Five Ways The Celtics Can Still Win It All

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Five Ways The Celtics Can Still Win It All

On March 16, a day after the Celtics stood pat at the deadline and officially embarked on their latest last run with the Big 3, I wrote a post called: Five Ways the Celtics Can Still Win It All.

This wasn't an endorsement of their championship potential but more an attempt to shed a little bit of optimism on what had been painfully negative and emotional season.

I figured: Hey, everyone's still here, and you know they're not lacking for confidence. So, even if there's only a one in a million chance of bringing home Banner 18, what realistic sequence of events would put Boston in the best position to do so?

They rewarded my optimism by losing back-to-back games to the Kings and Nuggets.

But then something clicked.

Chalk it up to Rajon Rondo's consistent killer instinct, the resurgence of Kevin Garnett, the subtle dominance of Paul Pierce or that Avery Bradley's suddenly growing up at a faster rate than Jack. Chalk it up to chemistry, coaching or a relatively easy schedule.

Whatever it is, the Celtics are on a roll.

They've won seven of eight games. They're a game up on Philly in the Atlantic, and somehow only a game and a half behind Orlando for the third seed in the East. They're once and for all the team nobody wants to see in the playoffs.

Do you think they have what it takes? Probably not. But coming off yesterday's massive beatdown of the Heat, it's at least worth re-visiting that old column and updating some thoughts.

Five Ways the Celtics Can Still Win It All, Volume 2.

1. Get Chris Kaman
What I wrote: The addition of a legitimate seven-footer doesn't mean that the Celtics can't play small. But I don't have to tell you that, in order to succeed in the playoffs, they'll need someone taller than Mickael Pietrus and more experienced than Greg Stiemsma to step up and make an impact.
Update: Well, Kaman stayed in New Orleans, where he's been productive when healthy, but recently missed more than a week with bronchitis. In his place, the Celtics picked up a rebound-deficient seven-footer and alley-oop extraordinaire named Ryan Hollins.

Although right now, none of that really matters. The reason is Kevin Garnett.

When it comes to playing center, KG is like a reluctant super hero, or Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic He didn't ask for these powers! But there's no escaping the fact that the Celtics have been a different team with Garnett in the middle.

In the 21 games since he officially took over, the Celtics are 16-5.

Even better, despite the lack of front court depth, Doc Rivers has kept Garnett's minutes to a minimum. He's averaged only 31.6 minutes a night over this recent eight-game stretch has yet to shown any signs of the wear and tear you might expect from nightly battles with the NBA's biggest and strongest.

Still, moving forward, it's hard to imagine that the Celtics can overcome the lack of size.

Hollins is an athlete, but not much of a basketball player, and while Stiemsma has been a nice surprise, the playoffs are a different beast.

What happens if KG finds foul trouble?

Will he have anything left after seven games against Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah or Dwight Howard?

Can you really win in the playoffs when 35-year-old Kevin Garnett and rookie Greg Stiemsma are your only legitimate players taller than 6-8?

2. Stay healthy

What I wrote: No one can get hurt.OK, I take that back. Sasha Pavlovic can get hurt. E'twaun Moore can get hurt. And the C's could probably afford to lose Marquis Daniels for a few games. But if one more player of remote significance goes down, we can officially close the curtain on the season even if it's already only inches from the ground.
Update: Since my original post, the Celtics have lost Ray Allen to an ankle injury and Mickael Pietrus to a concussion, and there's reason to be somewhat concerned about both.

First, with Jackie Macmullan's suggestion that Allen may eventually need surgery to fix his ankle, you can assume that he won't be 100 percent again this season. And despite the old "No one's 100 percent in the playoffs" cliche, the fact remains that shooters especially of the 36-year-old variety need their legs, and if Ray's even slightly hobbled, it should affect his play.

But on the brightside, the Celtics certainly have no plans to rush Ray back, meaning that when he does play, he'll be as healthy as he's going to be.

As for Pietrus, Doc said yesterday that he doesn't expect the Frenchman back before the playoffs, and that's hardly a good sign. When healthy, Pietrus played such an important role for this team. At his best, he was the closest thing they've had to James Posey. A guy who can extend the defense, guard multiple positions and meshed unbelievably well in the locker room. If they lose Pietrus, they lose a lot of energy, versatility, and a little bit of their edge.

I'll say this though: If there's one benefit to Pietrus' extended absence, it's that while his head might be hurting, the rest of his body most notably his right knee is intact. And if he's by some chance cleared to play again, while it will obviously take a little time to get back into the flow, that sore knee will be fresher than at any point this season, and better prepped for the rigors of playoff hoops.

3. Beat the Heat

What I wrote: I know, regular season success doesn't mean anything in the playoffs. We learned that last year, when the C's won three of four during the season, but then lost four of five when it mattered most. But here's why the Celtics need to beat the Heat in the regular season. To show that they can, and to regain just a little bit of that mental edge that was lost during last year's playoffs.

Update: Check. And now the stage is set for a classic battle on April 10 in Miami.

With yesterday's no show, you know that there's no chance the Heat overlook the Celtics on the 10th. They'll come with everything they have. There will be no excuses.

Which begs the question: What if the Celtics win?

What does Miami do then?

And how does that effect the all-important mental edge heading into a possible playoff rematch?

If anything, it puts the Celtics in a position we never imagined they would be, even as recent as a few weeks ago.

4. Derrick Rose falls apart
What I wrote: You know they're going to do everything in their power to ensure that he's OK. Rose is already playing a career low 35.6 minutes a game this year, and if the Bulls continue to build on their lead in the East, you can expect his minutes and games played to further decrease. But regardless of how much rest the Bulls find for Rose between now and the start of the playoffs, his durability will be a major wild card and potential game-changer for the Celtics chances to shock the world.

Update: You hate to root against Derrick Rose. Of all the superstars in this league, Kevin Durant may be the only guy who scores higher on the genuine likability scale. So, as a basketball fan, you want to see Rose compete, and do so at his best. The NBA is better place when he's around.

But from a Celtics perspective, the absence of Rose creates an opening in the Eastern Conference, one that's expanding at the rate of Carlos Boozer's hairline.

Rose has now missed 10 straight games with a sore groin, and told reporters yesterday that he's still having a hard time running. The Bulls hope he'll be back before the end of the regular season, but that's still very much in the air. In the meantime, so is the future of one of the East's two major contenders.

If the season ended today, the Celtics would draw Indiana in the first round, and with a win would likely face Chicago in the second.

If Rose is out or legitimately hobbled, who do you like?

5. 1-2-3 UBUNTU
What I wrote: At this point, it's unreasonable to expect the Celtics to reach any special level of chemistry. At least nowhere near the heights they experienced in 2008 or the spring and fall of 2011. There's not enough time or talent for the guys to form that sort of bond. BUT if the Big 4 can re-discover Ubuntu among themselves (what a ridiculous sentence) if even just those four can find a way to co-exist as seamlessly and consistently as they have in the past then yeah, maybe the Celtics can make a little run.
Update: Well, they have made a little run. But of course, the crazy thing is that it's happened with one of the Big 4 stuck on the sidelines.

So, what should the Celtics do when Ray Allen comes back?

Do you roll with Avery Bradley, and bring Ray off the bench?

There's no denying the Celtics success with Bradley on the court they're 5-0 with Bradley, Rondo, Bass, Pierce and KG, 9-6 when you sub Ray in for Avery. You can't run from how happy Rondo looks with Bradley as a wing man on the break, and the damage AB does on the defensive end. Meanwhile, if Allen's ankle is a problem, wouldn't it make sense to try and limit his minutes, and wouldn't bringing him off the bench be the perfect way to do that?

Of course, it's not that easy. For one, Allen is a creature of habit; a man who thrives off routine, and has been in the starting line up for 1140 of 1143 career NBA games. How would he take to coming off the bench? Especially when you consider that he's currently playing for his last NBA contract. This a tough business, and you know that losing his job to a 21 year-old second year pro will have an affect on negotiations and his overall market value.

Still, in a perfect world, it seems like this would be the best move for the Celtics. The old way doesn't work anymore. This is their best chance, and they have to roll with it.

If Doc does, UBUNTU will face it's biggest test since the trade of Kendrick Perkins, and you can only hope it plays out better this time around.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."