only surprise would be that the Celtics made the playoffs at all.
 
But in this life, that streak happened. In the aftermath of Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL, with Boston fans already bracing for the lottery, the Celtics ripped off one of their most inspired runs in recent memory. It started with a double overtime win against Miami, it ended with a triple overtime win against Denver, and along the way, the C’s made believers out of us all. Not that they were necessarily championship material (especially after losing Jared Sullinger) but that they still had some fight, that they could give anyone in the East a series and maybe, just maybe, put the Heat through hell one more time.
 
The reason for this streak, and our renewed faith, was simple. It wasn’t about the absence of Rajon Rondo, but the reemergence of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
 
To that point in the season, the pair had been solid but unspectacular; better than average, but not by much. When Rondo went down, everything changed. With the season on the line, Boston’s pair of Hall of Famers exploded back to somewhere around 2008.
 
Over those seven games, Pierce notched two triple doubles (after recording only one in the previous seven years), while averaging 18.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists a night. His 71 rebounds were the most he'd had over a seven-game stretch since the first seven games of the 2006 season. At one point during the streak, he recorded 10 rebounds in three straight games for the first time since November of 2005.
 
For his part, Garnett averaged 17.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists,  a game. He had four double-doubles in those seven games (that’s double-doubling at a 57 percent clip), compared to only nine in his previous 43 games (21 percent). He was dominating on defense, moving up and down the court with ease and just generally affecting games in a way that we hadn’t seen since the previous playoffs.
 
At the time of Rondo’s injury, Boston was 20-23, the eighth seed in the East, and closer to the lottery (two games) than they were the seventh-seeded Bucks (3.5 games).
 
The streak ended with Boston at 27-24, the seventh seed in the East, and now closer to hosting a first round series (three games) than they are to missing the playoffs all together (4.5 games).
 
Combined, and I say this without an ounce of exaggeration, Pierce and Garnett saved the Celtics season. They showed their teammates that, despite every apparent reason to quit, this thing wasn’t over. They gave fans a glimpse of the heights that a Rondo-less Celtics team might be able to achieve.
 
Sure, the rest of the team pitched in along the way. The four-guard rotation of Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and (then) Leandro Barbosa found a rhythm. Jeff Green finally started making strides. Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox were finding ways to contribute. But make no mistake, this was about Pierce and Garnett. Two all-time legends donning their capes one more time.
 
And then, they slowly faded back into reality.
 
The team and its stars.
 
The Celtics beat four eventual playoff teams during that seven game winning streak — the Heat, Nuggets, Clippers and Lakers. In the 31 games after the streak, they beat four eventual playoff teams — the Bulls, Warriors, Pacers and Hawks. Meanwhile, Pierce and Garnett were inconsistent as they played through an assortment of injuries, and for the last few weeks, they (especially KG) barely played at all.
 
And the Celtics suffered for it; they once again gave us every reason to lose hope, write off this season and start looking towards the future.
 
Still, as the playoffs got underway, there was hope. And it was the memory of that seven game win streak. It had to be that. It was literally the only real stretch of the post-Rondo season that gave any indication that the Celtics could compete with the best the Eastern Conference had to offer.
 
But after two games in these playoffs, the Celtics aren’t there. They look poised for an early exit. They look outmatched by a Knicks team that most Celtics fans spent the season HOPING to play in the first round.
 
And the reason is Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
 
Moving forward, the only hope is Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
 
That might not be fair, after all, 35 and 36 year olds aren’t supposed to dominate at this level. Especially, in KG’s case, a 36-year-old who’s very clearly injured. But they set that bar. Their dominance is the only reason that this post-Rondo dream even exists. And without it, it will only be a few more games until the dream comes to an end.