The Celtics enter tonight’s game 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland with 18 games remaining. Not exactly an insurmountable deficit. Yet I have noticed a disturbing pattern in the past few days regarding C’s fans attitudes toward home court. I’ve heard “Throw in the towel!” or “Hey 2nd place might not be so bad after all!”
This defeated mindset has become all too common amongst Celtics fans in the midst of the team’s latest setbacks in the battle to win the conference. The injuries have continued to mount, as have Ray Allen and Paul Pierce’s minutes, leaving the Celtics a tired and wounded team. I’m not denying that.
I even agree with most Celtics fans who say the emphasis must now be on entering the postseason healthy and rested, rather than overworking the stars and rushing the other injured back in hopes of winning the conference. Home court against Cleveland would certainly be an advantage but it is not going to mean nearly as much if this team is not 100 percent going into it.
With more consistent rest on the horizon for Ray and Paul many fans have come to a realization that we will be dropping a number of games over the next couple weeks. I am not one of these people. I am not ready to give up hope in overtaking Cleveland for the top seed. I think the people who are giving up on that quest are selling this team short.
@Miami, Memphis, @Milwaukee, @Chicago, Miami.
Those are the Celtics’ next five games. We know KG will likely be out for these five contests if not longer. It would not surprise me to see Big Baby out for the majority of these games as well given how hobbled he looked when he went down and that he was seen in a boot at practice Monday. Rondo’s ankle sprain appears to be less severe but the Celtics are wisely playing it safe and resting him Wednesday and calling him doubtful for Memphis. My informed guess is he could be back in time for the Chicago game next Tuesday.
That leaves us with only 10 healthy bodies on the roster for at least the next 2-3 games. In addition, Doc has made clear that he will reduce the minutes for Pierce and Allen in these games as it has been well documented how he has overly relied on them to compensate for the C’s rash of injuries instead of giving the young guys some playing time.
With guys like Bill Walker, Gabe Pruitt, and even J.R. Giddens likely to see some significant minutes the next two games, many questions come to mind. Is the bench play going to be ugly? At times it likely will be. Could the Celtics go 2-3 in this 5 game stretch and as a result, be knocked out of contention for the top spot in the east? Without a doubt.
I would argue though that this undermanned team could just as easily go 4-1 in these matchups. In fact I think they are more likely to complete the latter scenario for a variety of reasons. Let’s break down the hypotheticals of the situation:
Eddie House should be in the starting lineup: It was evident from the onset Sunday how much of a mistake it was to have Stephon Marbury start against Orlando. Through no real fault of his own, Marbury wasn’t ready for it and the team’s play suffered accordingly.
Luckily Rivers realized his misstep in the postgame and although he is putting on a poker face when addressing it now by calling the decision a coin toss, it would shock me if Eddie did not get the nod tonight and play 25-30+ minutes with the first team. (UPDATE: Doc says Marbury will get the start, but I am still hopeful Eddie will still see a lot of minutes with what’s left of the starting lineup) His ball handling flaws will be magnified as the point but unlike Marbury, he will be able get the team into its offensive sets, the importance of which we all saw Sunday.
In addition, House will be able to take better advantage of the open looks on the perimeter when teams collapse on Paul and Ray. Instead, Marbury can utilize his slashing and penetration to create scoring opportunities for himself and the young bench unit he will see time with this week.
An added bonus for Wednesday’s game: South Beach is generally deemed to be a distraction for opposing players. Eddie doesn’t seem to have that problem. In fact if he was a baseball player he would likely choose Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” as his theme song. House’s numbers in Green during games played in Miami over the last two seasons: 22mpg, 18ppg, and an unreal 17/26 shooting from 3 point range. If those numbers don’t convince Doc to start him, I don’t know what will.
More food for thought after the jump.
Even more playing time for Leon Powe: The man has been on a mission during month of March averaging 12.5 points and almost 7 boards in only 21 minutes a game. Leon has been one of the best productive backup PF’s in the league this year, ranking 34th in PER, higher than forwards such as Lamar Odom and Tyrus Thomas.
Powe’s averages per 36 minutes have him recording a double double so far the year and with the Celtics depth for big men limited to Kendrick Perkins, Mikki Moore and Powe, it is likely Leon will be seeing those kinds of minutes throughout these upcoming games. And that is a good thing in my book.
One caveat: Fouls. Leon draws a lot of charges but he is also prone to picking up a ton of fouls when he is in there. Powe (and Perkins for that matter) must stay out of foul trouble for the Celtics to have the best chance to win in these games.
The reduction of Paul and Ray’s minutes will not cost the C’s a chance to win these games: It is incredibly clear that these guys have been overworked as both along with Doc have openly talked to the press about it. Their minutes will be cut back in these games. I think we are merely talking about them playing 30-35 minutes rather than 40-45. Many fans have reacted to this development believing this will eliminate any hope the Green have to win these games.
Will the team’s play suffer with them off the floor more? Of course. Will it cost the C’s these games? I say no. (With the exception of tonight’s game since I don’t see the Green pulling this out unless Ray goes 35+ minutes in order to contain Wade) The inexperienced supporting cast clearly will have to step up in the rest of these games in order to keep the team in the game.
That being said, anytime you have Ray Allen and Paul Pierce playing 30-35 minutes during a game, you have a good chance to win especially against inferior opponents. Which brings me to my final point: The schedule
The schedule: To put it simply it just isn’t that difficult. Memphis, Milwaukee and Chicago are all sub .500 teams that are mediocre at best at both ends of the floor.The Grizzlies and Bucks have not played well lately (1-9 and 3-7 in last 10 games respectively) and the Bulls are at less than full strength with injuries limiting the play of Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich in the past week.
Even with the C’s injuries, I think this team matches up well with these three teams especially since there are no major post presences on the squads that are likely to get the Celts big men in foul trouble. These are all teams that Boston could get away going small against which they may very well have to do in order to give Paul and Ray some rest.
That brings us to the two matchups with Miami. There is no question they will be rough especially with Dwayne Wade playing out of his mind the past few weeks. Ray Allen clearly will have his hands full in trying to chase him around Wednesday night but the Celtics did well defending Wade last year limiting him to 13 points a game on 31% shooting during 3 games.
There is a decent chance however that Rondo will be back for next Wednesday’s game against the Heat which will obviously help the team’s chances. Plus the Celtics have historically the toughest opponent for Wade to play against as they have limited him A split in these two games should be manageable for the Green
Another hidden blessing of this stretch is giving Danny a chance to evaluate the young guys. Walker and Giddens have rarely seen the floor this year so giving those guys a chance in gametime situations will likely give Doc and Danny a better gauge of whether they will be able to be useful contributors in future seasons.
Over the course of the past two years this team has fought back time and time again in the face of injuries and adversity. Whenever there was a glimmer of doubt about this squad, they come back and prove us wrong. These next couple weeks bring many reasons to question this team but I will not fall into the trap of doubting them once again. When the going gets tough, the Celtics have proved they will find a way to get going. I think they will somehow find a way to weather the storm over these next couple weeks and stay in the hunt for the top seed. If they can do that in the next two weeks, there is hope. With a favorable April schedule on the horizon and one more head to head contest with Cleveland, a Celtics team with more reinforcements could likely control its own destiny down the stretch.
Taking all of that into consideration, this team obviously has to take care of business here first. To be honest (and realistic) the Celts could go anywhere from 2-3 or 5-0 in this stretch and I would not be surprised. No matter what happens though, the next two weeks will be at the very least fascinating to watch, in order to see how this team copes with their biggest challenge yet this year.