The Last Stand

The Captain, the Big Ticket, Jesus Shuttlesworth and the Kid prepare for one final ride.

Their numbers depleted Doc’s Army finds themselves backed against a wall. The aged but grizzled veterans look to one another as they hear there enemies  coming for them. The Battalion of Heat flies ever closer, flags of orange and blue rise toward the sky, the grunts of the Bulls of War can be heard and all that just from the East. Number Five, the towering defensive force winces on his battered knees. Number Twenty the sniper checks his shot anxiously. The Kid glowers in the corner. And the Captain looks grimly out on the battlefield to which he knows he must lead his squad. He turns to Number Five, Number Twenty and the Kid. Each nods solemnly to one another and they turn to the gate. It opens slowly leading into the killing fields. Number Five let’s out a roar and pounds his chest and what remains of Doc’s Army charges into the fray.

Is it just me or is this how this season feels for the Celtics? It’s as if they are at the end of some fantasy epic. The battered and depleted battalion backed into a corner forced to make one last desperate surge. The surge feeling as if it will be ultimately futile but with that lingering speck of hope still pushing them forward into battle with the  better equipped and larger enemy.

Helms Deep. The Alamo. The Battle of Stirling in Bravehaeart. The 2011-2012 Boston Celtics.

Doc may have his toughest coaching job since 2007 this season.

Of course the four remaining of this team, who have been perennial title contenders since 2007-2008, are Paul Pierce (the Captain), Kevin Garnett (Number Five), Ray Allen (Number Twenty) and the Kid (Rajon Rondo). The Big Three has begun to show it’s age. Garnett’s knees have finally begun to falter after years of banging down low. Ray Allen can still shoot the lights out but has lost a step and although Pierce can still score he can not keep up with the younger players at is position night in and night out. But these three are still future Hall of Famers and there remains some fight in them.

Pierce put up his most ‘efficient’ season in terms of shooting the ball last year. His effective field goal percentage (which adjust for the fact that three point shots count for one point more than regular shots) was a career high at .551. Pierce was also the only Celtic last year who was able to force the issue offensively but at times his shot went flat, especially in the playoffs, as the load of the offense fell to him.

Allen is still the best three point shooter in the NBA. His stroke is still as perfect as when he was playing one on one with Denzel Washington in He Got Game. Allen also had a great year shooting the ball last season  with a career high .444 percentage from beyond the arc but Allen has become much more of a one note player, not really creating his own shot as often as he used to.

Garnett is still a fantastic defender and last year even amped up his rebounding numbers after they staggered in the previous season. He pushed his rebounding total to 8.9 (up from 7.3 the year before) which is still not a level you need from a star power forward but is much better. However, Garnett has really shied away on offense relying much more on his mid range jump shot and not taking it inside as often as he did when he was younger. This takes away an inside presence and forces the Celtics to be a team that relies to heavily on jump shot, especially with Allen and Pierce not slashing as much.

In terms of young players they can rely on the Celtics still have Rajon Rondo. Rondo was drug through the trade dirt this off season, and most people (myself included) were supportive of a trade for Chris Paul. So Rondo, who has had issues dealing with front office moves before like last year after Kendrick Perkins was traded, may suffer in terms of play but it’s unlikely that he will not be the fantastic point guard he has morphed into. Rondo distributes the ball better than anyone on the Celtics since Larry Bird and shows a tenacity on defense that is rare for a player of his stature.

However, after those four the Celtics are really weak. There isn’t the depth in the squad that led them to two title appearances, one of which they won. There’s no James Posey, Eddie House or Leon Powe on this team. The Celtics traded Glen Davis for Brandon Bass to help them up front. Bass is a decent power forward (averaging 10 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game in 20 minutes a game for the Magic last season) but it seems like only a slight improvement over Big Baby.

The addition of Bass is nice but the front court is still very shaky. Jermaine O’Neal is just as old as the Big Three and has been injured more than healthy during his stay with the Celtics. The Celtics have to hope JaJuan Johnson, one of their draft picks from last year can turn into a solid big man or at least someone that can rebound as the Celtics suffered greatly on the boards, giving up far too many

Funny that's the same expression I have when I see Jeff Green comes off the bench.

second, and third chance points last season in totaling the 29th best rebounding total per game at 38.8 last season.

In the back court and in the wings the Celtics also added more veterans in resigning Marquis Daniels and Jeff Green as well as signing  Keyon Dooling. Dooling is an average shooter (.421 field goal percentage) but adds little else except age and Daniels hasn’t been much more than a body off the bench in his years with Boston.

That brings us to Jeff Green. When the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins for Green last season I was initially furious and never went below that level, in fact I probably went beyond furious to catatonic. Green was horrendous offensively, when he was supposed to be taking some of the load off Pierce, and on defense he seemed to get beat around by other forwards, even ones not named LeBron James. Green is now suffering from a mystery ailment the Celtics won’t disclose, and both Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge have been pessimistic about him starting the season. This is what they call in the business ‘bad news’. Boston desperately needs Green to get over whatever funk he was in last season and turn into a scorer. The Celtics biggest issue in the past few seasons is just that; scoring. The defense is still top notch (their 91.1 points allowed per game was tops in the NBA last season) but without an offense that can put up points that doesn’t really matter.

The Celtics will be hoping that the younger members of the back court (Avery Bradley and last years first round draft pick E’Twaun Moore from Purdue) can make contributions this season.

Best Case Scenario- 51-15, 1sr in the Atlantic

The Big Three is able to stay healthy with a shortened season and looks more like they are in their mid twenties instead of thirties. Jeff Green remembers how to play basketball and E’Twuan Moore wins the Rookie of the Year award convincingly as the Celtics make another run at the title.

Worst Case Scenario- 35-31, 2nd in the Atlantic

X-Ray’s of Kevin Garnett’s knees show them to be made of little more than a few tendons and bones as soft as paper mache and the Celtics are willed to a a mediocre season by Pierce and Rondo. Jeff Green mysteriously goes missing in late March and is never seen or heard from again.

How They’ll Finish-  40-26, 2nd in the Atlantic

This team still has the Big Three, even if there reaching elderly by NBA standards. Assuming Rondo is able to push the trade rumors out of his head the Celtics are still a solid team and will certainly make the playoffs.

-Phil

Think the Celtics have one last title run in them? Think they are old and done? Let us know on Twitter (@seeuinoctober) or in the comments.

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