Like we always do about this time...
It's Friday and that means our weekly edition of "Blogging with the Enemy." This week, SB Nation's Boston correspondent, Gethin Coolbaugh, talks to us about the Boston Celtics, the team, the Toronto Raptors are facing tonight:
1. RaptorsHQ: The Celtics started 5 and 9 but since then, have gone 9 and 2 to climb to seventh in the East. Paul Pierce's return obviously had a huge impact on this turnaround, but are there any other factors you think have been overlooked by many?
Gethin: Pierce's return has been huge for the Celtics in more ways than one. At the start of his season, his play wasn't nearly up to par with what fans are used to. Then, after a couple weeks of getting his legs back, Pierce became the Pierce of old. In truth (pun intended), the Celtics can only go as far as Pierce takes them. His multi-faceted game makes him one of the more unique players in this league. He can help in all phases of the game. It's why he's a lock for the Hall of Fame. However, as it has been during the Big Three era, Pierce alone can't carry the Celtics. That's what the entire basis of this team has been ever since Danny Ainge traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Teamwork superceded the individual. If that weren't true, Pierce could have had a ring before 2008. Garnett and Allen have had big impacts on this team's success, as Allen's timely shooting and Garnett's consistent jump shooting have sparked the Celtics when Pierce has had an off game (doesn't happen much lately). Of course, the play of Rajon Rondo has been stellar. He's the Celtics floor general -- he sets the pace and tone of the game. The beauty with Rondo is that he doesn't have to score to have a big impact. When he does score, though, it usually puts the Celtics over the top. However, perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this Celtics team is its bench, which I believe is one of the best in the NBA. Brandon Bass is one of the best spot shooters I've seen on this team in a while (minus Allen or Pierce). When healthy, Keyon Dooling and Chris Wilcox have proven to be big contributors. Mickael Pietrus is comfortably fitting into his role (you guys missed out there) as a scoring spark and young players like Avery Bradley, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson have all continued to show promise. The Big Four are important, no doubt, but without a productive bench, there isn't much hope of winning. The Celtics' have that type of impact bench, and that is what has really helped to fuel a turnaround.
2. What's your view on Boston this year in terms of their playoff chances? Is there enough talent and depth on the bench to propel the Celtics into the later rounds?
Gethin: There's certainly enough talent on this roster to get the Celtics back to the playoffs. I don't think anyone is arguing that fact. Then again, the Celtics could start their second unit and probably make the playoffs. As you know, the Eastern Conference is such a top-heavy conference, although that is slowly starting to change. As for advancing deep into the playoffs, well, there isn't much expectation here in Boston. We all saw what the Miami Heat did to us last year, and that's what we have come to expect. Like it or not, the Heat, Chicago Bulls and even potentially the Philadelphia 76ers (seriously, where the heck did they come from this year, huh?) are all too young and talented for the Celtics to beat. At least, we think. Get to the postseason, and who knows? If the Celtics are just coasting to that point (as I feel they might be), then there's a chance they could just flip that switch like they did in 2010. But for now, the expectation around here is that the Celtics will get to the playoffs, compete in and even win their first round series but ultimately lose in the second round. With the age on this team, that appears to be the ceiling. But who knows? That's the beauty about sports. Nobody really does know.
3. On to tonight's match-up. What are the keys for the Celtics in terms of getting a W over the Raps?Gethin: Please don't take this as pompous, as I have respect for the Raptors franchise, their coaches, players and fan base. But really, all the Celtics should have to do is show up to get the win. The last meeting feature a blowout in factor of the Celtics, who weren't even fully healthy yet. Given the fact that there is a little added motivation after falling short against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, it seems that the Celtics will be hungry to get back into the win column. If possible, Doc Rivers will try to play his starters in limited minutes with a big game against the Chicago Bulls coming up on Sunday. Again, though, this is the NBA, where anything can happen. If the Celtics don't even give a little effort, then sure, the Raptors can win. But this group has a sense of determination, so they should have a little pride and pop in their step tonight. I see another sizable victory coming for the Celtics tonight.