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The Boston Celtics 2011-2012 early recap, and looking forward.
The Boston Celtics stumbled out the gate to start the 2011-2012 season. A disappointing opener on Christmas Day was just the beginning of a poor start. The lockout caused a shortened training camp and the Celtics did not appear to pick up at a high level of play. Injuries to key players further hampered their performance. The loss of Jeff Green for the hole season was seen as a devastating blow that greatly set the team back.
What was supposed to be a marquee matchup between two good Eastern Conference teams on Christmas turned out to be a preview of two teams that would underperform for the next few weeks. The New York Knicks held the Celtics off and won 106-104. Carmelo Anthony lit the Celtics up for 37 points and downed game-winning free throws to put the Celtics away. This was the beginning of the slide.
Boston dropped the next two games. A loss in Miami was understandable. Miami, obviously is a title contending team. The Heat played a very energetic and precise game. The duo of Wade and LeBron James were just too much. Boston allowed 115 points this game. This was not the Boston defense that fans have been accustomed to the last few years. Boston appeared unable to slow the Heat at all. The Celtics then dropped the next game to the New Orleans Hornets. Only able to score 78 points, the Celtics were badly beaten. The final score was 97-78. This was a disappointing sign.
Finally, a win
The Celtics finally picked up their first victory on December 30th against an overmatched Detroit Pistons team. Paul PIerce played in his first game of the season and finished with 12 points. Jermaine O'Neal stepped up his offensive production and put in 19 points to lead the Celtics. The Celtics then proceeded to win three more games against the Washing Wizards (twice), and the New Jersey Nets.
The winning streak didn't last too long before the Celtics went into another decline and lost five games. This was the longest losing streak the Celtics have endured since the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. During this time, it was clear that some of the aging Celics players were not in shape and that energy and conditioning was a problem. It took a while before Garnett and Pierce both looked to be playing at their normal level. The Celtics stopped the bleeding and beat Toronto by a healthy margin, 96-73.
They followed that up with a loss to the Phoenix Suns. The defense played well enough to win in that game. The Suns were held to only 79 points but the Celtics scored a dismal 71. Additonally, the Celtics bigs failed to crash the boards and they were out-rebounded 44-32. This put the Celtics at 5-9 on the season and there were doubts about the ability for Boston to even make the playoffs. They looked old, and lacked consistency. Injuries kept the team from getting into a rhythm and building chemistry with all the new roster additions.
Turning it around
January 22nd marked a sight for sore eyes for the Celtics, as they matched up against the Washington Wizards for the third time of the season. Boston beat Washington for the third time to reach the mark of 6-9. It was easy to still have doubts about the team. Three of the six wins had come against the Wizards, and Boston was yet to beat a quality opponent.
The Celtics faced off with the Orlando Magic in Boston the following day. Expectations were not very high for the Celtics in this game. They had struggled throughout the start of the season, and being an older team, they weren't expected to be very fresh for the second game of a back-to-back. The Celtics played inspired ball and thrashed the Magic 87-56. There was a different look to the C's this game. They had life. They played with energy and fire. They frustrated the Magic and put them away early. Avery Bradley hounded Jameer Nelson and made a big impact on the game, defensively. Pierce lead the effort with a 19 point, five rebound, and seven assist showing. The victory was achieved in the absence of two Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Boston crept up to 7-9.
Three days later, Boston visited Orlando for a rematch. The Magic were hungry. The Celtics fell into a deep hole and Orlando pounded the Celtics through much of the game. The Magic built a 27 point lead before the Celtics began chipping away. Rookie guard E'Twuan Moore provided a spark for Boston and finished with 16 points. Paul Pierce lead Boston scorers with 24 points. The Celtics stormed back and stole the game away from the Magic, with a final score of 91-83. Those that watched the matches with the Magic could sense that this may be a season-changing stretch for the Celtics. Boston left Orlando with a victory and headed back to Boston for a game with the Indiana Pacers on the following day. Again, expectations weren't very high for Boston. The Celtics came through and defeated the Pacers by a score of 94-87. Paul Pierce was dominant and finished just shy of a triple-double.
The play of Paul Pierce was very encouraging. It was clear that the Celtics need Pierce to play at a high level in order to be a competitive team. Riding a four game winning streak, the Celtics faced the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. It was an opportunity for Boston to put another W in the win column. Boston fell flat and lost by a point, after having what appeared to be a commanding lead in the fourth quarter. Two days later, Boston visited Cleveland. Boston squeaked out a victory, again lead by Paul Pierce.
Back at the .500 mark, with a record of 10-10, Boston hosted the Toronto Raptors. Boston jumped all over Toronto, dismantling them by a score of 100-64. The Boston starters built a lead and were able to rest for a large portion of the game as the substitutes carried the team to an easy victory. Finally, the Celtics were a game above .500.
Back to where they started
On February 4th, Boston and New York met again. It was a rematch of the season-opener for each team. Both Boston and New York were trying to get back on track and right the ship. New York lead much of the game. Boston overcame a 12 point deficit to pull out the victory. Paul Pierce finished the game with 30 points. Ray Allen poured in 9 points in a three minute stretch in the fourth quarter to help the Celtics pull of the win. The Celtics moved up to 12-10 with the win.
Progress and going forward
I think most Celtics fans would have been disappointed before the season started if they envisioned a scenario where the Celtics were 12-10. However, there are definitely signs of encouragement. At this point, Boston has quietly made a run and has gone 8-2 over the last ten games they have played. If the season ended at this point, they would make the playoffs. A couple weeks prior to this point, even that was in question. It looks as if the team may have some momentum and may be able to build on their recent success.
To continue playing well, there are several factors that will greatly impact the Celtics. Jermaine O'Neal has been an unsung hero so far this season. He has played banged up, but has been solid when on the floor. He provides a defensive presence and is still an adequate shot-blocker. O'Neal does the dirty work and is near the top of the league in drawing offensive charges. Right now, the Celtics lack a lot of size so O'Neal is very important to the team. His numbers aren't impressive but that does not tell the whole story. He was able to play Dwight Howard physically and frustrate him, limiting his effectiveness.
Paul Pierce is still The Truth. Pierce has proved that he is still an excellent player. He just does what it takes to win games. His hustle and energy on defense has been overshadowed by his offensive game. His imprint on the games is undeniable, and the Celtics are a different team with him on the floor.
The new guys have changed the dynamic of this team. Brandon Bass has been a great addition to the roster. He adds toughness and is an extra scoring threat while on the floor. His ability to grab offensive rebounds helps in an area of major need. Veteran player Chris Wilcox has filled a similar role and has played very well in spurts. Mickael Pietrus is a very athletic player that can play defense, shoot the ball, and nail three-pointers. The two rookies from Purdue, E'Twuan Moore and JaJuan Johnson, have both showed potential when on the floor. Moore has played a significant role in the outcome of some games. Avery Bradley has altered games with his defense. His tenacity on defense has inspired his team-mates to play hard and may have earned him more playing time as the season goes. Watching how he played Jameer Nelson in the first match with the Magic was amazing. He took Jameer out of his game and disrupted the entire Magic offense.
Where will the Celtics be at the end of the season?
Hard to say. I think they will ride their recent success and make it into the playoffs. It's just too early in the season still to predict how they will fare. They still have enough good players and veteran experience to possibly succeed in the playoffs. Consistency through the rest of the season will be a telling sign. Recent trade talks have suggested that every player on the team is tradeable. Hopefully the roster can remain mostly intact and the team can go on a roll heading into the post-season.