Mid-Season Report Card
As they pause for the All-Star break, Greenhearts all over must be in some measure of pain. A year ago, their team was diving for pingpong balls. Now it owns the best record in the NBA.
The repeated self-pinchings must be taking a toll.
Even to those watching every day, the turnaround is incredibly stark. But 41-9 on Feb. 15 doesn't guarantee a trip to the NBA Finals. In fact, the belief here is that the Celtics could have some extremely difficult postseason matchups with a number of teams. They are better than the teams that will fill out the bottom of the Eastern Conference draw, but wouldn't a series with Washington, for example, be a bit interesting?
Therefore, on one hand, we cannot be blinded by the record. But in that we can only go on the evidence before us, it is patently impossible not to be impressed with what this team has done. Particularly in light of how well it has continued to perform without Kevin Garnett, the club has answered doubters.
That is not to say it will pass all the tests to come. Shortcomings may appear in time. But in the absence of psychic powers, there can be relatively few discouraging words to dispense.
RAY ALLEN - His shooting numbers are off, and it's clear he's had some trouble coming back from the offseason ankle cleansing and adjusting to the new situation. But when playing with greater instinct later in games, he's been more aggressive - and more successful. And the fact he must always be respected by defenses gives others more room to operate. He's getting criticized a bit for his percentage from the floor. Not here. B-plus.
TONY ALLEN - He must be given some latitude as he comes back from knee surgery, and he remains a huge X factor for this team. If Allen gets back near his level from last season, he can be a weapon off the bench that gives the Celtics a huge matchup advantage. But defense has to come first, and he's done a much better job of that lately. Perhaps trying to recapture last year too fast, he forced his offense and turnovers resulted. His progress will be important to monitor. C-plus.
GLEN DAVIS - Better than expected, but still prone to rookie inconsistencies. When given regular time, he's provided more than the Celtics could have hoped out of a second-round pick. His work against the Spurs and his fourth quarter against the Pistons on the road were remarkable. Some of the latter was explained as simply hitting open layups when the defense rotated, but his lefty drive through Rasheed Wallace that night was veteran material. B-minus.
KEVIN GARNETT - What he's done on the floor is apparent. The numbers speak for themselves. But what he's meant in terms of attitude and defensive consciousness could be of even greater effect. Garnett has benefited, too, from his surroundings. As a star who likes to pass, the fact he has better players with him makes him more dangerous than he was in Minnesota. But the Celts would still like to see him take his man a little more often. As long as the abdominal injury is as relatively minor as the club says, there is reason to believe that better is yet to come. A.
EDDIE HOUSE - The Celts knew what they were getting ... and it's what they wanted. House is a veteran sniper who can alter a game when he is on. Even when his jumper is not quite there, the fact he forces the pace with his energy is of value. It's instructive to note that the C's didn't believe Damon Stoudamire to be a significant upgrade. B-minus.
KENDRICK PERKINS - It is to his public detriment that a good portion of what he provides doesn't show up on the stat sheet. There is no accompanying number for getting physical in the lane or stepping over to pick up a driver gone free, but if you want a testimonial on Perkins, just go to Garnett. Perkins will continue to drive his coaches a little batty when he takes an offensive rebound or a pass up high and brings it down to his waist, but his overall importance to the entity is unquestioned. The Celts are praying the shoulder strain is manageable. B-minus.
PAUL PIERCE - He remains an explosive scorer; only now his team is better equipped to handle those times when he doesn't have it going. There have been times when he's tried to force things, but, as evidenced from his late-game passing to Davis and Leon Powe - as well as Garnett and Allen - he's gotten a lot more comfortable with moving the ball in crunch time. A-minus.
SCOT POLLARD - Can he be a factor against big men down the stretch and in the postseason? Can he be counted on? Only his left ankle seems to know for sure, and it ain't talking. Incomplete.
JAMES POSEY - Important both on the court and off. His defense is unquestioned, and his outside shooting improved when he got over his right index finger injury. But the fact he's a guy Garnett leans on is big, too. B.
LEON POWE - Rarely spectacular. Always solid. Doc Rivers probably should have gone to him earlier in the season - like when the Celts were getting beat up on the boards in Washington - but he knows now that he has, at the very least, an important piece of depth. The fact Powe has performed so well when needed has to make the Celtics feel more comfortable about dealing with foul trouble and injuries down the line. B.
GABE PRUITT - Unless he gets some minutes in the last 32 games of the regular season, the Celts had better hope they don't need him in the playoffs. Pruitt has shown some signs that he can play, but, unlike his other bench brothers, he hasn't gotten much of a chance to build his confidence. Incomplete.
RAJON RONDO - Celtics fans began the season wondering whether they could win with him. Now they fret that they can't win without him. It was said he couldn't shoot, but his stroke has been there far more often than not. We said last year that if hard work was all it took to improve a game, Rondo would be a lock. The fact he's been so versatile (a skinny, rebounding point guard?) has been a pleasant surprise even to his supporters. B-plus.
BRIAN SCALABRINE - The numbers don't look good at all, but the Celtics coach and players will tell you they like having his solid presence on the floor. The problem is that lately he's getting a little gun-shy even with the open looks. C-minus.
DOC RIVERS - It would have been nice to see a little bit of Powe earlier, and burying Pruitt so badly could prove problematic at some point. And while his sideline histrionics ripping his own guys aren't a personal favorite, it has to be said that he's allowed this team to develop well in a short period of time. Yes, most of what you're seeing has come from within, but Rivers has given the players a good framework and he hasn't gotten in the way - where a lot of coaches would have done so. B-minus.
DANNY AINGE - It was said all along that he wanted to deal for the right veterans, but that his plan required a dance partner. Kevin McHale proved willing to waltz when Al Jefferson was the tune. Proof that Ainge has been looking to do moves like those for Garnett and Allen is evident in the try for Allen Iverson years back. You can bust on him for some specific individual moves all you want - and it'd be nice if he could find a couple of insurance policies at center and point - but if you look at it honestly, you know that no GM bats 1.000. Right now Ainge is batting 41-9. Grade A-minus.