This Superior Team Deserves the Superlatives

By Stephen Alford
Updated: April 3, 2008

BOSTON — Celtic Nation is well aware of the historic turnaround of the 2007-08 Boston Celtics. The PGA Tour, which consists of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, has resurrected a basketball jones in the Bean that has not been seen since the days when there was a Bird in the Garden.

But apparently some NBA fans still need to be schooled on the accomplishments of the Cs because I am not hearing Celtics names mentioned when superlatives are brought up. The average Joe Fan is aware that the Celts have been sitting on top of the Eastern Conference since Day One of the season.

But after taking a hard look at the team’s success, maybe the majority will give the individual accolades to the men in Green who are deserving of them.

When mentioning who should receive the award for Coach of the Year, Glen Doc Rivers should be on the top of everyone’s list — unanimously. Not Philadelphia’s Maurice Cheeks, someone who I’ve more than respected since his playing days in Philadelphia.

And definitely not Flip Saunders. Jerry Sloan and Byron Scott are a very distant second. But what separates Rivers from Scott and Sloan is the simply the turnaround — and I don’t mean jumpshot either.

By the end of the season, the Celtics will have set the “From Worst to First” record, having gone from finishing the 2006-07 season with a 24-58 record to their current record of 60-15. Do you know which franchise previously held the “From Worst to First” record?

Drumroll, please… none other than…the Boston Celtics, who went 29-53 in the 1978-79 season before performing a complete 180 degree turn when Larry Legend led the franchise to 61-21 the following year.

Yet, there is still a small buzz in Celtic Nation that Doc is not the right man for the job.

After defeating the New Orleans Hornets a week ago, the Celtics are the only team to have defeated every team in the League. It was the first time the franchise achieved that feat since the 1990-91 season.

After being named Coach of the Month in November, the first Celtic coach to win since Chris Ford in 1992, Doc won again in March, and became the only Celtic coach to win Coach of the Month twice in one season.

In addition Doc, with a lot of help from assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, has each player on the roster committed to a defense that has earned them the best record in the League by six games.

The Cs also have the best average margin of victory in the League with 10.41, and are holding their opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the League at 41.9%.

“I think that’s the number one key stat that we take pride in,” said point guard Rajon Rondo, referring to holding opponents to the lowest field goal percentage.

They are also holding their opponents to the lowest 3-point field goal percentage in the League at 31.6%, which says a lot for their perimeter defense, and only the Utah Jazz hold their opponents to a lower amount of rebounds per game at 38.7 (Utah holds opponents to 37.9).

“Their defense is really good and they have five guys out there at all time that are committed and on the same page,” said Pacers center Jeff Foster after Boston handed Indiana a 92-77 spanking on Wednesday.

“Anytime you have three super stars like that that are willing to defend like they do, it just makes the other two that are on the court with them step up their game and defend at the same level.”

Including Wednesday’s victory against Indiana, the Celtics have gone nine straight quarters without allowing the opponent to score 20 points.

It’s well documented how well Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can perform on offense. Their season highs in points per game are 24.2, 26.8, and 26.4 respectfully. But each has showed their commitment to defense, and as Greg Foster put it, it rubs off on everyone else, as evident when they held the Phoenix Suns to only two fast-break points last week.

More importantly, each player on the team has a commitment to winning — no matter who the opponent. The team does not take a night off and mail it in. Such was the case when the Celtics massacred Pat Riley’s Miami Heat 88-62 on Sunday, holding Miami to the lowest amount of field goals (17) since the beginning of the shot-clock era.

“I’m gonna tell you the truth. When you’ve got (Kasib) Powell, (Earl) Barron, (Stephane) Lasme, (Blake) Ahern, we’re supposed to do that,” told the Truth after the game against Miami.

“They’ve got D-Leaguers out there so I think we just handled our business. We’re supposed to do that. We knew this was a game we’re supposed to win. We just focused from the jump and went out and did it.”

The Cs have been handling their business all season long. They have not let the powerful Western Conference intimidate them one bit, as they have posted a 25-5 record against the Wild West, including a sweep of the Texas Triangle for the first time since February 1987, and a 112-92 victory over the Western Conference leading New Orleans Hornets last week.

The Green leads the League with only two double-digit losses all season. The next closest teams are the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs with eight. In addition, they only have six losses by more than five points. San Antonio is the next team closest to them in that category…with 14.

Doc Rivers deserves a lot of the credit for the turnaround — as does Danny Ainge, who deserves General Manager of the Year honors. It was Ainge who orchestrated trading Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the rights to the No. 5 pick Jeff Green to Seattle for Ray Allen and the Sonics’ 35th overall pick, which turned out to be Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who has provided a lot of energy off the bench since he became an active part of the rotation back in December.

And when Ainge wins GM of the Year, he will have his old friend Kevin McHale to thank. McHale threw his best assist ever to the Celtics when he pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Al “The Emerald” Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, and Ryan Gomes to Minnesota for the Big Ticket.

For his efforts in rescuing the Celtics from the doldrums of the League, Kevin Garnett deserves to be the League’s Most Valuable Player. And CelticsNation collectively voiced their opinion last week when Phoenix was in town.

While scoring his 29th and 30th points on a pair of free throws, fans began chanting “M-V-P” to show the Big Ticket that he has been well worth the price of admission.

“The whole face of the Celtics turned around when the trade happened with this guy,” said Pierce after the Phoenix game. “Everyone talks about MVP, and they talk about numbers, but this guy has changed the whole culture around here.”

And KG has helped his teammates improve their game as well. Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who in my opinion deserves to be considered for MVP honors as well, is shooting at a 46% clip from the field. Pierce will be the first to tell you that KG is the reason for his improved efficiency.

KG takes the double teams away from Pierce, and his presence on the court allows the Truth to display his full arsenal on offense. With the addition of Garnett (and Ray Allen), Pierce has continued to show that he is a superior midrange player, and can drive to the basket against anybody.

But what’s been the most pleasant surprise has been his ability to find the open man with nifty passes. Gone are the days when Pierce HAD to score 25+ in order for the Celtics to have a shot at winning.

Now there are games where the Celts are still able to get a win despite Paul attempting no more than nine shots. What’s even more impressive is the Truth is still able to chalk up 20 points a night despite having to guard the Kobe Bryants and Lebron James of the world.

If KG wins MVP, he will be the first player to win the award in the first year of a new team since Charles Barkley did it in the 1992-93 season with the Phoenix Suns.

And to put him in even more elite company, if the Celtics win the championship and KG gets the MVP, it will be the first time a player has won a MVP on a championship team in the first year of a new team since Moses Malone did it with the foe-five-foe Philadelphia 76ers.

And before I let you go, Kendrick Perkins deserves the Most Improved Player award. The Celtics center is on his way of breaking Cedric Cornbread Maxwell’s franchise record for field goal percentage in a season. Max shot 60.9% in the 78-79 season. Perkins is currently shooting at a 62.7% clip.