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During the 1995/1996 season, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls finished with an NBA-record 72 wins. Since then, the best record any team has accomplished is 69 wins, and that was by the 1996/1997 Chicago Bulls.
When the Boston Celtics traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the major media outlets began speculating that the Celtics could make a run for this record with the new and improved Big Three. In their first season together, the Celtics were able to win 66 games. That number dropped to 62 the following year, but they were without Kevin Garnett for much of the second half of the season.
With Garnett returning from injury, and the signings of Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels, the 72-10 talks began again. They were fueled further by Rasheed Wallace proclaiming that this team was good enough to win 70 games.
Here at Sports of Boston, there are some different opinions on whether the Celtics can win 72 games or more this season. The following is a conversation between SoB writers George Fitopoulos and A.J. Szczerbinski on whether 72 wins is a reachable goal for the C’s.
72-10 is quite the accomplishment by the 95/96 Bulls. That team was the beginning of the Bulls’ second Three-Peat in eight years, and featured the Bulls’ own Big Three in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. The Bulls could win with pure offense, or win a defensive struggle. They had winning streaks of both 13 and 18 games that season. Chicago had about as much of a perfect season as you can have in the NBA.
The 09/10 Celtics have a similar team to the Bulls. This season they have shown they can win by shutting down their opponent and by dominating them on both sides of the ball. They arguably have the best starting lineup in basketball in Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Kendick Perkins. However, there is just too much that has to go right in order for them to win 72 or more games. The Celtics may have The Big Three, but none of them have that killer instinct that Michael Jordan had. Jordan could take command of a game at will and drop 40 points if his team needed it. Despite the outstanding team play the Celtics have, they lack that one player that can control a game and bring them back from a deficit. This is only one thing that will keep them from winning 72+ games this year.
It’s obvious the Celtics do not have a Michael Jordan on their team because Jordan is arguably the greatest player in NBA history. However, what the Celtics do have is the best defense in the league and that can get you pretty far in the NBA these days. You don’t have to score 100 points per game to win if you are only letting up 90. The Celtics have three very capable big man defenders in Garnett, Wallace, and Perkins, while Pierce has been stepping up his defense in the last two years and Rondo is arguably one of the best point guards in the NBA defensively. Couple the talent with the tenacity that both Garnett and Wallace bring to every single game and you have a scary match-up for any offense in the league.
The Celtics don’t lack the offensive power either because while they don’t have a Jordan, they do have five or six capable scorers on this team and three of whom can take over a game if needed. In 2007/2008, the Celtics won 66 games with the Big Three, a 21-year old Rondo and James Posey. Now the team has a better Rondo, a more polished Perkins with Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, Eddie House, Glen Davis and Sheldon Williams all coming off the bench. This depth can go a long way to preventing injuries and keeping players fresh without compromising the team’s chances to win games during the regular season.
I do not disagree that the Celtics have some of the best depth in the league (and quite possibly in NBA history). There is one thing that Garnett, Pierce, Allen, and Wallace have in common that will nullify the team’s depth: age. All four of them are running out of years and cannot log the amount of minutes that they used to. The Celtics will need to rest the Big Three as much as they can, especially towards playoff time. If you are Doc Rivers, what would you rather have: 73 wins or a fully healthy, fully rested Big Three in the playoffs?
The Celtics are going to lock up a playoff spot early, along with their division. Once the Celtics have a top playoff spot secured, there will be no need for them to play their best players 35+ minutes a game. A lineup that includes Eddie House, Marquis Daniels, Shelden Williams and Big Baby playing most of the game is not going to be as effective as the Celtics’ starting lineup. The Celtics’ last twelve games of the year include games against the Cavaliers, Nuggets, Spurs, Thunder, and Bulls. The Celtics’ bench will not have an easy go against those teams, and it would not be smart for Rivers to risk injury to the Big Three for 73 wins, especially if home court has been locked up.
It’s true the Celtics have some age on their team, but it’s not like they are ready to start cashing in on AARP discounts. Pierce (32), Garnett (33), Allen (34) and Wallace (35) are no older than Jordan (32), Pippen (30) and Rodman (34) were during their amazing run in 1995/1996. As I mentioned before, the Celtics don’t need their stars to play crazy minutes, but Doc will stretch them in games where it is necessary. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen have averaged 36.7, 32, and 36.2 minutes per game respectively over the last two seasons and I think that will go a long way to prolonging their careers. For comparison, Jordan, Pippen and Rodman averaged 37.7, 36.7 and 32.6 minutes in their 72-win season. Last year, Allen had his best season shooting-percentage-wise since 2005/2006 at the “old” age of 33, so who’s to say he can’t repeat once again?
As for the schedule at the end of the season, I wouldn’t worry about our team because if a record is in reach you better believe that Doc will do his best to put the Celtics in the best position to win those games without compromising his players’ health. Maybe that means sitting Garnett for a game or two, but the Celtics have enough big men to absorb that type of loss for the short term.
I think we can both agree that the Celtics have the talent to win 72 games this year. I just do not believe it is smart for the team to try and reach that goal. I would much rather the Celtics win the NBA Championship with a 65-win season then win 73 games and lose in the Eastern Conference Finals to a more rested team. With the Celtics’ recent struggles in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, they cannot afford to have little rest, play a grueling seven-game series in the first round, and then expect to defeat the Cavaliers or the Magic.
So much has to go right for a team to win 73 games, as well. The Celtics really cannot suffer an big time injury to a starter (well, maybe Perk can miss a few games). The Celtics have been able to rebound in years past to Garnett being out, but it did hurt them in the long run against more physical opponents. There are little things that can cost the Celtics a win here and there. Maybe Allen catches a cold and has a poor shooting night and Boston loses. The Magic could lose Dwight Howard for a game with a sore shoulder and the Celtics pick up a win against them. While I do not think it is impossible for the Celtics to win 72 or more games, I do not believe they should push themselves for that record mark. There is another record more valuable: an 18th NBA Championship.
You are too worried about injuries and resting players. These guys are all in great shape and can handle playing 35-37 minutes per game. In 2007/2008, Pierce and Allen led the Celtics in minutes played and ranked 45th and 46th in the NBA. In 2008/2009, Pierce and Allen ranked 17th and 33rd respectively and that is because of Garnett’s injury. In the playoffs leading to the Celtics’ NBA Championship, the Celtics endured a grueling 26 games and still won in the end. The point is that rest shouldn’t be an issue because they are not required to push themselves too much in the regular season. As for injuries, it’s impossible to predict them and the one that Garnett suffered last year was a freak injury, which was not due to fatigue.
The bottom line is that this Celtics team is the total package. They have a potent offense with five guys who will average at least 10 points per game and a sound defense led by the most tenacious of them all, Kevin Garnett. They have the best depth in the NBA with four or five very capable player coming off the bench and did I mention they have one of the most tenacious players in the NBA? The Celtics have put constructed a team that is hands down the best in the East on paper. They have put themselves in the best position to make a run at the record and if they can’t tackle the feat, then we may never see it happen.
Now it’s time for you, the reader, to get involved in the debate. Leave your comments and tell us what you think!