Monday, November 24, 2008
Quoting The Tuna
"You are what you are"
The Tuna uttered these simple words way back in 1996 after an 0-2 start with the Patriots en route to their second Super Bowl appearance but the quote has been reference many times since. Why am I bringing it up now, you ask? Because there are some pundits out there who believe the Celtics' 13-2 record isn't quite as sterling as it appears. The main reason for this is the inevitable comparison between this year's team and last year's juggernaut.
The 2007-2008 Celtics also had a 13-2 record but jumped on the opposition from the opening tip with something to prove. They were defensive stalwarts and extremely efficient on offense. Everyone made the extra pass and the C's were flying high. The year was obviously a success and Banner 17 was eventually raised. It is human nature to compare teams year to year but to say the 08-09 team's 13-2 record is any less notable is foolish.
There have been games where the C's committed too many turnovers and should have won with ease (the Atlanta game without Josh Smith, for example). On a few occasions, they've gotten off to awful starts and have needed Paul Pierce to save the day. Sure, the wins aren't as decisive but the Celtics, in my humble opinion, have played about as well as could be expected. I'll stick with Parcells here and say their record does indicate how well they've played thus far. The 13 wins are even more impressive when you take into account the draining schedule they went through as few weeks ago. They aren't going to be the 1996 Bulls, and most likely won't approach the 66-win plateau they reached a year ago. At the same time, I don't think they've become complacent like the Pistons after 2004 or will have stretches of lackadaisical play. But there will be nights where, as Bob Ryan referenced in his blog, the C's don't show up and get blown out of the building by an inferior team such as the Pacers.
While they have been winning differently, I don't feel any different than I did at this time last year regarding their chances to get to the Finals. Consistent team defense can carry a team through offensive slumps and the worst of quarters (see: Pistons and Spurs).
The unknown going into the year was how the second unit would play together and how much the loss of James Posey would sting. While we can't see what will happen in the playoffs when there will be no Posey to come in off the bench and cover the likes of Kobe or even Josh Smith, I think this year's edition hasn't fallen as far as expected. Tony Allen isn't as versatile as Posey in that he can't switch from a guard to a forward with ease, but his overall game has improved markedly. Allen has limited his turnovers and done a better job of controlling himself as he makes those quick cuts to the basket. They seem like components necessary of an NBA player but Allen had gotten by purely on athleticism before this season. Now he's learning how to harness that seemingly limitless ability at the perfect time for an older team in need of fresh legs.
The more I read about a high draft pick with no heart, passion or talent like Joakim Noah, the more I appreciate Danny Ainge bringing Leon Powe aboard. Powe uses every ounce of his ability and is on his way to being considered one of the best backup big men in the game. The way he uses his body to knock back defenders 5 or 6 inches taller than him under the net is something we should really appreciate. Ainge gets credit for bringing Garnett and Allen here but it's draft picks like Powe and Rondo that go under the radar. Only now are fans realizing one of the elements that has awakened a pitiful offense is Rondo's evolution into an elite player. He is already a top-10 point guard and he keeps ascending toward every one's favorite floor generals out west. His shooting is still inconsistent but, after a slow start, he is starting to finish at the rim.
The defending champs have sent a message to the NBA: We haven't even begun to play our best basketball and what we are is a 13-2 team on the rise.