KWAPT: Paul Pierce's aggressiveness and athleticism. It seemed like every night this past season, Paul Pierce was dunking down someone's throat. His aggressive play set the tone for many a game, and got the fans and his teammates fired-up. He's been known to come-in to camp in great physical shape every year, but this year he just found a new gear. He certainly did not "lose a step" as many NBAer's do as they get towards the Fall of their career. Just fantastic to see that from the Captain this year.
JOHN: Paul Pierce: His shooting percentages have been amazing. His defensive rebounding rate is as good as its been in the Big 3 era. He's using up fewer plays yet scoring just as much. And when the C's offense went into the toilet, Pierce was there to pick it up. He's had one of his best offensive seasons of his career… and easily the most efficient.
KG: This guy has been there all year long as the rock on our defense. There's a reason why the Celtics defensive rating was second in the NBA this season. For all the hand wringing over Perk, he only played 12 games for the C's. KG is THE reason why the Celtics are a defensive juggernaut. He makes everything better.
Ray & Rondo: I'm combining them becasue their season arcs are similar. Hot starts and late fades and there's no surprise that that's the case. Rajon Rondo's play probably affects Ray the most becasue Ray is dependent on Rondo's assists more than any other player on the team. Still, I'm buying this season for both, though for different reasons. For Ray to keep doing it at this age is amazing. He's still a go-to guy and not a complete shell of his former self. And Rondo's shooting has shown up late in the season. He's hitting jumpers lately with much more regularity. It's starting to feel a little like Glen Davis from a few years ago who missed all the way up until March… then the shots started falling. Of course, Rondo is still Rondo and when he's on, he's untouchable.
CHUCK: Paul Pierce – The Captain played with an explosiveness that defied his age (33). He didn't miss a single game due to injury and shot a career best 49%. Does he look like a guy who is remotely close to being finished?
Doc Rivers – I've done a complete 180 on this guy. I had serious doubts when they hired him, and even questioned his rotations during the past four years, yet I cannot imagine another coach leading this team.
MRTRPLEDOUBLE10: Overall health of the “Core 4.” Since the New Big 3 Era, it seems as if every season we previewed them to lead the Celtics to big things with an ever bigger asterisk: *barring health. Aside from KG’s minor calf strain and Rondo’s mild assortment of injuries, the Core 4 have stayed upright all season. Paul Pierce practiced what he preached from his “Truth on Health” campaign and nearly played all 82 games, along with the platinum standard of health, Ray Allen. They both would have played all 82 had Doc not held them out intentionally for the final two meaningless games. The most important thing here is that they are all primed and ready to go for the playoffs and that, is paramount for this team
Doc Rivers’ coaching. While we won’t find out just how much of an impact “The Trade” had until the playoffs are over, I’m buying the superb job Doc did once again. Sure he has a team loaded with talent, hall-of-famers and more personalities than Mos Eisley space station on planet Tattooine, but there’s no way his job is anything but easy. He’s done a great job of getting these guys to play defense good enough to rank at the top of the league while managing tons of injuries and a trade that poured kerosene onto a Bunsen Burner keeping this team’s unity red hot. That seemed to have made it explode, and while the C’s could have finished a lot better, they could have done a lot worse as well.
CHUCK: Shaquille O'Neal – Yes, he's still effective… when he's on the court. But unfortunately, Father Time has caught up with the big fella. I don't want to go into next season with two old, injury risks at the center position.
Jermaine O'Neal: Even though he looks spry after knee surgery, I have little faith Jermaine can remain injury free for extended periods of time. With a $6 million contract for next season, I doubt there will be any takers. JO could retire if Cs win Banner 18.
KWAPT: Glen Davis getting too comfy with that jumpshot. This was an easy one and I think I can speak for most of CelticNation when I say this. At the beginning of the season, Davis was hitting that shot on a regular basis. Hell, their even came a time when I was hoping he'd take the shot. It seemed ;like the guy who came into camp saying "I don't know what my role is.." had found a niche. But then it all came crashing-down. He became too reliable on that jumper. Teams started coming out on him, and the shots began to miss. And miss, and miss some more. Every game night on Twitter my timeline was filled with stuff like "STOP shooting Baby" and "JEEZ DAVIS-PASS THE FREAKING BALL!" Luckily,it seems like Glen has recently found a balance with the outside and inside games, and his play last night definitely reflected that.
MRTRPLEDOUBLE10: “Flipping the Switch.”: While I fully expect a deep run by this team making their last hurrah (or, ‘HOOO-RAH’ as they yell as a group to end their pre-game chanting ritual), I don’t buy this notion at all. Like Doc (and others) have said, it’s different in the sense that they intentionally benched key players, limiting them to working hard in gameday shoot-arounds instead of the games. Keep in mind that what they did last year was extremely rare. The Celtics nearly pulled off what would have been one of, if not THE most amazing title runs in NBA history. Knocking off the best regular season team (Cavs), another 60 win team (Magic) and taking the best in the west and reigning champion Lakers team to 7, all without home court advantage is near impossible. No, the Celtics simply need to play a complete game instead of the first 12 minutes against the elite teams this year. That’s not ‘flipping the switch,’ as much as it’s ensuring that it doesn’t flicker on and off.
The random lackluster efforts against weaker opponents: This has been a running theme for two consecutive years now. While it’s certainly understandable and acceptable to be defeated by a Miami Heat team, in Miami, on the third game in four nights, towards the end of the season, it’s inexcusable to blow leads and subsequently games to lesser teams. The Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies and Bobcats were all games they had no viable reason for losing. Also, the home game early on in the season against OKC was without Kevin Durant, and should have also been a W. Adding in road losses to the Raptors (not a back-to-back), Wizards (winnable), Bobcats (it’s the Bobcats) and Nets (please), that’s 9 more games that easily could and should have gone their way. Those type of losses you’d expect more from young and inexperienced teams, not from a title contender.
JOHN: Blaming the Perk Trade: The Celtics will certainly miss Perk and the toughness he brought. But the OVERWHELMING storyline of the second half was this trade. I can't listen to anything regarding the Boston Celtics without that being a part of it. I love Perk, but man, everyone seems to think having him will fix all our problems. And I GUARANTEE that if Perk were hurt, rather than traded, no one would think "wow, getting Perkins back will really help fix this." Let's all just be happy for Perk in OKC, where he's doing pretty well for himself. The Celtics problems will be fixed here in Boston… with the players they have.
Danny Ainge: This is a borderline one for me because the guy has done a lot of great things for this team. And this team might still win a title… which is why I was considering this being a "hold"… but I'm selling Danny's season because he came into the season with a roster that was too off balance that took too many chances. Basically, the reliance on Marquis Daniels to be the only back up to Paul Pierce was too big a risk. When he went down, it forced his hand. Then he had to make the trade to pick up the depth that the C's lacked. He took a gamble on the roster and it didn't pay off. I will fully acknowlege that this may not be an entirely fair "sell"… but the results are what they are.
MRTRPLEDOUBLE10: The devastating impact of “The Trade”: I hate to sit on the fence on this one because I honestly feel that this team has more than enough to truly make this season “All About 18.” There is something to be said for chemistry especially when Doc touted the whole “This starting five has never lost a playoff series” mantra. We all took that torch and used it to ignite flames to anyone who attempted to argue any differently. No doubt that impacted them. More often than not, it was their offense that struggled since then, and the majority of their issues can be rectified. I’d like to believe that this team realizes that this is most likely their last run and will not take it for granted, regardless of the trade or anything else that might stand in their way.
The Bench. The main reason on the court for making the deadlines moves was to upgrade the bench. Much like last season the Celtics will rely HEAVILY on their starters during the playoff run. Will Jeff Green prove to be that key sub for Paul and Ray? Will Big Baby continue to play (and play well) in crunch time? Will the three-headed monster of Shaq/Krstic/JO fill their roles, or even hold together for an extended run? Can Delonte West prevent more bone chips from floating around his ankles and provide relief for Rondo? Each of the aforementioned players have proven themselves in flashes throughout the season, none have been consistent. But maybe we’re thinking too much about the bench and not realizing that we only need them be good in flashes. Still, I’m holding off until I see them maintain a starter-built lead and upping the defensive intensity.
CHUCK: Kevin Garnett – After watching him drag his leg around last season, I was doubtful he'd be much of a force again. Wrong. KG has proven that in limited minutes (30-33) he can still be a defensive presence and knock down the midrange jumper better than any other big man.
KWAPT: Let's stop all this talk about "The Trade." And no-I'm not going to say the P-word. There are many theories as to why The Trade was done. Some will say it was about $. Some will say it was about talent. But the bottom-line is that Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics organization are trying to put guys on the floor that have the best chance of bringing Banner18 to Boston. So we all have our own personal feelings and opinions on The Trade, but we truly cannot judge whether or not it was "good" until after the playoffs. Period. Celtics win Banner18 this year, trade was awesome. Celtics come-up anything short of that, the trade sucked. May not sound reasonable, but we all know it to be the truth. (no pun intended)
JOHN: Glen Davis: This guy has spent a lot of time in the "Hold" section, hasn't he? I feel like this has been a tale of two seasons for Big Baby. The beginning of the year, he was taking charges, hitting a few jumpers, and taking it to the hole. Then in the second half, the charges went away and there were more jumpers than anything. I swear he was worn out. I'm going to assume getting run over as much as he has this season will do that to a guy. So I think the fair thing is to hold out and see if Baby can go back to November/December/January form.
Delonte West: He's a really important guy who hasn't been bitten by the injury bug… it's eaten him alive. If he can stay healthy for the entire playoff run, he'll be invaluable. That's IF. We'll have to hold out hope that he can.
Jeff Green: Another definite "wait and see" guy. His grade here is very incomplete. I liked him taking smaller 3's into the post and working his offense from there. I think that can be an effective strategy especially since Doc came into the season preaching more post possessions. This week-long "mini camp" will be invaluable to him. If the C's can get a solid contribution from Green in the playoffs, watch out.