THE Celtics reach the mid-way point of the season virtually as it began, back under a cloud and raising questions about whether it can make the post-season this year, let alone do some damage there.
The highlight reel in this first half is without doubt, in my opinion, dominated by Avery Bradley. Putting stats of his own aside, he was an instant spark to this C’s roster upon returning from his shoulder injury at the turn of the year. He is foremost an excellent hustling defender so far in his short NBA career; a fact evident by the many clips of his in-your-face ‘D’ on YouTube. When you also hear unkind jokes about Bradley’s face looking as if it’s gone some rounds in the ring, it only rams home this invaluable trait. He is fearless among flailing arms.
It’s no coincidence that Bradley’s return sent their up and down form on a 6-win streak. Again, it wasn’t about stats. Simply, the excitability of youth and some diversion of Rondo-obsessed opponents brought guys like KG, Lee and Jeff Green into their own. The latter especially brought the entertainment, with some massive dunks on and after his heart-surgery anniversary. Boston was up and about.
This inspired form gave them probably their best and grittiest win of the season so far – against the Knicks in their own Garden. Garnett, who had the quotes on tap for journalists throughout the streak, was at his wily best getting under the skin of Carmelo Anthony and adding anything but ‘Honey-Nut Cheerios’ sweetness to their next meeting (an alleged comment Garnett made about Anthony’s wife). Not to mention the All-Star game, when they’re expected to be team-mates in the East’s starting line-up. If nothing else for the C’s this season, form will count for nothing when they next meet NY again in just a few days, as well as Miami! (Remember them?)
But that’s where the bubble burst. A blow to the ribs against the Hornets forced him to the bench and then onto the casualty list. The suspect defense returned. In all 8 games he played, the opponents never reached a triple figure score. Chicago came to town and duly eclipsed the Bradley-less Celtics with one; 100-99. He will return very soon, but it is concerning how reliant they are on this mere rookie.
Of course, this barometer of performance would be a non-issue if not for the fluid back-up guard and center positions. In Jason Terry (JET), they should have a solid, experienced campaigner but too many a headline this season has been about the JET not leaving the run-way. Their starting center of late is a man called Jason Collins. Who? Precisely. Sadly the only mentions he is getting are because he’s a registered player, thus in the NBA stats database. The only thing sadder is that the guy who was moved on despite being apt in this role, Kendrick Perkins, is having a pretty miserable time of it at his new club.
In early January though, the Celtics cut two promising forwards Kris Joseph and Jarvis Varnado in a move that many deem a precursor to another super-deal from GM Danny Ainge. That is yet to happen to this day. But while many are hoping such a deal lands a big fish of the say, Josh Smith variety, this author worries about the cost. Sure, you love being the envy of the NBA when you can add another superstar and gloat that another Banner is nigh. However, when names like Bradley and Lee get thrown up as possible exchanges, the prospect leaves a sour taste. A healthy Bradley needs to join Rondo as the face of the franchise over the next decade. The roster must be built around them. Instead, General Manager, Danny Ainge should be looking to recruit a simple, dependable Center (just like Perkins). The cost is minimal and you’re more likely to have someone who will enjoy the Boston way of life. JET (despite his form) and Green are good examples of guys who seem to be lapping up the camaraderie inside the Club.
Where to next?
So, 40 down, 42 to go. The Celtics are starting over. But it would take a brave pundit to predict where they finish with a healthy-again Bradley and the vacancy sign shining bright green over the roster. What do you see for the team?