Celtics fan or not, if you seriously foresaw this hampered Boston team blowing out the Miami Heat yesterday afternoon at home by a score of 91-72, I’d like to know what you were smoking.
With no Ray Allen and a thin bench, you’d think a team with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and company would’ve had a 29-point lead at one point. Instead, it was the other way around, and the biggest reason why was the remarkable play of one Rajon Rondo, who recorded his fifth triple-double of the season (16 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds). The other reason the C’s blew them out: the Heat just stopped trying, as they got outscored 31-12 in the third quarter.
Having said that, the secret to the recent success of the Celtics, who have moved up to 4th place in the Eastern Conference (and one full game ahead of the struggling Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic Division), is the defense of Allen’s replacement in the starting lineup, second-year player Avery Bradley. This kid’s defense has been praised throughout the year by head coach Doc Rivers whenever he gets significant minutes (which hadn’t been often until Allen went down with an ankle injury a couple of weeks ago).
But now, the Heat have seen for themselves how impressive he is. In fact, LeBron said Bradley is one of the best defenders “baseline to baseline” in the NBA this season, and one of the highlights of the game was Bradley’s athletic block on a Dwayne Wade shot attempt. He also held the Heat star to just 15 points on 6-for-17 FGA.
The C’s are now 10-1 without Ray Allen, and were 20-21 with him in the lineup. With Bradley starting this season, the team in green is 11-4, and undefeated in the last five contests.
With Allen due back soon (and possible Wednesday against San Antonio), talk of him coming off the bench so Bradley can continue his excellent play as a starter (in the shooting guard position) has already started across the Internet. It’s not such a crazy idea, since Bradley has not only been able to defend, but score as well, having averaged 14.6 points in his last five games in nearly 40 minutes per contest.
Allen, of course, as a Hall of Fame shooter, especially in the three-point department, but at age 36 and at a point where he is slowly recovering from an injured right ankle, I think it’s best to ease him back into the lineup after missing six games, and be the spark off the bench offensively that the C’s could badly use.
Brandon Bass would be that spark (much like his predecessor Glen Davis), but he is starting as a power forward now, while Kevin Garnett is the center on this team, and both are excelling in these roles, especially the latter. So why mess with success?
Whether or not Allen gets his starting job back or not, Bradley will get his significant minutes somehow during the last 14 games of the regular season. He, and to a lesser extent, center (and block shot specialist) Greg Stiemsma, have proved they have useful skills to help the C’s down the stretch, and to ensure the C’s remain the 4th seed in the East, all hands have to be on deck.
I’m not ready to proclaim the Boston Celtics title contenders just yet, but with one of the best records in the NBA since the All-Star break, this team is playing as well as it has been all year. Will it last? I doubt it, with a tough schedule coming up this week (with the Spurs, Bulls and Pacers on the radar).
Boston has an easier schedule the last couple of weeks of the month, so if it does well, every commentator around the league will continue saying what some are starting to say now, that no team in the East would want to play the Celtics in the first round. And from this C’s fan’s vantage point, that’s good to know as the calendar gets closer to playoff season.
Photo credit: AP/WEEI.com