Know Your Enemy: The Boston Celtics

Kurt —  October 10, 2008

Last Year Record: 66-16
Last Year Playoffs: Won NBA Championship
Offensive Rating: 110.2 (ninth in league)
Defensive Rating: 98.9 (first in league)

The rivalry with the Celtics is back. All the way back. I grew up despising all things Celtics (you had to respect Bird/McHale/Parish, but you didn’t have to like them, and I’ve always just wanted to punch Danny Ainge). Maybe that faded a little starting in the late 90s, but it is back with a vengeance now. I want to see the Celtics crushed.

With that out of the way, let’s be honest — they were the best team in the NBA last year. They won 66 games in the regular season and brought an intensity to the finals — particularly on the defensive end — that the Lakers couldn’t match. The Celtics defense was impressive, both in the team’s regular season meetings and the finals. They were aggressive on the ball, overloaded the strong side at times and were lightning quick on rotations. The help was always there. Opposing teams were forced to take 70% of their shots as jump shots, and they hit just 39.6% (eFG%) of them.

They offense was not spectacular, but it was good. Pierce and KG’s games blended well, Ray Allen spread the floor and the turnovers the Celtics defense created led to some easy baskets every game.

The Celtics went into last season with questions about Rondo and Perkins, but both showed that they could be solid role players around the big three of KG, Pierce and Jesus Shuttleworth. This season nobody questions the starting five of the Celtics, in fact in the case of Rondo I expect him to be better, the question is off the bench.

They lost James Posey. Tony Allen will apparently get more time, but he is no Posey. Darius Miles is, um, let’s say in need of a redemption I don’t expect him to find. Rondo has developed into a solid PG (and could take a step forward if he can improve on a poor 42.2% eFG% on jump shots) but behind him is Eddie House, who can shoot but is not a great ball handler or distributor. I happen to like Leon Powe, but for the Celtics to get back to where they want to be he needs to step forward. Big Baby would also need to step forward.

Health is a concern for every team, but with their three core players being older and Perkins coming in off shoulder surgery, the lack of depth could be a real issue around Faneuil Hall. The Celtics need to be firing on all cylinders to repeat.

To beat the Celtics the Lakers (or any team) will need to create turnovers of their own — the Celtics turned the ball over on 16.6% of their possessions last year (only the Kings turned it over more) but they made that mistake less often in the Finals. You can get Rondo (and particularly House and Allen off the bench) to turn the ball over, and that can lead to easy baskets. Pressure and pace are not really Boston’s friends.

You also have to not foul — easier said than done with KG and PP on the floor. Only two other teams in the league got to the free throw line on as high a percentage of their possessions as the Celtics. The Celtics were very good at tough defending without fouling, other teams need to match that.

Enough of my thoughts. Time for some insider perspective from Jeff, creator of the brilliant Celtics Blog:

The loss of Posey has gotten a lot of attention, how serious is it? Can one of the your pickups fill that role?

Oh it is serious alright. I’m tired of hearing about it, but that doesn’t make it go away. The bottom line is that the Big 3 and team defense were what won us the title last year, but James Posey did help, a lot. He didn’t have lights-out stats, but somehow whenever we needed him, he was always stepping up with a huge 3 pointer or taking a charge or making a key stop. One player doesn’t fill those shoes. It takes the whole bench stepping up and doing a little more. We need Tony Allen to give us wing defense. We need Eddie House to give us more 3 point daggers. We need Leon Powe to take charges. We need the rookies to give some old legs some rest. The great thing about Posey was he could do all that himself. Now it just has to be a team effort.

Are their concerns that this team could lose its incredible intensity, particularly on the defensive end? Or will KG just not allow that?

Good question and one I’ve been pondering lately. My first reaction is to say “no.” I mean, have you ever looked at KG’s face when he’s on the floor? I can’t imagine looking at him in person and not running through a wall when he said “go.” However, the only thing that worries me is that every person is wired differently. Some guys are motivated with a stick and some with a carrot. This is where Doc really has to step up his motivational game (so to speak). Last year, “Ubuntu” was the rallying cry that everyone bought into. That was kind of a gimmick, but it worked because the Big 3 bought in hook, line, and sinker. I have a feeling that the team will buy in to the repeat talk because it sure seems like the Big 3 are in again. They have to be thinking about their legacy at this point. They’ve reached the top of the ladder compared to the current generation. Now they’d like to go down as one of the all time teams.

The Celts offense certainly wasn’t bad last year (ninth in the league in efficiency), but what can happen to improve that?

Just playing another year together will help everyone. Wait till Rajon Rondo starts doing what he can do on a more consistent basis. Ray had some lingering ankle issues last year. If fully healed, he could be even better. Tony Allen can’t shoot like Posey, but he’s a better slasher. There’s room for growth on offense, but it all starts from the defense.

What will it take for this team to repeat as champions?

A lot has to happen. Doc has to get them to buy into the legacy/history thing. Young players need to step up. Veterans need to stay healthy. They need to be good and lucky and then good again. It is really hard winning it once, and really, really hard winning it again. Actually, you might be a better person to ask since you watched your team do it more recently than mine. What did your team do to make it happen again?

I think Jeff hit on a couple big keys — health and some luck matter in repeating. But let’s be clear, when it matters (like on Christmas Day) the Celtics are going to be intense and focused. The other day on NBA TV they were showing a Celtics scrimmage, a routine part of preseason camp. And KG was swatting away his teammates hands while trying to get position in the post, intimidating anyone who would drive the lane and fighting for boards like it was the Finals again. In a meaningless scrimmage. KG is not going to let the Celtics lose their intensity.

And with that intensity, and keeping their health, the Celtics will not be an easy out for anyone.

Kurt

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27 responses to Know Your Enemy: The Boston Celtics

  1. Yeah I can’t see them losing their intensity, not with KG on the team. He does not seem like the type of guy who is going to be content with one ring. Now that he tasted being a champion he will do everything within his power to get there again.

    On a side note: KG and Kobe (possibly Duncan) are the most intense players in the league. KG and Kobe would have been scary together. I wouldn’t want to be one of their teammates.

    I think the key will be guys like Allen, Powe and big baby will have to step up their games. Rondo should also be better which will help them a lot.

    I would love for the Lakers to meet them in the finals again and win this time. Sweet revenge.

  2. i want their blood … i want to crush them in the finals

    no more joking around

  3. I think overall the East got a lot better this year…at least a lot better than last year….and specifially the Atlantic Division…with JO in Toronto and Brand in Philly…So I dont see the Celtics bulldozing thru the competition…its not going to be as easy as last year…they will be a tired team…often…and will make mistakes and will slack on defense…regardless of the intensity of KG…even he gets tired and slows down….we have seen it. And I think teams may have figured them out a bit too…espeacilly after Atlanta man handled them…

    I really think Philly is coming out of the East this year. Thats just my gut feeling.

  4. Ryan,

    You’re right. I don’t think there will be much of a drop in intensity this year with the C’s either. I actually think they’ll benefit from a sense of superiority and the chance to defend their crown each and every game. They’re cocky and they’ll let you know, with every score, every foul, every block, steal, and dunk.

    I want to see them in the Finals again too. I want banner # 15 to come in a revenge matchup. I’m going to their game against Cleveland in Providence (my hometown) tonight for a chance to see LeBron play. I think this the only team with a real shot of dethroning them off the East crown.

  5. the other Stephen October 10, 2008 at 11:18 am

    kg is mean.

  6. Not only were the Celtics a great and talented team, but things broke right for them last year too. I wonder if the same circumstances will duplicate this season. I mean, they hit a lot of big shots and got a lot of key stops and made some runs that were really like avalanches where the tidal wave of momentum crushed opponents (game 4 anyone?). I’m wondering if that same resevoir of skill + good fortune will be there this season.

    Losing Posey hurts, and as Jeff pointed out, I wonder if their bench will be able to cumulatively make up the difference in intangible things that he brought to the table. In the end, he was a difference maker as his versatility on defense (going from Kobe to Lamar is something that no other defender on their team could effectively do) and then his ability to stretch the floor on offense, allowing KG the room on the block and Pierce the space to create driving lanes really broke down the integrity of our defense in the Finals. They’re going to need real strong contributions from Powe, Baby, Allen, House, and O’Bryant (as a back up big) in order to do this season what they did in this past one. We’ll see. They are defenitely a worthy opponent, and even though I give them all the respect and credit in the world, I really can’t stand them.

  7. Darius,

    You have a good point. I think that without Eddie House, they lose to the Lakers. (I can’t believe I said that…) He was the one player I thought all year that was going to cost them if they had to use him consistently. He stepped up and changed the game when he was in there. I still think they’ll find a way to get role players to step up though, based on the confidence I mentioned in my previous post.

    Losing Posey will hurt. Darius Miles will do squat.

  8. In case some of you folks haven’t seen this: Two conservative Minneapolis radio talking heads alleging (offhandedly) that Magic faked the whole AIDS thing:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3636469

  9. I don’t think the Celtics will miss Posey or Brown during the regular season. I don’t expect them to win 66 games again, but they’re still going to a dominant regular season team.

    But they will miss Posey and Brown during the playoffs. Both of those guys hit big shots when it mattered most. Big Baby, Tony Allen, Powe, and Miles may make up for their production during the regular season, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll step up in pressure situations.

    The Lakers had the best bench in the NBA last season, but they were MIA in the Finals. Veterans are so important in the playoffs.

    But I wouldn’t put it past the Celtics to acquire Robert Horry or Brown at some point next season.

    As long as the C’s have KG, Pierce, and Allen, they’ll be attractive to veterans looking for an opportunity to win a ring.

  10. 9. I hope they acquire Horry, the guy is toast. Great career, love the guy. Toast.

  11. To semi-build on what Kurt just said about Horry…

    The Celtics, as long as they have KG/Pierce/Allen, are going to have to try and fill their roster out with young, cheap guys or old, cheap guys. A guy like Posey will only come around every few years, in that he was a very established, championship tested player that had no viable team to go to but still had enough game to contribute to a contender. Those guys are few and far between these days. So, when you look at the Celtic’s roster they’ve got home grown players that are on their original contracts (Rondo, Perkins, Powe, Baby), they’ve got young cast off’s that didn’t make it with their original teams (O’Bryant), they’ve got freshly minted rookies (Walker, Giddens), and they’ve got the veteran guy(s) that no one wants (Miles, and to a lesser extent House). And it’s going to be like that for as long as the big three are there. This isn’t to say that they can’t win like that, but as the 3pt Lakers discovered at the end of their run, it gets more and more difficult to field a deep, talented, AND experienced team when you have big stars making even bigger money. So it’ll be the likes of the Horry’s/Finley’s of the league that may flock to Boston (just like it was the Mitch Richmond and Karl Malones that came to the Lakers) but it will be harder to get those true veteran players that can (and should) make the mid-level to come to Boston for less money just based off the fact that the salary cap will limit them.

    (On a side note, it will be the same way for us once Bynum is extended and we have big commitments to Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum. This is the reason that the draft is so important. So far Boston has done a good job developing it’s picks into contributors. That get’s a little bit harder when you’re picking in the late 20′s every year. I know that Powe and Baby were 2nd round picks, but we’ll see if Giddens and Walker develop into the same level of contributors that those other guys have.)

  12. Kurt,

    Horry didn’t do anything against the Lakers. But Horry hit two big 3′s in San Antonio’s Game 7 win over New Orleans.

    He’s not going to provide anything but clutch shooting at this point. But he’s still got ice cold veins and can be trusted in the closing minutes of big games.

    Last I read he was keeping himself in shape and hoping to catch on with someone this season.

  13. I see the Celts as primary challengers from the East. But I do not see the crown going that way though.

    Houston, Utah and SA are much tougher challenges than Boston this year. All three have improved while Celts have lost a lot of their playoff juice (Posey, Brown, Cassel).

    Still I believe that it will be very tough to beat the Celts in the finals if they have the home court advantage. Last year, given the two teams relative strengths/weaknesses then, I am pretty confident the Lakers would have won if they played the opening two games in the finals at Staples.

    Therefore, regular season matters a lot. Strength disparity between teams is not as strong as it used to be during Shaq years when Lakers could just dial up on anyone and overpower them.

    Lakers need to have the best record in the league

  14. To the fantasy land Laker fans: You guys believe your own nonesense. Celtics beat your team 6 out of 8 games last year (including Play offs), and the only reason Lakers won 1 of those 2 games was that NBA did not want a short series (Remember the steal / FOUL by Kobe at the end of game 5). So enough of this nonesense about Lakers having a superior bench last year (and for that matter a good starting 5). Their only great player is Kobe, and the good player is Gasol (The soft one). Your team is a front running team, and the bench combination of Vujucic, Farmar, Walton, Turiaf and Ariza didn’t make into “1″ good player, let alone a whole Bench. Kobe is All World, and once in a life time player, however the Celts bottled him up in Finals, and when push came to shove, your other players were not up to par. If you guys think that Bynum is your saviour, you better think again, as a 3 month stint of adequate play does not make him an all star. Lakers biggest issue is still their weak point guards, and Magic (My one and only favorite Laker Player of all time) is not coming through the door. I would like to see the Lakers again in the finals (All time Record in Finals Celtics 9-2 over Lakers), as it would be sweet to reach number 18 by beating your fiercest rival for the 10th time. Remember also that the only times Lakers triumphed over the Celtics Magic was their Point Guard. As I have said I loved Magic, but could not stand your team.

  15. 14. WOW Marc, chill out dude! Being a fan of the defending champions should give you more responsibility of discussing basketball rather than just dissing opposing teams like you are doing. I am guessing fear of Lakers this year has something to do with it :) It’s all good!

    You have completely dissed the entire Laker team and I believe most of it was unwarranted. First of all, I agree that PG is the Laker’s most burning issue, but also a spot which looks very bright with ever-developing Farmar there. I do not think that PG will be a problem at all, especially vs. the Celtic team. As much as I respect Rondo’s game I know we have the right defensive stoppers (Ariza, Sasha) to put on Ray Allen so Kobe sticks with Rondo… and you know how that will work out. And if you want to refer to last year’s finals check Rondo’s TO rate :)

    Secondly, I agree with most people at the forum here that Lakers will have their handful with Celts. But one big weakness I see this year for Boston is their bench strength and mentality. Having Cassel and PJ Brown was numerically unmeasurable boost for the team. They are both gone, and so is Posey, So the Celtic bench is super thin for the moment. Unless they pick up some decent ring-chasing veterans down the line, Celts can not possibly over power their mentally as they did last year.

    Lastly, a short comment on Bynum. Andrew is not a “saviour”. He is the Lakers. If you recall we always took pride in greatness of our centers. Last year Pau was the center and we know that is not his position. So Drew coming back means Lakers go back to their identity of power juggernaut with two big boys manning the middle. Let’s let the actions do the talking!

    Thanks for dropping by though, it is always nice to know we are remembered by our beloved green counterparts

  16. Boston took it to the Lakers last year, no question. But this is the same team that struggled in each of its prior playoff series, including an inexplicable seven-game series against a mediocre Hawks team.

    Since Marc went down the “NBA is rigged” road by implying that the refs kept L.A. alive longer than they deserved, let him explain the Celtics’ free throw disparity in game two…

    Regardless of anyone’s theory on corrupted refs or TV ratings, it’s all about what you do on the court. Boston was playing well at the right time in June, and the Lakers weren’t ready to deal with that situation. Does that mean the results would be the same in June 2009? Who can say? But all anyone is doing in October is talking the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” game.

    Even if Boston wins it all again, it’s premature to label this version among the all-time great NBA squads. I think L.A. 2008-09 will be better than last season’s Lakers. Whether that happens, and whether that’s enough to win another title, we’ll have to wait and see.

    But I’d love to see Boston fans cry like they did when their “perfect” Cheatriots were KO’d by the Giants. Let’s hope it’s the Lakers drinking the champagne this coming summer.

  17. Once Pau and Drew figure it out the Celtics or anybody else for that matter won’t stand a chance. I pray we get them in The Finals again just as those two are really hitting stride as a tandem. KB will have his revenge on KG and restore glory to the Laker Nation! Damn! This is gonna be a great season!

  18. After the Finals I officially hate KG with a passion, and I’ve always disliked him, and I know that Kobe-Pau-Odom-Bynum is stronger than Kobe-KG (assuming Mitch doesn’t make the Pau trade if we had gotten KG). Still, I can’t help but wondering how KG and Kobe would have played together. The basketball fan in me is so curious. As someone said, Kobe and KG are the two most intense guys in the league. I think they would have thrived together. And KG could have installed a defensive mentality that could have offset the losses of Bynum and Odom. Our individual defenders (Ariza, Kobe, Fish) are about as strong or stronger than Boston’s, and KG’s attitude could have turned that into an amazing team defense. Coupled with the triangle, that could have been a potential dynasty.

    No complaints. Kobe and Pau get along perfectly (anyone see the Kevin Ding article about Kobe and Pau’s off-court chemistry? great read) and with Bynum back we have a team that is special now and will be for several years. It’s just that as a purely basketball fan, it would have been interesting to see Kobe and KG’s intensity together. Now I just want to see Kobe destroy KG.

    Also there was a great article talking more about the history between Phil and Tex Winter (yes, the main article is about Krause, but if you scroll down, it gets good later):

    http://blogs.hoopshype.com/blogs/lazenby/2008/10/09/big-nuts/

  19. Paying homage to the best efforts of campaign staffs everywhere I offer Spin and Counter Spin

    Posey left.
    Spin-The Celts plan to replace his contribution w/numerous other players,thus developing a deep bench and allowing the Starters to rest,keeping them fresh for the Playoffs.
    Counter Spin-The more options you give Doc Rivers,the worse a coach he is.

    The Celts are a yr older.
    Spin-The team has had a yr of getting to know each other and is now a smooth machine.
    Counter Spin-They’re a yr older.

    It’s tough to repeat as teams lose their hunger.
    Spin-KG’s intensity will prevail.
    Counter Spin-KG’s intensity didn’t prevent the T-Wolves from collapsing.
    Counter Counter Spin-This is Boston not Minnesota.
    Counter Counter counter Spin-And Posey leaving for a little more money differs from Sprewell wanting to feed his family how?

    The East Improved over the Summer.
    Spin-Suuure they did. Atl lost Childress,Orl added a SG who can’t shoot,Cle added A PG who doesn’t pass,Tor added a guy who hates playing inside and wants him to play inside,Wash can’t even begin to stay healthy,Phi added a PF who’s had how much success getting to the Playoffs and does anyone really fear Detroit anymore?
    Counter Spin-The East IS better,everybody says so. So there!

    Atlanta showed Boston is vulnerable to athletic teams.
    Spin-1)How many athletic teams are like the Hawks in the East? 2)And who won the series?
    Counter Spin-And who lost 3 games to a sub-500 team?

  20. I welcome Marc’s opinion of dissent. Just don’t go into hiding if things turn out different than you think.

  21. Though it would be a thrill to face the Celtics again at the end of this season with home court advantage, both teams have some work to do to get there.

    Right now, the Lakers are no better than one of the top four teams in the Westerm Conference. I’d be surprised to see a championship Laker team emerge before December. However, there are no missing pieces, and when the entire squad is fully orgnized, it will be panic time throughout the NBA.

  22. The Celtics offense last year really wasn’t all that bad…when they managed to complete a possession without a turnover. The basic numbers are that they averaged 100 points playing the 19th fastest pace and they rated 9th in offensive efficiency. Not great, better than average but considering their offensive talent, a dissapointment. However, when you delve into their just their shooting numbers, they operated like a top five offense:
    4th Field Goal %
    5th eFG %
    5th 3pt%
    8th FT%

    What really dropped them to 9th in offensive efficiency was their horrible turnover rate. You can shoot and pass as well as you want but if you turn the ball a lot, that’s a lot of failed possessions. They were second in turnover percentage, just one percentage point behind Sacramento and ahead of a 15 win Miami team, Memphis and Seattle just to cite a few. The Celtics were the only team in the top 10 in turnover percentage to have a winning record, an indication of just how good their defense was.

    What that also indicated is that they had enough offensive firepower to where when they managed to hold onto the ball for long stretches, they could score in bunches in a variety of fashions, which being set against the backdrop of their defense, produced huge differentials. Like game 4 in the finals for instance.

  23. Went to the Celtics-Cavs game last. Darius Miles does not look good. They played him for about 2-3 minutes in the 2nd Quarter, and I felt bad for him. I don’t know if his roster spot is guaranteed or not, but if I was a Celtic fan, I would hope he wasn’t playing AT ALL.

    Also, seeing all these brand new Celtic ans made me sick. Trust me. They are brand new. I NEVER saw anyone wearing Celtic gear before. Now, all of a sudden it looks like spring again. I had to sit and listen to these mommies and daddies call LeBron “LeBryant.” I hate New England sports fans……………except Sox fans. Go Sox!

    Also, I was about 10 rows up form the Cavs bench, and during the shoot around for the 2nd half, a fan wearing a bootleg Jordan Dream Team jersey yelled to LBJ, and asked who he thought the best player was. LeBron told him, “the person on your jersey, followed by Kobe.” No cameras around. Seemed honest. It just made me realize that he probably is sincere when he says it, not just good PR. He was probably too young to really enjoy MJ, and was most likely a big Kobe fan as a kid.

  24. Dear Marc,

    Your celtics make my blood boil and give me a bad taste in my mouth. The refs extending the series is completely trash. Like Chris J said, try and explain the FT difference. The Lakers of last year were barely expected to make it into the playoffs, let alone the Finals. In case it slipped your mind, they were in a bit of rebuilding phase, which is why Kobe was so upset in the first place. Yeah, our boys took your boys to game six when were were re-building. You better watch out cuz this year we’re gonna be ready and we’re gonna be hungry.

    See you in the finals.

    Unless you know, the Hawks kill your team again or something,

  25. NBATV is running classic hi-scoring games and I’m watching Maravich in 1977 go for 69 and one of the refs is Dick Bavetta!

    BTW the Kobe 81 pt game is on at 3:00 AM(LA time).

  26. Hi there you guys, it is the first time i am commenting here, and let me just tell you that i find this blog and teh comments astonishingly good (and, sad to say, completely un-laker-fan-like, as it actually builds on facts, and has valid and normal arguments. if you need proof that most of the time it is not like this, read the comments on lakerblog in the chats with other team’s bloggers).
    anyway, just thought i would put in m two cents on teh whole lakers-celtics thing. unless by some miracle my teams, PHO and PHI come out on top somehow, there is going to be a repeat of last years finals. and teh celtics are going to win again, by a little. bynum might really be the next big thing, then again, he might not. he might collapse under the pressure, or might not. rondo was great all year, but bad in the finals, but he woke up on KG’s intensity and help. I am not sure kobe is the kind of player who is going to be like that. then again, i might be wrong. posey was great last year, but tony allen was also pretty good before he had a major surgery a year and a half ago (remind you of anyone?). he will get a bigger role this time, and in the preseason o’bryant and miles looked promising as well as walker, a rookie who hustles really hard. i know kobe can kill anyone, but the celtics were pretty good in limiting him (as much as this is even possible), whereas LA could not contain pierce. so, unless LA gets tougher, more urgent, and more willing to work hard, in which case they will match boston’s greatest strenghts, they will not win… i think. peace

  27. We just have to have that same intensity and we will be fine. Just need to stay healthy and we will be right there, regardless of who we play. Go Lakers.