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Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are playing like they have a fighting chance at contending for one last championship in the Big Three era.
The Celtics have charged into both first place in the Atlantic and the top half of the Eastern Conference with five wins in a row and seven of their last eight. The Celtics have the league’s best record since the All-Star break (15-5), including a perfect 4-0 mark this past week, beating the Charlotte Bobcats, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the hated Miami Heat.
Boston’s victory over Miami has left me with a strange tingling in my toes and fingertips. Wikipedia calls it “optimism;” WebMD calls it a possible heart attack. I think they’re probably both right.
So before my heart explodes in stressful anticipation, let’s go out on a high note with this week’s grades:
Rajon Rondo had all but stopped putting the ball in the hoop, preferring to rack up assists instead in his first three games this week (Rondo has 13 straight games with double-digit assists). Then someone reminded him Sunday’s game against the Heat would be nationally televised, so naturally Rondo went off for his league-leading fifth triple-double – 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 14 assists. Thank God NBA playoff games aren’t just relegated to Comcast.
With Ray Allen still out with a right ankle injury, Avery Bradley has stepped into the starting role and played increasingly impressive basketball. He’s played his usual brilliant defense both on and off the ball, highlighted by this stuff-a-licious rejection while helping to hold Dwyane Wade to just 6-of-17 shooting. But Bradley also scored in double-digits on 50 percent shooting in three games this week, spurring Celtics writers to speculate whether he should start even when Ray returns.
I don’t know about that, but clearly Bradley has been playing well enough to start rumors he could replace a future Hall of Famer.
The Captain has definitely lived up to his title recently. In Charlotte, Paul Pierce dropped a season-high 36 points, and he shouldered the scoring load for the Celtics last week by putting up 20-plus points in every game. He also crashed the boards, grabbing no fewer than seven rebounds in all four games. He also held LeBron James to 23 points, four rebounds, and zero assists. No wonder he won Player of the Week!
Brandon Bass continues to space the floor with his reliable outside jump shot. He’s even begun to take the ball to the rack with some regularity, averaging over six trips to the free throw line per game last week. In other news, I do not miss Big Baby.
Just when Kevin Garnett gets written off as old, he surges back thanks to a simple change of position. I don’t understand how being the Celtics’ center rejuvenated him, but it’s working. Garnett held Chris Bosh to just four points and limited the seemingly unstoppable Kevin Love to 5-of-18 shooting in his return to Minnesota. He’s also been more aggressive offensively, boosting his scoring to 17 points per game since the All-Star break. Who would have thought KG could get more aggressive?
Keyon Dooling is now pretty much the entirety of the bench for Boston’s backcourt, a prospect that frightens me to no end. Somehow, he’s managed to play reasonably well lately, knocking down some open jumpers and chipping in a couple of assists every now and then.
Sadly, this means Sasha Pavlovic and his shaved head have seen extended minutes on the court. He’s been a mixed bag at best, mostly because I try to ignore watching him on the court. If only I could find a clip of that awkward assist where he made a great cut to get open at the basket, took forever to attempt a half-hearted reverse lay-up, found a defender in his face, twisted around to find someone to dump the ball to, barely got off a soft pass before he landed after clearing a piece of paper, then got bailed out when Bradley drained a hot-potato three to beat the shot clock.
Greg Stiemsma continues to bang bodies down low and fill the stat sheet with blocks and rebounds in 20 minutes a night. He’s even found some touch around the rim lately to finish some dump-offs. And here I thought he would just be a slightly taller, platinum-blonde Brian Scalabrine!
Luckily for Ryan Hollins, Stiemsma has been more than capable as the primary back-up off the bench, because Hollins has hardly seen the light of day since coming to Boston. Maybe he’ll get more playing time after a couple of days of practice (the Celtics don’t play again until Wednesday, Apr. 4), but I’m not holding my breath: he still probably won’t play much, and I couldn’t hold my breath from Monday to Wednesday anyway.
I would like to personally thank Doc Rivers for telling Rondo to focus on scoring against the Heat (resulting in 10 first-quarter points), though I can’t figure out why he had to wait until Sunday’s game to say something. Two other things I can’t understand: how Rivers has managed to limit Garnett’s minutes despite having one big man to bring off the bench, and how he avoided getting a technical foul Sunday with Joey Crawford and Dick Bavetta officiating the same game.