These Celtics Are Better Than '08 Championship Team
But this team might be better -- even if they won't admit it just yet.
After a season of injuries and inconsistencies, of being written off and beaten down, of 50 wins and a No. 4 seeding in the Eastern Conference, these Celtics have staged a miraculous rise to the top, rolling through the playoffs looking stronger than they did two years ago.
This team didn't have the home court advantage beyond the first round, but it didn't need it either, not like that 2008 team did, clinging to the Garden floor that year like a security blanket.
This team went to Cleveland in the second round and stunned the top-seeded Cavaliers, turning that franchise upside down. The Celtics went to Orlando and broke the spirit of the second-seeded Magic, preparing them for a potential sweep Monday night, preparing themselves for another trip to the NBA Finals.
At midseason, these Celtics looked old and tired. Today they are old and bold, better than they ever were, getting better with age, turning that experience into a badge of honor.
"I try to stay away from that (comparison),'' said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Our defense is starting to pick up like that ('08 team). I can tell you that. But that '08, I try to keep it separate.''
The Magic, who won 59 games in the regular season and opened the Eastern Conference final on a 14-game winning streak, have been steamrolled by the Celtics.
In '08, the Celtics needed seven games to get past the mediocre Atlanta Hawks in the first round. This time, they needed just five games to bury the Miami Heat. In '08, they needed another seven games to slip past the Cavaliers in the semifinal round. This time, they needed only six to stun a much-better Cavs team.
It took six games to win the conference final when they beat Detroit in '08. They went into Monday night's game with brooms in their hands, expecting to complete a sweep of the Magic.
"I don't have a fresh picture in my mind from two years ago to make that comparison,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy after a light practice Monday morning. "But right now, the Celtics are playing very, very well. They've got it rolling.''
From a personnel standpoint, the Celtics are very much the same team from two years ago. The Big Three of Kevin Garnett, 33, Paul Pierce, 32, and Ray Allen, 34, don't dominate games individually like they once could, but they mesh so well and pick their spots, playing off each other's strengths.
And anything they've lost in physical skill has been more than compensated for by their Younger Three of Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, all much improved from two years ago.
Perkins has grown into one of the best defensive players in the league. Rondo is now an All-Star point guard, controlling games like only the best point guards do.
Rondo averaged 10.2 points and 6.6 assists in the '08 playoffs. He is averaging 17.3 points and 10.7 assists now. Pierce (17.4 ppg), Allen (16.7 ppg) and Garnett (15.7 ppg) all are scoring less, but they read each other better than they did in '08 -- their first year together -- and are playing with a confidence that spells another championship.
Role players like James Posey, Eddie House, P.J. Brown and Leon Powe, all helpful in '08, have been forgotten with Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen and Davis providing more than enough in reserve. The struggles of the regular season have long been forgotten.
The Celtics are happy to talk about their goal of winning a title, but they have had no interest yet in any comparisons to '08.
"Two years ago is two years ago. I worry about now,'' Rondo said Sunday after practice. "We haven't won anything. Two years ago we won a championship. We're only up three games in the Eastern Conference finals now.''
While the marathon regular season exposed all their flaws and made them look tired, the spaced-out playoff schedule has played to their strengths. So has the fact they are healthy and happy again.
They beat the Lakers in the Finals to win the title in '08. And it looks like the Lakers will be there again, pitting the last two championship teams in a rematch.
"We feel like we're a championship team,'' Pierce said. "Almost everyone here has tasted a championship. We know what it takes.''