It didn't look likely after a 4-8 start, but with three games remaining in the 2012 regular season, the Boston Celtics are once again the class of the Atlantic Division. The Celtics sealed their fifth consecutive division title with a 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic on April 18, behind career-highs in assists by Paul Pierce and points by Avery Bradley. Despite a grueling schedule that included an eight-game road trip and a stretch of 11 games in 15 days, the Celtics own a 22-9 record since the All-Star break and suddenly look like a contenders again.
Since the addition of Kevin Garnett in 2007, the Celtics' success has always started with a great team defensive effort. They allow the second fewest points per possession of any team in the league on an NBA-best 41.9 opponents' field goal percentage. After an abbreviated training camp, the Celtics had to integrate their first-year players into the defensive system on the fly; that process was a huge success.
The Celtics are compensating for their lack of front court depth with the resurgence of Garnett and the emergence of Greg Stiemsma. Garnett has a dozen double-doubles since the break and he's enjoying his highest scoring year since his first season in Boston. Stiemsma has improved throughout the season and has become more than just a shot-blocker. While ranking second in the league in block percentage, he serves as a big component of the interior defense and gives the team reliable mid-range shooting.
Rajon Rondo has been on an historic run of 23 consecutive games with double-digit assists despite playing many of them without his primary off guard. But even before Ray Allen went down with an ankle injury, Bradley began to break out and add more to his game than his defense. Bradley is averaging 14.7 points per game on 54.9 percent shooting in April while starting 11 of 12 games. He has greatly benefited from moving into a two-guard role and he's done a great job moving without the ball to create easy scores at the basket. His outside shooting continues to improve and his three-point percentage sits north of 40. He's been an unexpected source of wing scoring to ease the burden on Pierce and Rondo.
For the first time since the beginning of the month, the Celtics have multiple days to rest in between games. After facing the Atlanta Hawks on April 20, they have three days off before taking on the Miami Heat on April 24. In addition to their off days, the Celtics should also look to limit the starters' minutes and possibly give additional games off to the likes of Rondo and Allen to nurse their injuries before the playoffs.
Boston Celtics, Yahoo! Sports
William Menna is a native New Englander and longtime Boston sports fan.
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