Today in place of a regular game preview I had the pleasure of exchanging questions with Jim over at the SB Nation Boston Celtics blog Green Bandwagon.
You can read my answers to his questions here and you can see his response to my questions after the jump.
Pickaxe and Roll: What is the goal over the last 30 or so games of the season for Boston? Is it to stay ahead of Detroit and earn the number one seed in the east or to be 100% healthy for the playoffs?
Green Badnwagon: Since Kevin Garnett went down with an abdominal injury the Celtics have gone 7-2, with the only losses happening on the road in Orlando and Cleveland by a combined total of 4 points. And as much fun as it has been every Celtic fan knows Kevin Garnett is the key to a run into June. So I'd be comfortable with him waiting until March or longer if that's what it takes. Furthermore, I don't look at the seeds in terms of #1 or #2. I look at them in terms of which seed will play the LeBrons in round two. Still my theory is there is no sense worrying about that, as it will just take care of itself. Meanwhile, the Celtics have proven themselves in any number of ways – they're 16-0 against the Western Conference, they never get blown out and they play stifling defense. Now is the time to get healthy.
PAaR: After the KG trade many pundits were quick to dump on the Celtics bench as a millstone that would sink their championship aspirations. Boston has maintained the top record in the NBA despite injuries to KG and Ray Allen. Has the bench improved over the course of the season or was it underrated to begin with?
GB: Several factors are at play here. First Rajon Rondo (more on him later) has progressed a lot faster than people, particularly those outside of the Boston area, including everyone who gets paid to write about basketball by ESPN, expected. Of course Rondo is a starter. When it comes to the bench it is a combination of improvement and being underrated to start the season. For example Tony Allen has slowly gotten back to form after last season's devastating knee injury. And he still has a ways to go. Meanwhile, people underestimated what Eddie House (instant offense) and James Posey would bring to a winning team. That's especially true for Posey. He is a versatile defender that takes charges, rebounds at big times, hits open threes (though not as frequently lately), and in general annoys the other team. Although I would like him to cut down on his technical fouls. And then there is Leon Powe. He registered DNPs in 23 of Boston's first 41 games. But since KG went down Powe has averaged 12.6 points and 7 rebounds in 9 games. And that includes a game winner he hit at the buzzer in Minnesota. Finally, no one knew what to expect from Glen Davis, including every other team in the NBA that passed on him in the draft. But he has delivered with some big moments. His 20 points on the road at Detroit and surprisingly competent defense against Tim Duncan stand out. Just to clarify Duncan finished with 22 points and 14 boards. But the Big Fundamental had to work for it and the Celtics won.
PAaR: Rajon Rondo was supposed to be over his head as the point guard on this championship caliber team. Talk about how he has responded to the pressure and if you think Boston needs to bring in Sam Cassell, or another veteran point guard to either back him up or start in front of him for the playoffs.
GB: Heading into the season Rondo's shooting ability and inexperience were openly questioned. I'd say he has silenced a lot of critics, as debate has shifted from Boston needing a starting point guard to the need for a back up point guard. Yes teams will still give Rondo open looks but he is shooting 50% from the field. That's due in part to his ability to get to the rim. He has a huge assortment of twisting shots and has been more than competent with his mid range game in several games this season. Just check out what he did against the Pistons in December. Rondo is not the problem. Still it would be great if Boston brought in Sam Cassell as a back up. That would allow Eddie House to focus on getting open shots. Also the Celtics currently struggle bringing up the ball and initiating the offense when Rondo sits due to injury, foul trouble or fatigue. But I'm more concerned about the center position. Scot Pollard is perpetually injured, has given the team very little thus far and can't be counted on for the stretch run. To complicate matters Kendrick Perkins injured his shoulder before the All Star break and no one knows what to expect from him. Also it is better for KG and the team if the Big Ticket does not have to play center and clash with bigger opponents. In fact if the Celtics had to play a game last Friday Powe would have started at center and Posey would have been the power forward. After that the Celtics would have been painfully small. Still I'm not sure whom the Celtics would sign. There has not been a strong buzz around PJ Brown and most competent seven footers are making a lot of money with someone else.
PAaR: I remember watching the Celtics play Toronto in Italy during the preseason and marveling at how they shared the ball and how they seemed to fit together so quickly. Are they still playing the same style of unselfish basketball? Did they peak as a team too early in the season?
GB: At the beginning of the season the Celtics were unselfish to a fault at times, which led to some missed opportunities. But it was phenomenal to watch them pass the ball so well. In fact it was one of the reasons the Celtics blew out Denver in their first meeting. Of course the Nuggets were also in the second of a back-to-back on the road and did not kill themselves to get back into that early season game. But back to the Celtics and passing. Off the top of my head only the Portland Trailblazers and San Antonio Spurs moved the ball as effectively. Unfortunately that style of play has largely fallen by the wayside in Boston. To be honest the offense stagnates at times and they can be a bit too one-on-one for my liking. But I wouldn't call them selfish. And I'm not entirely sure they've peaked either. They did come out of the gates hot, struggled through some tough losses (back-to-back to the Wizards and at home to the Bobcats!) but have since righted the ship. Plus given the way the Celtics play defense they will always have a fighter's chance.
Thanks to Jim at Green Bandwagon for for his insight on the Celtics!