State of the Franchise: Boston Celtics

This Season: 54-23 (clinched Atlantic Division title, 2nd in East)
Last Season: 50-32 (lost to Los Angeles Lakers in NBA Finals)

For two out of the last three years, the Boston Celtics have been the class of the Eastern Conference, and were the last team to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. When this year started, the Celtics were the odds-on favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals once again, despite the additions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami. But, two things happened between now and then. One of things weren’t in the teams control. That was the Chicago Bulls gelling in the fashion they have and Derrick Rose becoming the league’s Most Valuable Player.

The second, however, was completely under their control: trading center Kendrick Perkins and point guard Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for swingman Jeff Green and center Nenad Kristic. When the trade was first announced, it look as bad on paper for Boston as it did in theory.

But first, the positives. The Celtics have already improved their win total from last year heading into the final stretch of regular season games in 2011. They have dispatched the Miami Heat each time the teams have met, and rather easily, too. They continue to distribute the ball better than any other team in the league, and lead the league in scoring defense. The “Big Three” of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have managed to stay relatively healthy, something they didn’t easily accomplish last year. Pierce is leading the team with his 18.8 points per game, adding 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists as well. Allen continues to be a huge crunch-time clutch player, hitting three-point daggers at ease at the end of games. For the season, Allen is shooting a career-best 45.3% from three-point range, averaging 16.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Garnett is posting better numbers than he did one year ago, increasing his points and rebounds per game averages (14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds this year).

Despite battling a few injuries at the beginning of the season, point guard Rajon Rondo continues to make his case for the best play-making point guard in the league. He’s averaging a career-best 11.3 assists per game to go along with his 10.6 points he drops nightly. However, Rondo continues to be a burden towards the end of games, struggling to a career-worst 55.4% from the charity stripe, making him a popular target to foul to keep games close towards the end. Big body forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis has continued to flourish in his role off the Celtics bench. He’s been averaging 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds each night in 29.5 minutes of play each night.

Which brings us to why the Green-for-Perkins swap was a terrible trade for the Boston Celtics. It’s not to say that Jeff Green is a bad player. Green was an underrated piece playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, contributing around 14 points a night with 5.6 rebounds playing as an undersized four. However, the Thunder viewed Green as an added bonus instead of a building block, which is the correct estimation of his talents. You appreciate what he gives you, but you could find those points and rebounds from other players on the roster. The Celtics acquired Green to serve as their buffer between Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and foul trouble off the bench. They saw Green’s skill-set as a valuable piece not only in the future (Green is only 24), but as someone that could provide the same kind of offensive burst that any of their stars can if one of them weren’t able to for some reason.

In 21 games with the Celtics, all coming off the bench, Green has slumped noticeably. He’s averaging a lowly 9.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in only 22 minutes of action. Recently, coach Doc Rivers has turned to the media, saying that Green needs to “toughen up” his play, because he is now in Boston, not Oklahoma City. The stage is a lot bigger, and the expectations are a lot higher for the quiet Green.

Kendrick Perkins, however, is a massive six-foot 10-inch behemoth underneath that can bang bodies with any big man in the NBA. Last year, his started 78 games for the Celtics, averaging 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in 27 minutes of action nightly. Though his numbers don’t scream “All-Star NBA center”, he did take the burden off of every Celtic from having to deal with mismatches underneath the rim defensively and forced teams to work from the outside-in. With Rasheed Wallace having retired at the end of last season, Leon Powe leaving via free agency and now Perkins, the Celtics are left with Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett and two injured O’Neals: Shaquielle and Jermaine.

Both Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal have played under 40 games this season, with Shaq still missing time currently and Jermaine having only recently made it back to the court. Jermaine, playing in only 21 games, is down to 5.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. Shaq, seeing action 37 games, is averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, career-lows. Nenad Kristic, the big man they got in return for Perkins, is not a natural rebounder, averaging only 5.6 a night in his 19 games with the C’s. As a team, the Celtics have slumped to 29th in the league in rebounding.

The good news for the Celtics: they have enough on the roster to beat the weaker Eastern Conference playoff teams. Right now, they are a half game ahead of the Miami Heat for second in the East, with a match-up of those two teams remaining on the schedule. If they playoffs started today, the Celtics would be lined up with the Philadelphia 76ers, a team they dominated 99-82 on Tuesday. The longer the Celtics go into the playoffs, however, the more likely their lack of height will play a pivotal role.

The Celtics, given their current roster, should be able to beat the Heat in a seven-game series, a team they’ve handled all year long. But, if they were to encounter the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, the size of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer will provide a major obstacle that the Celtics may not be able to overcome. The Celtics lost the Finals last year in large part because of the dominating play of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum underneath, and that was with a healthy Kendrick Perkins on roster.

At the end of the day, the Boston Celtics are relying on the health of Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquielle O’Neal to compensate for their lack of size on the bench. That faith seems to be displaced and unlikely to help the Celtics significantly come late spring.

All would’ve been different if they had only held on to Kendrick Perkins..

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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