Wednesday, November 14, 2007

First Look: Boston Celtics

It is ironic that the Boston Celtics, one of the most hyped teams of this young season (and virtually the only squad I spent any time blogging about this summer), is the last team I finally saw play on TV. I've been working late, going to weddings in Mexico, and putting the finishing touches on an economic plan for the Federal Reserve that will keep us all out of a recession. (Okay, I made that last part up.) But for whatever reason, I think I had been able to at least get a glimpse of every other NBA team over the first two weeks (thank you, NBA League Pass) ... except for the C's.

That changed last night when I watched Boston easily beat an improved Pacers team on the road in a contest that they controlled from start to finish. There isn't much I can tell you about the Celtics that isn't being plastered all over and other prominent websites, but I can tell you that I am feeling pretty dang good about my prediction that Kevin Garnett would completely and totally change Boston's defense. KG is a marvel. He obviously controls the glass and has the length to block shots and the quick hands to cause steals - these things show up in box scores and helped make him the consensus number one pick in fantasy drafts this year. But what people don't realize about KG, unless they are watching closely, is that he completely controls the defensive end of the floor. He helps on the weak side, he communicates, and he can handle a switch and effortlessly defend a perimeter player. He is just amazing to watch play defense. And what he did to Jermaine O'Neal last night was almost criminal. JO shot a number of dreadful quick-release airballs simply because he wanted to cast off an FGA before Garnett could get too close to him. It was embarrassing.

That's why it doesn't surprise me that Boston is holding opponents to such a low FG%. They have KG manning the middle. Not only that, but as I wrote about in the post linked to above, he's teaching others how to be better defenders. He's inspiring Paul Pierce, he's whispering sage advice into Rajon Rondo's ear, and he's showing Kendrick Perkins how to be a good post defender just by example. Plus, he's so active and tireless and intense and so freakishly long that he allows Boston to play poor defenders like Ray Allen (big minutes) and Eddie House (little minutes) with virtually no repercussions.

It will be interesting to see how Boston handles an extremely fast team like Phoenix or Golden State (although they've already done a number on Denver) or a team that executes beautifully like Utah or San Antonio, but for any opponent that plans on coming in and just beating Boston in the halfcourt with pick and rolls and isolations, they can forget.

And I know it has only been six games and with some of the age, depth, and, therefore, injury concerns that will crop up, this is far from a completed success story. But for now, I am feeling pretty vindicated for all of my summer optimism. Marc Stein and I can celebrate, even if it is just November.

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