Thursday, December 27, 2007

Opposing View: 12/27 vs. Boston

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Peter Stringer of stops by to chat about the league's fastest-starting team. Check out's preview of tonight's game.

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Now on to Peter's answers. The following opinions are those of the author only and do not necessarily represent those of the Boston Celtics.

Can you describe the kind of emotional roller coaster Celtics fans have been on over the past 12 months?
In the span of just a few months, we went from the lowest of lows on Draft Lottery night to the highest of highs when the Kevin Garnett deal was finalized. We’d spent all spring thinking about what a guy like Kevin Durant would look like alongside Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson and Delonte West, and suddenly we’re thinking that we got stuck with the worst possible outcome with the #5 pick in the draft. Of course, we know now that without that twist of fate we wouldn’t be talking about the Celtics as an instant title contender. The NBA moves in mysterious ways. ...

To me, the most surprising aspect of the fast start for the Celtics has been the team's defense. Where does the credit go for the league's stingiest defense?
It all starts with KG, who’s easily the best defender I’ve ever seen in a Celtics uniform. I’m too young to have watched Bill Russell, but Garnett’s impact can not be overstated. He might be the best big in the league at defending the pick-and-roll, the basic staple of NBA offense. But perhaps more important than any X-and-O execution is the intensity and credibility KG brings to the table. There’s a culture of defense and accountability that started on Day 1 of Training Camp in Rome, and you get the real sense that it comes from KG’s presence. Additionally, Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau is one of the most hands-on assistants in the league and is very particular about what he expects on the floor. The team has bought in to a defensive philosophy and it’s paid off.

The bench has also exceeded expectations. How?
People questioned this team’s depth before the season, but if anything the bench has shown that it can not only protect a lead but extend it. Doc Rivers leaves either Ray Allen or Paul Pierce on the floor at all times to play with the second unit, so there’s never a dearth of scoring. But the biggest key to me is that guys have accepted and embraced their roles on the bench, and that comes from having veteran guys who know exactly how they can be most effective. Young players typically want to prove that they should be starting, whereas veterans seem to focus on just doing what they do best when called upon.

Since there have been so many lopsided wins this season, is Boston still learning how to play in close games?
Critics will point to the home loss to the Pistons and say that the Celtics can’t win a close game, and to be fair, that was probably the only game this year where the team appeared to lose its composure at times during the second half. But this team is loaded with veterans who know how to execute and in the NBA, games come down to execution more often than not. And the best part about blowing teams out is that our starters have been able to play short minutes on several occasions, allowing them to come into the second half of back-to-back games well rested.

What don't we know about the Celtics but should?
This team is really just scratching the surface. Rajon Rondo is flourishing in just his second year in the league, and he’s been given the keys to a Maserati. He’s still learning how to handle the role, but he’s quietly gone about his business and is starting to become a real floor general. Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins continues to improve while playing alongside Garnett, and Tony Allen could be a force in the second half of the season when he gets past the mental aspect of recovering from his second knee surgery. Glen Davis needs to be more consistent, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance in the first two months of the season; he knows how to rebound and use his body in the paint despite being undersized.