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All-Star Weekend is upon us and the Celtics, except for East starter Kevin Garnett, have five full days of rest before embarking on a five-game west coast road trip that starts Tuesday at Denver. The Celtics enter the break in third place in the Atlantic Division at 28-24, and have won eight of their last nine games without Rajon Rondo.
While the Celtics have certainly been playing their best basketball of the season during this stretch, the upcoming trip will provide a real test as only two of their last nine games have been away from TD Garden, and their road record is just 8-15 overall.
The loss of Leandro Barbosa for the season, has left Boston with just three guards on the roster, and none of them true point guards. Danny Ainge will be forced make a move in free agency soon, and possibly trade for a replacement. Let’s take a look back at the season so far, by grading the performance of each of the 13 players on the Celtics’ roster:
Garnett has consistently been the Celtics’ best player, and he’s done so after being written off by many as too old. But at age 36, Garnett has beaten the odds and started every one of Boston’s 52 games this season, averaging 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. He’s also provided the veteran leadership that has the C’s back in the playoff picture and riding a 14-8 record since the New Year. KG has deservedly earned his 15th All-Star nod. He became the 16th player in NBA history to score 25,000 career points, and within the next couple of weeks could pass Hakeem Olajuwon and Wes Unseld for 10th place on the all-time rebounding list. All in all, it has been another solid season in Garnett’s Hall of Fame career.
For all the talk of the Celtics being better without Rondo now that they’ve won eight of nine games without him, it’s more likely a case of the rest of the team playing extra hard to make up for his absence. Rondo was selected for his fourth consecutive All-Star Game, and with good reason. In the 38 games he played before his injury, he averaged a double-double with 13.7 points and a league-leading 11.1 assists, while confirming his standing as one of the NBA’s best rebounding guards with a career-high 5.6 boards per game. He also added 1.8 steals and leads the Association with five triple-doubles, three more than anybody else.
The biggest issue for Rondo this season was a lack of judgment that led to his being suspended twice- first for fighting the Nets’ Kris Humphries, and a second time for bumping an official. At 26, it’s time for him to mature once and for all and once he does, he will cement his place as one of the league’s best point guards.
Bradley returned to the team in time for the New Year, following offseason shoulder surgery, and his impact was immediate. From a pure coaching standpoint, Bradley gave Doc Rivers greater backcourt depth, but he has also fulfilled expectations as a lockdown defender. He jumped right into the starting shooting guard spot and his contributions have not been limited to the defensive end. He’s averaging career highs in points (8.5), rebounds (2.1) and assists (1.5) – and that’s on top of his 1.3 steals per game. This time last year, he was practically unknown, but in 21 games this season he’s already proven that he has the potential to have a long and productive NBA career.
The rookie power forward was the second Celtic lost for the season when he underwent back surgery earlier this month. Before going down, however, Sullinger far exceeded the expectations that had dropped him to the 21st pick in the Draft, and even started five games. Unfortunately, his injury came when he was playing his best. Sullinger had three double-doubles in January, including a 12-point, 16-rebound effort January 9th versus Phoenix.
The captain’s season, much like the team’s, has been up-and-down. In fact, more than any other player’s, Pierce’s performance has influenced that of the entire team: he got hot during the Celtics’ six-game winning streak last month, then went cold as they lost six straight, and has regained his touch in recent outings. Pierce’s offensive numbers are down to 18.5 points per game and 41.5 percent shooting from the field. The Celtics’ Captain has stepped up in a big way since Rondo’s injury and has led the team in assists in seven of the last nine, while improving his rebounding number to 6.4 per game. He’s also recorded two triple-doubles, and in recent games has hit the big shots that hadn’t been falling earlier in the season.
Terry deserves props for his adaptability this season. The veteran was used to a bench role in Dallas, but was forced to start due to Bradley’s injury, and then returned to the second unit. Known for his offense, he’s scoring just 10.4 points per game, but his field goal shooting is actually up from last season at 44.2%. In recent games, he’s emerged as a solid defender as well, and blocked Marco Belinelli‘s potential game-winning shot in Wednesday’s 71-69 win over the Bulls.
Green’s return to basketball after sitting out the 2011-12 season due to heart surgery was one of the most interesting storylines in the Celtics’ season. Early on, however, the fans’ patience seemed to be wearing thin due to Green’s low productivity and apparent lack of effort. Over the last month, Green is redeeming himself in a big way, and ingratiating himself with the Boston faithful with some thunderous highlight-reel dunks. He’s surpassed 10 points in all but two of his last eight games, bringing his average to 10.3 with a respectable 44.3 shooting percentage, and he hasn’t missed a single game – not bad for a guy who lost an entire year.
Lost in the Jeff Green coverage is often the fact that Wilcox also underwent heart surgery last year, and had less time to recover before the start of this season. The power forward was never going to be a huge part of this team, but he has been more than serviceable despite playing just 12.4 minutes per game. Wilcox is averaging 4.4 points and hitting a very solid 69.5 percent of his shots. Those are the numbers of a veteran player who knows what his job is and how to do it.
Lee had a disappointing start to the season, but has played better since Bradley’s return. His 45.7 shooting percentage would be a career high if he can sustain it, but his 7.4 points are a career low. His biggest issue has been inconsistency; his February games, for instance, show scoring totals of 14, 7, 15, 13, 2, 4, and 7 points, despite his playing time remaining quite stable. As one of just three guards on the roster, the Celtics are going to need Lee to step up his game from now until the end of the season.
On Monday in Charlotte, Barbosa became the latest casualty of the Celtics’ season-ending injury bug. It was bad luck for the Brazilian, whose minutes had surged following Rondo’s own ACL tear. Barbosa was efficient after Rondo’s injury and scored 10 fourth quarter points against Toronto on February 6th to help the Celtics erase a big deficit and record the win. Before that, he had mostly been a non-factor for Boston, recording a career-low 12.5 minutes, 5.2 points and 1.4 assists per game while he was stuck behind Rondo on the depth chart.
The 34-year-old Collins has contributed little to the C’s, and there’s no reason to believe that could change anytime soon. He had a season-high seven points in the win over the Clippers on February 2nd and is averaging twice as many personal fouls (2.4) as points (1.2). Expect him to continue to ride the end of the bench going forward.
Bass has been the biggest disappointment of the Celtics’ season. After a very good 2011-12, his numbers are down across the board, to just 7.6 points and 5 rebounds per game, and Rivers has even taken him out of the starting lineup for a dozen games. He did play well in the last game before the All-Star break, but whether or not that is a sign of things to come remains to be seen. Consistent and solid contributions from Bass could go a long way towards making Boston a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season.
Melo was called up from the D-League again this month, and it looks like he could be here to stay. However, he’s unlikely to contribute significantly to the C’s this season – he’s played a total of just eight minutes in two games, against the Magic and Lakers. With the D-League’s Maine Red Claws, however, he’s shown flashes of greatness, especially on the defensive end. In 20 games, he averaged 11 points, 6.8 rebounds and a league-best 3.4 blocks per game. On December 22nd, Melo recorded an impressive triple-double, with 15 points, 16 rebounds and a league-record 14 blocked shots.
Tags: Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, Celtics, Chris Wilcox, Courtney Lee, Doc Rivers, Fab Melo, Jared Sullinger, Jason Collins, Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Kevin Garnett, Leandro Barbosa, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo