Naming the most prolific team in the history of the NBA a surprise appearance in the playoffs would probably seem misguided, until taking a closer look at their situation. It’s not that the team hadn’t made the playoffs the year before – Kings fans would certainly roll their eyes at all the Celtics and Lakers fans thinking this is the end of the world – but it was more a question about when they would do it again.
Simply put, rebuilding the 2008 title team after Garnett, Pierce, Allen or Perkins left should’ve been a matter of getting one or two superstars in their prime to match with a core built out of Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. It certainly wasn’t the worst point from which you can start that process, but NBA free agents apparently weren’t like-minded – for two summer FA periods, the Celtics didn’t manage to bring in any top talent.
So last year they took the ultimate measures, severing almost all times with the championship team – both Rondo and Green were traded to the Mavericks and Grizzlies respectively, in exchange for some role players and a host of draft picks. By that point, any reasonable Celtics fan expected them to tank for the rest of the season, in hopes of getting as high a lottery pick as possible.
But young coach Brad Stevens was of another opinion. Presented with a team formed almost exclusively out of prospects and role players, he managed to strike the exact frequency needed to bolster the former and squeeze all potential out of the latter. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley formed some great chemistry as a defensive backcourt; and even though their offensive game still needs working on, enrolling Isaiah Thomas fresh from the end of the three-guard Suns experiment gave them the required numbers from the bench, with his scoring figures going numerous into the twenties.
Jae Crowder and Evan Turner might have been only fairly used bench players at Dallas and Indiana, but they showed great prowess as Celtics sharpshooters, giving the team that so-needed three point edge required in the game today. Beneath the rim, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger formed an explosive front court and rebounding machine, with replacements Kelly Olynik and Tyler Zeller providing some great contribution as well.
This is how the Celtics managed to steal a final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference from the likes of the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats, teams which arguably had more experienced and superior player-by-player rosters. They were indeed swept by the Cavaliers in the first round, but even in that series they never seemed to be intimidated by the opposition’s star roster – if anything, they left the Cavs with critical wounds which ultimately cost them their title shot.
And the process is continuing as it should this year, with no superstar shortcuts to greatness. Bass might have gone, but former All-Star David Lee and Amir Johnson should be more than enough to replace him. Other than that, four new draft picks – spearheaded by no.16 Terry Rozier – and a couple of good Summer League prospects will be under Stevens’ command at the team’s summer training camp.
But whatever develops within the team, last year’s run earned them what few teams without superstars ever could in league history – the respect of opponents, who will have surely gone past the notion of taking matches against the young team for granted. Whether they will fail to repeat last year’s performance or surpass it, the Celtics can surely say that they’re in a brighter spot than the Lakers or Knicks – at least in term of potential and possibilities of evolving in the near future.
Image Source: rantsports.com