The last two seasons, the Celtics roared out to league-best December records, appeared prohibitive title favorites well into January, and then fell apart after the all-star break.
In 2009-10, the collapse was a calculation. Battling a myriad of injuries and unconvinced their veteran crew could go full speed all season long, Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge took their collective foot off the gas pedal and let wins slip away into losses, staggering into the playoffs an also-ran. But the strategy also gave them a second wind and buoyed an inspiring run to the finals against the Lakers.
In 2010-11, the collapse was more of a mystery. The Kendrick Perkins trade clearly affected the team’s composure, as did the need to integrate a number of new players into Boston’s complex offensive system. But there was also the physical aspect and any accounting of last season that doesn’t recognize the Celtics were physically worn down isn’t trustworthy. And it wasn’t just the older guys. Even Rajon Rondo (a team-high 37.1 mpg) saw his play fall off dramatically the last third of the season. And by the playoffs, Kevin Garnett, whose overall 2010-11 season was a renaissance, failed to put together two straight strong games in Boston’s second-round loss to Miami.
So, at first blush, a shorter season is a blessing for this aged core. During this new big three era, the C’s were faced with the prospect of playing 110 or so games on their way to a title. This year, with an exhibition schedule of only 2-3 games (if that) and 16-fewer regular season games, that number comes in around 90. A reduction of that size will save wear and tear, no matter how those games are allocated.
But there are still minefields aplenty for the Celtics.
The 66 regular season games will play out over 124 days and the playoff schedule will be compressed. This means we’ll have:
So, to summarize: the Celtics will play less games, which is great, but also suffer from far less rest, recovery and practice time, all of which are not.
Once we have a full accounting of the schedule (later this week, apparently) and a better sense of what kind of bench will line up behind the big four (the week after next), we can debate strategy and how best to position this group for a final run at a title.