Sunday, May 16, 2010

Celtics Rejuvenates To Championship Form, Despite Aging Bodies

It’s all a familiar scene in a town that prides itself on basketball when the Boston Red Sox season has barely begun and when the New England Patriots are revamping a stagnant team to rebuild a top-notch franchise. Not long ago, the Boston Celtics were crowned champs, celebrated in a parade and smoked victory cigars.

Only one year prior to their NBA title the C’s were doubted and forgotten, given the hapless season, when it finished with a horrible record, but revamped incredibly to contend in the undermined Eastern Conference. Here we are again, underestimating a team with heart, self-belief and sizable weapons to win its league-leading 18th title. Two years ago, the Celtics won the NBA championship for the first time since Larry Bird buried threes and Kevin McHale trotted down the floor in his stylish short shorts, a faddish now outdated.

Earlier in the year the Celtics looked outdated, but even in a generation when competition is steeper and an influx of NBA stars have emerged on a perennial platform, Boston isn’t outmoded. Of all the drama, it was shocking that we’ve written off the C’s, and labeled the franchise that famously practices a proverbial tradition by smoking Red Auerbach cigars, piling championships and constituting dynasties as an aging and old roster of superstars. There’s an indicator that the Celtics are a rejuvenated core rising to championship form with unstoppable conquests, partly for the balance, experience and self-confidence.

Finally, this late in the season the Celtics escapes all the downcast struggles earlier in the season when Boston was hampered by injuries and lacked chemistry. But ever since winning its first title in nearly 21 years, the Celtics were driven to reach the biggest contest in sports. Inside the C’s locker room, there’s an inspirational leader and defensive specialist by the name of Kevin Garnett, reminding his teammates that “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!” He shouted those words to the heavens when he won his first championship and celebrated with an elite franchise, known for collecting wins and mustering fame.

As the postseason winds down, the Celtics will attempt to reestablish a potential dynasty in probable rematch against archenemies the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s no coincidence that in one season the Celtics can cast further humiliation in a town cursed with sporting failures, in what could have ended LeBron James’ tenure in Cleveland after coming so close, but faltering in the biggest moments. It almost feels as if Celtic Pride absorbs all the focus, verified as the hottest team in the postseason.

For much of the season, it has been about survival for the Celtics. Although the Big Three in Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are aging, the Celtics contain suitable ingredients to finish on top and attain all emphasis as NBA champions. What Boston epitomizes is an older unit surrounded by veteran experience and determination to persist in achieving splendor.

Two years later, the Celtics are renewing its pride with a privilege to add another banner in the rafters and revitalize mystique. So now, it’s possible that Boston can win the title being on the verge of winning its second Larry O’Brien Trophy in three seasons. As we’ve witnessed in prior weeks, the Celtics are impressive and appears unbeatable, built with a plethora of weapons led by Rajon Rondo, a flourishing floor general who is explosive and driven to design plays and take over if necessary.

During the postseason, Boston has been on the best stretch and possesses all the components it takes to win a championship. The Celtics are destined of hoisting the honors in a few weeks because of defense, firepower, depth, balance and poise, all elements contributing while aiming for eminence. Based on having three future Hall of Famers and coach Doc Rivers, the Celtics are back in usual form after pounding Miami, thrashing Cleveland and now beating the younger and faster Orlando 92-88 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

No one has seen the ferocious or cohesive Celtics in the regular-season, but one that survived the near-loss. No one saw the superb Celtics, but a team hindered with flaws and unforeseen blemishes. Somehow the Celtics survives a dynamic series when winning is meaningful to walk away victorious and closer to a title.

“We got outplayed,” Stan Van Gundy said. “It’s as simple as that.”

That means Orlando was outplayed in all departments. They were bullied under the basket, they were defended tightly and they were beaten down as soon as the ball tipped off. The Celtics demolished the Magic before a silent crowd sitting in the stands helplessly. So, on the road, Boston managed to steal the most critical game of the series, now dictating the setting of the series.

In the game, of course, Dwight Howard drew bodies and suffered the physical contact inside, held to 13 points and 12 rebounds with seven turnovers. He wasn’t getting it done inside the paint, with Boston’s sturdy defense stopping and trapping the seven-footer inside and even River’s adjustments on defense contributed to Magic’s shooting deficiencies from the perimeter.

For much of the season, critics dragged down mystique of a franchise with aging players. But more than ever, the Celtics are healthier and robust, eager to sustain triumph in June. Even if Boston lost all three games in four days late in the year and lost twice in two days during the season, doesn't mean the Celtics will translate similar blemishes in the postseason when the mentality level suddenly becomes alarming.

At the right time, Allen has emerged as a lethal scorer and scored 25 points four times in 12 games, matching that total in Sunday’s showdown by attacking the rim early on and fired his customary three-pointers to break away from the Magic. There was Pierce executing to the rim and drew fouls to earn a myriad of points from the charity strike, finishing with 22 points on merely eight shots and grabbed nine rebounds and had five assists.

Allen and Pierce have combined to score nearly 41,000 points, and combined for 47 points Sunday. In fact, Pierce started off scorching with a three-pointer and Allen drove in for a layup at the end of the first quarter to set the tone. Rasheed Wallace and Garnett are aging as well, but are big men stepping up in big moments.

Garnett is older and has bad knees, but had eight points, 11 rebounds and five assists. In what was there most solid game in the postseason, the Celtics aren’t too old, able to still play together and outshine their opponents, telling doubters that they are still a dominant force to be reckoned with.

They are incredibly 9-3 in the postseason. That’s a victory cigar for you.

You still think they’re old. If so, think again.