Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Celtics' surge II isn't a sequel - yet.

Celtics' surge II isn't a sequel - yet.

by: Roy S. Johnson/ Yahoo! Sports BlogsAdd Video

It wasn't supposed to be this easy. At least, not as easy as it looks. Most of the buzz this season has been about the Los Angeles Lakers, seemingly near-consensus favorites to win the 2009 NBA title. Early season trades brought attention to the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons. And prognosticators everywhere are boiling tea leaves trying to figure out where LeBron James will be playing after next season.
In the meantime, the
Boston Celtics have quietly become the best team in the game. Again. They're Globetrotters; just about everyone else is the Washington Generals. They're 20-2 and have won 12 straight.
The Celtics are acting like defending their title will be easy.
The team's Big Three - Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen - are having Breakthrough Year II. Rajon Rondo is playing like a confident floor leader rather than a skittish kid. And Doc Rivers is collecting enough Coach of the Month plaques to open a trophy store.

The Next Season isn't supposed to be this easy. It's supposed to be one long hangover as a team struggles to recapture the unique dynamic - the convergence of talent, sacrifice and good fortune - that allowed it to win.
One former coach once told me why it's so hard to win back-to-back titles. In any sport. "Because every guy on the team either wants more money, playing time or more shots," he said, "because of course they were the reason why you won."
That the Celtics have thus far been largely able to avoid the disease of me is a testament to a continuation of the commitment of sacrifice that Garnett, Pierce and Allen - all singular stars - pledge to uphold when KG and Allen joined the team last season.They are continuing to play the kind of your-turn game that allows each player to have his moments during a game without any one of them typically dominating an entire night.
They're also continuing to thrive under the African philosophy Rivers introduced to the team last season and reinforced on the first day of training camp this year. It's called Ubuntu, and it espouses the simple belief that we exist as a collective, not individually. “We’re all tied to each other," he's said often. "If one guy’s successful, the next guy’s successful and it spreads.”
Of course, 20-2 isn't as easy as it looks, and the Celtics have shown tendencies that let you know that even a place in the NBA Finals isn't certain. On both Friday at home against the
Portland Trail Blazers and Sunday on the road against the Indiana Pacers, Boston blew leads - largely because of the inconsistency of its bench.
No wonder. Last season,the Celtics reserves were anchored by veteran James Posey, now gone to New Orleans via free agency. Been-there-done-that leadership was also provided by forward P.J. Brown, who has since retired, and guard Sam Cassell, who has yet to appear in a game this season.
Aside from Cassell, Rivers' two most experienced reserves are enigmatic guard Eddie House and happy-to-be-here forward Brian Scalabrine, neither of which engenders any fear in the opposition when they enter a game. Otherwise, the bench is peppered with players so young - Leon Powe, Patrick O'Bryant, Glen (Big Baby) Davis, Gabe Pruitt and rookie Bill Walker - they can still remember their college fight song.
If the Celtics are going to reach the Finals again, let alone repeat, this group will have to grow like weeds in the spring. Or Danny Ainge will have to work more of his mid-year magic for reinforcements.
Against the Blazers, the subs squandered a 25-point lead and were forced to endure a very stern talking to by Garnett. Big Baby didn't like what he was hearing and walked away from KG while the captain was chewing out the group. Garnett grabbed him by the elbow and gave him an individual dose that caused BBD to, well, live up (or down) to his nickname. He retreated to the end of the bench and unleashed a tearful towel-throwing tantrum.
Garnett expressed support and sympathy for the second-year forward, and on Sunday Davis grabbed two rebounds in 12 minutes in Boston's 122-117 OT win. But it was another game in which the starters, who had built an 11-point lead, had to rescue the bench.
Easy? Not so far this season. No matter how it looks.

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