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Wednesday morning, the NBA.com Blogtable posed a question to five basketball experts: Have we seen the last of these Celtics as a title contender?
The answer, on all five counts, was a resounding, confident yes. That’s right, the same Boston Celtics team that rode three starters and Ray Allen’s bum ankles to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals, officially cannot even contend this year.
Never mind the fact that outside of Miami and New York, the Eastern Conference is in shambles; never mind that the Celtics have nearly 60 regular seasons games left to contest; never mind that Boston is managing nine new players and has yet to see their starting shooting guard play a single minute of action.
Most importantly, never mind the fact that since a second round playoff exit to the 2009 Orlando Magic, NBA experts have almost unanimously named every shooting slump, three-game losing streak and Paul Pierce hangnail as “the end of the aging Celtics.” The good news for Boston fans is that “the end” for the Celtics has resulted in a dramatic run to the 2010 Finals, an easy sweep of the New York Knicks and a memorable Eastern Conference Finals series last year.
And yet the league’s journalists, like goldfish, forecast the same prediction year after year.
Steve Aschburner accurately describes the Celtics woes so far this year, highlighted by underwhelming performances by everyone not named Rondo, Garnett and Pierce. But Aschburner, along with the rest of the table, fails to note that last year’s team began in roughly the exact same fashion.
After twenty four games the 2011-2012 Celtics were 14-11, marginally better than the current 13-12, but had already suffered a three-game losing streak to open the season as well as a five-game losing streak that included four at home, and were about to endure a second five-game losing streak to hit the All Star break at 15-17.
Has history taught us nothing? Other than 2008, the Garnett-era Celtics have been a notorious half-season team: half the season is ugly, the other half earns them a seed in the playoffs.
Jeff Caplan and Scott Howard-Cooper both identify the loss of Ray Allen as a significant contributor to the end of Boston’s title contending days. Allen is having a fine season in Miami, scoring 12 points off the bench and shooting 47% from long range. But Allen is not a defensive, glass-cleaning center, and he is definitely not the back up ball handler or perimeter defender Boston needs.
Caplan and Cooper both fail to identify how the loss of Allen has effected Boston’s role as title contenders. The Celtics are having one of their best offensive seasons in recent memory (though it has stagnated the past couple weeks) and while Jason Terry is struggling from deep, his percentages should increase as he settles into his traditional sixth man role. Terry is averaging less than a full point under Allen, while starting shooting guard Avery Bradley has yet to suit up.
With 58 games left to play, the eighth place Celtics are just six games behind the top ranked Knicks. Sekou Smith rounds out the NBA.com discussion with the bold assertion that the Celtics are “old,” makes a superficial comparison to the Spurs, and delivers that old gem about the C’s “not having energy for one last run.”
The Celtics have had three last runs so far. While Boston fans demand banners, a Game 7 loss in LA and a memorable Eastern Conference Finals run aren’t bad as far as “last runs” go.
There is no question that the Celtics have not looked like a championship team so far. But you know what they do look like? They look a lot like 2010, 2011 and 2012. The Celtics write the same story every year, and unfortunately so do the critics.