C'S FOUND A WINNING BLUEPRINT
Winners of seven straight since Rajon Rondo went down, the Celtics have showed they can sustain this type of inspired play moving forward. They've found a blueprint for what works without Rondo, and they're seeing positive results because of it.
One of the biggest things the Celtics have going for them right now is they understand the urgency. They know they have to play like they've been playing during this streak if they want to keep winning games. They've seen what happens when they share the ball more, balance their offensive attack and remain disciplined on defense. The spread offense -- and a greater emphasis on ball movement -- has also helped role players who were struggling with consistency earlier in the season establish more concrete roles. Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee in particular all seem to be more comfortable within the altered system. Increased production from these three players will be vital for Boston moving forward.
The Celtics deserve credit for not shrinking in the face of the adversity that has hit them over the past few weeks. Losing both Rondo and Jared Sullinger could have left this team demoralized and given it reason to throw in the towel on the rest of the season. Instead, the Celtics have rallied behind the leadership of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and have embraced a grind-it-out mentality that has meshed well with the on-the-court schemes they've been incorporating.
The Celtics have proved in recent seasons that they can't be counted out, even when things look really, really dire. With a core of Pierce, Garnett and coach Doc Rivers still in place, this is looking more and more like another group that can make a serious run.
ATTRITION IS INEVITABLE
Despite the loss of two starters in a five-day span, the Celtics have rallied amid adversity, finding a previously unseen consistency as part of a season-best seven-game winning streak. But it won't be easy to maintain this level of play moving forward.
Boston is leaning hard on a veteran core, as spotlighted in Sunday's triple-overtime triumph over the Nuggets. The Celtics proved that their O.G. 3 (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry) can carry this team in big games, but the age-35-plus club combined for a ridiculous 145 minutes of floor time against Denver. Moving forward, Boston needs to ease up on those veterans to ensure they have something left in the tank when the playoffs roll around.
That will put additional pressure on a group of streaky role players who are already trying to help compensate for the loss of Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger. Boston, a roller-coaster team throughout the first half of the season, will still endure up-and-down stretches moving forward.
The Celtics can't rely on Pierce and Garnett to do it all. The duo combined for 32 of Boston's 51 rebounds Sunday, and no one else on the team had more than five (and that was 6-foot-2 Avery Bradley). Pierce and Garnett had 20 of Boston's 34 assists, the non-starters combining for just four helpers (one apiece for a four-man bench of Terry, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and Leandro Barbosa).
Don't get me wrong. Boston can shuffle its way up the Eastern Conference playoff ladder while playing more consistently than we've seen over the first half of the season. But there still will be lulls unless it gets consistent production from its role players (and part of that will depend on roster additions before the trade deadline). More than anything, the Celtics must operate with their long-term goals in mind and preserve their veterans, even at the expense of their record.