Sunday, April 3, 2011

Limping Towards the Playoffs

The Boston Celtics started this NBA season off with the kind of drive, passion and energy that we've come to expect from them since the "Big Three" was formed. They dominated the Eastern Conference from the start, firing on all cylinders. Convincing wins against Miami, L.A. and Chicago early in the season seemed to indicate that the C's were ready to avenge their heart-breaking game 7 loss to Kobe and the Lakers. However, the tides have turned as Boston has fallen to 3rd place in the East and has gone 5-5 in their last 10 games. The recent turn of events has been extremely worrisome for the Celtic faithful.
Injuries have dramatically altered the makeup of this Boston team. Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal were brought in this off season to bolster a front court that needed reinforcements after the loss to the Lakers. Kendrick Perkins' knee injury put the need for quality backup bigs on full display when he went down in game 6 of the Finals last year. But these additions never truly panned out as expected because both O'Neal's have missed major time due to injury. It is the beginning of April and Shaq is playing for the first time in weeks. Delonte West recently came back after having surgery for his broken wrist. Marquis Daniels injured his neck in February and probably won't see any time until next season. His injury left the 2nd lineup vulnerable because he was the only legitimate backup for Paul Pierce. All of this year's injuries leave us with questions about the health and stability of the team, particularly for the center position.

Beyond the injuries, Boston seems to have lost the energy and toughness that has come to define the team in recent years. While they've posted some quality wins, the Celtics just don't seem to be the same team they were before the Perkins trade. The move was somewhat shocking and clearly disruptive to the chemistry of the starting 5, a group that has been playing as a unit since the 2008 campaign. Recent losses to teams like the Nets, Clippers, Bobcats and Pacers indicate that the Celtics are playing down to their opponents, that they're not mentally focused. As the top seed, and a guarantee of home court advantage, slips into the hands of the Chicago Bulls, the Boston faithful are left hoping that the C's will show up healthy and mentally prepared for the playoff run at their 18th banner.

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