April 12, 2012
Aging Celtics aim to go out on top
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI AGENCY
Only in time will it be obvious for all to see whether Father Time has finally caught up with the Boston Celtics.
And only in time will it be proven whether this current run will be the last the basketball world will see of an aging team that is sure to be dismantled.
But at no time have the Boston Celtics looked like a team capable of beating any team, regardless of wins or marquee value, more than the present, a stretch of success that brings the Cs to Toronto Friday night, a tip Boston has to win to keep its late-season push moving in the right direction.
With eight games left before the NBA’s post-season begins, the Celtics are left with eight more opportunities to get a roster as close to healthy as possible, eight more nights to prove they are playoff-worthy.
Maybe in time, Boston’s lack of size in the frontcourt and offensive limitations will be their undoing when faced with an opponent such as Chicago and Miami in a best-of-seven series.
Or maybe not. Perhaps Boston’s bench will step up and the team will put together a stretch of shooting that torched the home-town Miami Heat earlier in the week in a performance that turned plenty of heads.
With two weeks left in the regular season, there are two teams standing in the way of Boston making an appearance in an NBA final — incredible, really, given how poorly the Celtics began this truncated sprint.
“I’m motivated,’’ Kevin Garnett recently told reporters. “I hear you all (media members) calling me old. I hear you all calling me older, weathered. I’m motivated.
“It don’t take really much to motivate me, man. I’m older in basketball years, but in life, I’m thirty-something. I’m looking at some of you — gray hair, no hair, bad hair, beautiful hair. I’m just motivated. I like to use that word.’’
It’s a word that could easily apply to the rest of the Celtics, but perhaps no one has embodied the team’s resurgence more than Garnett, who will soon turn 36.
Remember, this was a guy who came straight out of high school way back in 1995 when the NBA held its draft in Toronto.
Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Damon Stoudamire would hear their names called at SkyDome, but only Garnett, basketball’s Big Ticket, has stood the test of time at a time when he’ll soon enter free agency.
In his last 10 games heading into Friday, Garnett has had six games when he’s poured in 20 or more points.
If he breaks the barrier against the Raptors, and he should, Garnett will have posted his first four-game stretch of 20-plus points this season.
In his last four games, Garnett has made 34 of his 60 shots from the field.
But no one is under any illusion that Garnett can carry a team like he once did.
Under head coach Doc Rivers, the Celtics have been able to win a title, come close to another and now show signs of being a very tough out in the post-season by playing team basketball and team defence.
After yielding 120 points in a road loss to Sacramento, the Celtics went 13 games in a row where they didn’t surrender 100 points until they gave up 107 points in a win over Miami earlier this week.
In Boston’s last 14 games, the team has gone 11-3, one of the setbacks produced in Chicago against the East-leading Bulls.
“I love the situation we went into for our team,” Rivers said. “The best team in the East, they won the East last year, and they basically said they were going to beat you because you beat them. And I thought for our team that was a great experience to go through. It wasn’t like I was going to judge whether we pass or fail, but going into the game I told our coaches: ‘I don’t know how this game’s going to end up, but this is great for our team.’
“But I think this whole year is (difficult to characterize) because you’ve got teams coming off road trips, they can be playing poorly at the time. This is a tough season to judge who’s actually good. Obviously some of the records say certain teams are good, but we’ll see when the playoffs start.”
And only then will everyone see what these Celtics are made of.
But as of now, they’re pretty good and dangerous.
The knock on Celtics Rajon Rondo remains his ability, or in this case inability, to knock down shots.
For a guy who has taken his share of grief for being too temperamental, Rondo finds himself in the status of elite point guards as the NBA enters the backstretch to its regular season.
Heading into Friday’s tip versus the Raptors, Rondo has posted 19 straight games of double-digit assists and is coming off a triple-double in an overtime win over Atlanta in which Rondo went 3-of-16 from the field.
For Rondo, it was his sixth triple-double of the season and 13th of his career.
In Rondo’s six triple-doubles this season, the Celtics have gone 6-0.
Head coach Doc Rivers hasn’t had any time to go deep into the numbers Rondo has posted, but he knows the impact his starting point guard has had, including Rondo’s ability to get his hands in passing lanes on defence.
“Listen, I know he’s on a run,” Rivers said. “That’s phenomenal. I don’t even know what that means. I know he’s playing very well, but I don’t even need the numbers to tell me that. He’s been spectacular, not only in games but everywhere, and that’s why we’re winning.”