The Boston Celtics are on a roll right now. They’ve won three of their last five games and seven of their last 10 games. In the midst of the Atlantic Division race with the Philadelphia 76ers–who are 9-18 in their last 27–our Celtics are starting to pull away. With a three game lead on the 76ers and a decisive 14 point win over them, the Celtics are now blazing with momentum into the playoffs.
As the talking heads on ESPN and other networks say, it isn’t about how you start its about how you finish. The Celtics seem to be peaking at just the right time. Some of you may be wondering why, I’m going to break it down to you. Stay with me as there are several keys to this equation that will be broken down.
The first key is the injury of Jermaine O’neal and moving Brandon Bass into the starting line-up. Kevin Garnett was then moved to the center position. Garnett has been playing stellar defense for most of this season. In fact, this is one of his best defensive efficiency seasons of his career.
According to Basketball Reference, Garnett has a defensive efficiency rating of 94 points allowed per 100 possessions. That number is equivalent to the 2008 season when Garnett first came to Boston and won a championship. The only year that Garnett has put up a better number was the ’03-’04 season where he posted a 92 rating. Keep in mind that this was the year that Garnett won the MVP award and led the Timberwolves to their greatest season ever at 58 wins.
Not only has Garnett been a defensive stallion this season, his offensive repertoire has opened up the doors for his teammates while he’s played the center position. Garnett is a player that can stretch the floor so easily. According to Hoop Data, Garnett is shooting 49 percent from 16 to 23 feet out. The midrange area is one of the hardest places to hit from on an NBA floor. The league average is only 38%. For Garnett to be shooting 11 percentage points over that is amazing.
This literally opens up lanes for the back court to function in. Brandon Bass is shooting at 48 percent from 16-23 feet on the floor as well–he and Garnett give the opposition no room to sag off. If there are no bigs in the paint then that leaves room for Rajon Rondo to penetrate and kick or score the ball depending on what the defense gives. For the back court to be playing as well as it has is no coincidence. This has been facilitated by the floor spacing of the bigs.
Boston’s point guards are quick and crafty. They are some of the best slashers in the NBA. Since Bradley and Rondo are now in the starting rotation and playing big minutes together, their slashing has been used to its fullest potential thanks to Doc River’s coaching. He doesn’t allow them to stand around an watch a play. When off the ball, they are constantly in movement and looking for a lane to cut in. Avery Bradley is especially adept at cutting, as he scores 1.25 points per 100 possessions off of it according to Synergy Sports technology. The ball never just sits in someone’s hands. They’ve been able to keep it moving and find the open man from that movement–this makes scoring so much easier.
Rajon Rondo has also played a large part in the Celtics success. He has been playing the point guard position at another level since the all star break. It seems that the opposite of what happened last season with Boston is happening right now, and a large portion of that can be attributed to the play of Rondo.
As he goes, the Celtics go; lately Rondo has been going non stop. His scoring numbers aren’t impressive at all, but since the all star break Rondo has averaged 9.8 points per game and 12.6 assists per game. Rondo hasn’t had a game where he hasn’t dished out at least 10 dimes in a game and he’s been keeping Boston’s offense flowing as he best can. Think of him as the WD-40 to Boston’s rusty door hinge. He knows exactly what this team needs and how to get it flowing.
Boston is peaking at just the right time. It would be interesting to see who they would play once the post season hits. They are currently slotted in the 4 seed position and would play the Hawks if the playoffs started today. Right now, Boston could certainly beat Atlanta in a 7 game series. They are playing some of the best ball aside from a few teams in the league. This team should be dangerous when the post season rolls around.