Winning an NBA Championship is a lot like solving a puzzle. You first have to make sure you have all the pieces. If one piece is missing, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, that puzzle will never be complete. Once the pieces are assembled, you then have to make sure that they fit neatly together. Forcing one into an ill-suited space will ruffle the edges of the adjoining pieces and disrupt the symmetry of the overall puzzle.
Amidst the serial injuries, frustrating play, and trade rumors that dominated much of the past 3 months, many Celtics’ fans began to question whether the C’s had enough pieces to complete the puzzle. Fans, writers, and perhaps Doc himself, all shared this fear – maybe the Celtics just don’t have the talent/youth to compete with the other elite teams in the league. Other observers wondered if the pieces they did have fit together as neatly as they should.
Even if we had all the pieces, many appeared worn or injured. We all know that if just one edge of a puzzle piece is damaged or torn, the adjacent pieces won’t fit together. A perfect example of this problem was the defeat to Orlando in late-January. As you recall, Ray Allen gave way to Kevin Garnett’s help defense, but the help was not there. Rashard Lewis easily slipped past KG to win the game and dash the hopes of the Redsarmy.com faithful watching from Red Sky Lounge at the Redsarmy Birthday Party. Garnett was clearly not 100%, and his lack of agility was affecting the fit of the entire defense. When one piece is damaged, the whole puzzle will fail.
Fortuitously, however, as of today, the key pieces of the Celtics’ puzzle are returning to full strength. We’ve seen Ray Allen’s resurgence since the all-star break (42.5% from three since then). We’ve seen Pierce return to his normal, relentless self this past week (84 points in 88 minutes on 63% shooting). Garnett’s play is not yet the stellar play of the past, but we have all been encouraged by his increased mobility and athleticism. Perk has been solid in the low post, and has awoken from his post all-star game nap. And if these four are the corner pieces needed by the Celts to make a post season run at the flag, Rondo has emerged as the glue that promises to hold the pieces of the puzzle together. His value to this team has been immeasurable.
Danny has also added two vital pieces to complete our bench. Both Robinson, with his energy and shooting, and Finley, with his shooting and veteran presence, have performed even better than expected for the Celtics. More importantly, both fit perfectly into the overall puzzle, a fit that was missing with Eddie House and Tony Allen. Playing Marquis Daniels and Tony Allen at the same time is like trying to fit a square puzzle piece into a round opening. Neither can shoot, so defenses collapse and guard the paint. However, Finley and Daniels are complementary pieces; Finley spreads the floor for Daniels to find holes in the paint and get to the basket. Nate Robinson is a back-up point guard who can run the offense himself. Eddie House was a crowd favorite and a great shooter, but his inability to create his own shot made him a misfit at the point and left the whole puzzle awkwardly awry.
So Danny has done his job. He’s acquired all the pieces we need. Now it’s on you Doc. It’s your job to get these guys motivated, healthy, and rested. More importantly, you have to decide which lineups and combinations fit best together. Remember that you’ve got twelve pieces, and you’ll probably need all of them at some point, but please – not all at once. During the first couple of games that Finley dressed, you still tried to find room for Tony Allen. No 11 man rotations please. But maybe Tony could be used to defend Dwayne Wade or Lebron or Kobe if the situation arises in the playoffs. It seems you’ve already figured out how Shelden can be used.
You’ve done it before Doc, but we all know that this one’s going to be a tad or two more difficult. I believe that you are up to the challenge. If you are, the puzzle will be complete and we’ll be raising number 18 to the rafters in the fall.
Oh yeah, and Doc, here’s one hint to get you started: the piece that is ‘Sheed is still wrongfully placed at the three-point line, and needs to be moved permanently to the post where he fits perfectly.