Since superstar point guard Rajon Rondo went down with his acl injury, critics and fans alike grunted, "well there goes the season." The man who lead the NBA in assists this season had everyone envisioning an injured Rondo sitting the rest of the season on the sidelines, as the Celtics sneak into an 8th seed only to get demolished by LeBron and the Heat. The quote unquote "Last Run," which we've been hearing about for the past three seasons, finally comes to an end.
But in fact, the under-preforming Celtics have turned into a real threat in the Eastern Conference. They've turned heads around the league having gone 14-5 since Rondo has been out. And the competition hasn't been lacking either. Doc Rivers and his team has taken down the likes of the Miami Heat, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks. This stretch has lifted the Celtics players to wake up at the right time, instead of falter to mediocrity.
During this last month and a half, the Celtics have proven a few important things, some of which that will improve in the future. The ball movement and up-and-down game has proven this team wants to run. The stigma of the Celtics being an old, half court style team with Rondo being the only fast break player will quickly subside. Avery Bradley has quietly developed a nice pull up jumper, and along with arguably being the best on-ball defender in the NBA has attributed greatly to their success. The Celtics biggest weakness until Bradley returned was their defense, which had been uncharacteristically average. As important as Bradley has been, there is still two other players that have possibly made an even bigger impact.
Jeff Green is blossoming into the player Danny Ainge always wanted when he traded Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson for Green back in that controversial trade back in 2011. The injury to Rondo has helped him develop the most in such a short span. His teammates have been feeding him the ball in one-on-one match-ups and in the post with regularity. Even off the bench he is far out preforming Brandon Bass. His numbers almost don't do him justice. Since the Rondo injury, Green is averaging just under 15 points. The simple fact that Doc Rivers designed a play for Jeff Green, instead of Pierce or Garnett, for the game winner against the Indiana Pacers shows the importance heading forward he has to this team.
"I thought early on, if he missed a couple shots, he's looking around at Paul [Pierce] and [Jason Terry] and Kevin [Garnett], and he almost felt like, 'I shouldn't take another one,'" said Doc Rivers. "What we were telling him was, 'Yeah, you should. You're one of them.' And that's really important for him to hear, and now he believes it and you can see it."
Besides his game winning layup, rim quaking dunks and shooting 50 percent from the field; Green has been playing exceptional defense. Green is allowing 0.694 points per play (129 points on 186 possessions), which slots him right below defensive wizard Avery Bradley with 0.682 points per play this season. The only facet of Green's game that could use more work is his rebounding. But if he can develop into scoring 20 points on any given night, all will be forgotten. The only man preventing him for more minutes is the captain.
Paul Pierce, the aging 35-year old veteran who missed his first All-Star appearance since 2001, unless you count his injury shortened season in 2007, has been rejuvenated like a "Just For Men" hair gel commercial. Or has he? Since the Rondo injury, Pierce has averaged 18.4 points, 8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. The only player with better numbers that mimic such a stat line, LeBron James. As impressive as that is, it's not overly surprising. Paul Pierce, before Rondo became the player that he is, always ran the offense. Most of the time carrying the ball past half court and calling the plays. Pierce, in strictly an on the field comparison, has been very Manny Ramirez like. Before the bashing begins let me explain!
Manny Ramirez throughout his career has been described as one of the best pure hitters in baseball history. He doesn't have the flash, he isn't the most athletic, he never lead the league in homeruns, he never won the MVP award. But what he did have was consistency and clutchness. The same can be said of Paul Pierce. The fear of the most offensive threat on the team and the ability to not only take over a game, but close it out is the reason Shaq nicknamed him "The Truth." The fact that Pierce can lead this team through this stretch, like he always has, further solidifies he has more than enough left in the tank. The combination of critics counting out the C's and the rumors around Pierce being sent to Dallas in a three way deal for Josh Smith is more than enough fuel to the fire for Pierce. The grittiness and comradery of this team might transcend farther than fans think. Could we see another Eastern Conference Finals rematch between the Celtics and Heat? We'll just have to wait and see.