by Jesse Pagliuca on Friday, April 20th, 2012
Like Mitt Romney’s presidential hopes, warm New England weather, and Apple stock, the Celtics are back and better than ever. They now sit at 36-26, only a win away from clinching the Atlantic Division and a dark horse to make it far in the playoffs. How did an aging, injury ridden team that was 15-17 and in the midst of a six game skid going into all-star weekend make such a strong resurgence? Let’s look at the top 3 reasons why:
1. Aging veterans improving—Despite the most condensed season in NBA history, both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have improved throughout the year. This makes almost no sense. History shows that the aging should be gradually getting worse until they hit a precipitous drop-off. Instead, the career trend of Garnet and Pierce has been sinusoidal, a trend pretty much only scene during the steroid era in baseball (the difference being that neither Celtic is taking steroids). Garnett has re-invented his game, learning how to play below the rim, while moving better on defense. He is playing his best basketball since his leg injury in 2009 kept him out of the playoffs. Pierce has also improved, shooting scorching hot from beyond the arc and looking re-energized game after game.
2. Role players that know their role—There are essentially four consistent role players for the Celtics (Pietrus, Bass, Stiemsma, and sometimes Pavlovic) who are all working cohesively together. They are fulfilling their potential, making small contributions while avoiding hurting the team. They make open shots, defend well, and rebound, doing so without costly turnovers or fouls.
3. Avery Bradley—Avery Bradley, the youngest player on the Celtics, has become perhaps their most important star. Avery, who turned 21 on November 26, hasn’t been legally allowed to have a glass of wine at Thanksgiving, yet is the greatest defensive guard in the NBA. His defense will become especially important in the playoffs, where he’ll most likely need to defend players like Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, and could face a duo of superstars like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili or Russell Westbrook and James Harden, if the Celtics can make the finals.
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