The Boston Celtics are Taking Care of BusinessThe Boston Celtics beat the New Jersey Nets 112-101 on Saturday night to improve to 5-0 and remain the last undefeated NBA team. Paul Pierce scored 28 points on 9-19 shooting, Ray Allen had 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and Kevin Garnett had an off shooting night (5-14, 18 points) but still contributed 14 rebounds and six assists. So far, the "Big Three" have been as good as advertised: focused, unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to win.
The five biggest questions about the Celtics coming into the season were defense, bench play, point guard play, the health status of Allen and Pierce and how well the team would function down the stretch in close games. The latter two cannot be answered until after the playoffs but we have some preliminary returns regarding the first three. Neither Allen nor Pierce have been known as defensive stoppers during their careers, so it was very legitimate to wonder how good Boston would be defensively. Through the first four games (NBA.com has not been updated to include Saturday's games), Boston ranks first in the NBA with a team defensive field goal percentage of .398; that category is a primary focus of Gregg Popovich's Spurs and none of his four championship teams have held their opponents to less than .400 shooting. Yes, Boston's success is only based on a handful of games but it usually takes teams time to jell defensively, so it is a good sign that the Celtics are already doing so well at that end of the court. The Celtics are only giving up 88.5 ppg (third best in the NBA). Boston ranks fifth in scoring (106.5 ppg) and first in field goal percentage (.542; Dallas, at .504, is the only other team that is making half of its shots), which adds up to a whopping 18 ppg point differential, which would easily be an all-time record. We can say with confidence that that number will not hold up over the course of the season but if Boston can maintain a 10 ppg differential or greater--no easy feat, because that territory is inhabited by the greatest teams of all-time--the Celtics will win more than 60 games.
As for the bench, no one is putting up gaudy scoring or rebounding numbers but Eddie House, Kendrick Perkins and James Posey in particular have been very productive and each one is shooting at least .484 from the field. Starting point guard Rajon Rondo is averaging 9.3 ppg and 3.8 apg while shooting .531 from the field. Realistically, that is all that the Celtics expect or need from their bench and from Rondo if the "Big Three" are healthy and clicking.
I'll be honest: I did not expect Boston to be this good this soon--and I'm still not sure that they will be this good for the entire season. Health concerns are more likely to crop up at the end of a marathon campaign, not the beginning. As for how the team reacts to being in close games--that has not been an issue yet, but rest assured that it will have to be addressed at some point. Who will have the ball and where on the court will he get it? Where will the other players be stationed? Even the greatest champions ever had to win some close playoff games and no definitive verdict can be issued about this Celtics' team until they go through that crucible. Also, how will the team react to adversity, whether it comes in the form of injuries, a losing streak or something else? As Jeff Van Gundy said on Friday during the Wizards-Nuggets game, it is easy to be a leader when the sailing is smooth; Van Gundy noted that now that things are rough we see that the Wizards lack leadership. Will that also be the case in Boston? That question cannot be answered during long winning streaks.
What we have learned, though, is what this Celtics team is capable of when everyone is clicking--and you can bet that Boston's rivals don't at all like what they have seen so far.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:30 AM