By Gethin Coolbaugh
After finishing a disappointing regular season, the media and Celtics fans alike wrote this team off for a lengthy postseason run.
Fast forward four weeks and the Celtics have a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference FInals.
And all it took was a steak dinner for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Oh, and a change in mentality too.
Boston’s Big Three sat down for a hearty steak dinner after finishing a mediocre 50-32 regular season. But they weren’t talking about their off-season plans or the state of their fortunes (which I can assure you are doing very well).
Instead, they had a meaningful talk about the team, according to ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols.
The Celtics have an impressive 9-3 record in the playoffs, in which they averaged 97.8 points for and 91.4 points against.
Without a doubt, the team has developed a tight-knit bond after playing together for 94 games.
“At times we’re around each other so much we’d get tired of each other,” Pierce told Nichols in an interview after practice on Monday. “But you get past the differences and move on stronger.”
One of the many criticism surrounding the Celtics’ regular season performance was the disappointing play of Rasheed Wallace.
Wallace averaged a pedestrian 9 points, 4.1 rebounds and one assist per game in the regular season, but has flipped the script in the last seven playoff games, averaging 7.1 points and 2.2 rebounds.
In his last two games, Wallace has combined to score 26 points with five rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
“At some points, we were lollygagging, not doing the little things to get us victories, but we know it’s crunch time now,” Wallace told Nichols after Monday’s practice.
Wallace’s best game of the playoffs came in Game 2 of Boston’s Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Cleveland, in which he totaled 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and two rebounds in the Celtics’ 104-86 win.
History is on Wallace’s side too, as he has averaged 14.7 points and 7.1 rebounds in his career against Orlando.
But Wallace’s improved performance in this crucial point of the season isn’t the only reason that Boston is among the NBA’s final four.
You can tell simply by watching this team that they are hungry for a championship.
Pierce, Garnett and Allen are playing like this is their last shot at winning a title, which it may very well be. That ferocious style of play has been contagious, as the Big Three’s supporting cast has stepped up its play.
Of course, Rajon Rondo has emerged as a superstar in the 2010 NBA Playoffs, splitting through opponent’s defenses like a knife cutting through butter.
But that prompt’s the question, where is this all coming from?
This is the exact same team, minus Eddie House, that put forth such average regular season numbers.
This very same Celtics team had a major identity crisis from October though April. They could defeat the Cavaliers one night but lose to the lowly couldn’t-get-out-of-their-own-way New Jersey Nets another.
The only logical explanation is exactly what the Celtics hinted too in the middle of the season. Once the playoffs rolled around, they would simply flip a switch and dominate.
At the time, it sounded like a nice idea on paper, but no one thought it was that easy. No one but Doc Rivers and the Celtics, that is.
The concept of a team claiming that they can just waltz through their 82 regular season games seems arrogant at first glance. But when you’re actually good, it’s anything but.
The strategy is brilliant and almost assures that a team will do well come the postseason.
But you have to have enough talent to assure that you can at least get your team into the playoffs, and the Celtics have more than enough of that.The same strategy would not work for the likes of the Kings and Nets.
My guess is that Doc decided to give this plan a shot after the Celtics came up short last season.
After storming out of the starting gate, Boston relapsed and ultimately finished third in the Eastern Conference. In the process, the Celtics suffered various injuries, none bigger than the knee injury that forced Garnett out.
The Celtics gave it their all at the start but didn’t have enough left in the tank to make it to the finish line.
This time around, it’s the complete opposite. After dogging it through the regular season, their tank is only half empty while other teams are running on fumes.
I tip my cap to Doc for that strategy. I would say mission accomplished, but the Celtics need to win seven more games to do that.
Nonetheless, a season left for dead has now emerged as one the may yield the Celtics their much-coveted 18th banner.
I’ll take that over a 60-win regular season any day. Wouldn’t you?
Gethin Coolbaugh is the Associate Editor of Boston Sports U18. He can be reached at 774-279-1995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit Gethin Coolbaugh’s official website and follow Gethin Coolbaugh on Twitter.