Everywhere I turn I see the Celtics troika gracing the covers of magazines, on ESPN, on NBA TV, and all over the internet. Everyone is talking about the Celtics this season. It has been 21 years since the Celtics were the recipients of this kind of attention. As a long suffering Celtics fan, this sure feels good. I remember all too well back in the 80's when Larry, Kevin and Robert garnered this kind of attention. It has been a long, long time.
But it isn't just a lot of media attention. Sure, we have 3 stars on this team and getting KG along with Ray Allen was a huge coup on Danny's part. They get a lot of attention just for being who they are without even playing a game together. But, it isn't just a lot of media hype. After watching the preseason games, there is a lot to be excited about. Here are just a few things that come to mind.
Defense. This team has actually been playing defense. They still have lapses at times, but they also have been able to play lock down defense when they needed to. As this team gets to know each other better and plays together, the defense is going to improve also. Defense wins championships and it is exciting to see the team playing good defense already. KG, Perk, Rondo, Tony, and Posey are all proven defenders. With much of the offensive burden off Pierce, he also has been putting out more effort on the defensive end. A lot of defense is desire and effort and these guys are putting out the effort and without a doubt have the desire.
Assists. In the last preseason game, the Celtics had 34 assists on 45 baskets. We haven't seen passing like that on a Celtics team since Larry, Kevin and Robert were walking through that door. It is impossible not to get excited when you see the ball movement on this team. Ray Allen works very hard to get open. I love watching the way he moves on the court to get open for the pass. I also think we have the two best passing big men in the league. This brings to mind many in a long line of passing big men on the Celtics from Russell to Cowens and now to Perk and KG. We have seen some incredible passes so far in the preseason and there are a lot more where those have come from. In the one sequence below, there is a pass into the post to KG and a no look pass to Rondo for the layup. How can you watch a play like this and not get excited?
Hustle. Last season, I would get very frustrated watching other teams beat us to lose balls and rebounds time after time. But so far this season, it has been impressive how hard these guys are playing and how hard they go after loose balls and battle for rebounds. From the ESPN article:
One example of that came on Oct. 6, when the Celtics beat the Raptors, 89-85, in their preseason opener in Rome. Midway through the third, Garnett's smothering defense caused Toronto's Chris Bosh to lose the ball near midcourt. A scramble ensued, and both Allen and Pierce, along with Garnett, dove for the rock like second-round draft picks playing for a guaranteed contract. Four days later, in London against KG's old Timberwolves, they all hit the deck again, this time on separate occasions, to fight for a loose ball. Three maximum-salaried All-Stars hurling themselves to the hardwood in the preseason?
And this hustle is infectious, just as it was when Larry Bird used to dive on the floor for loose balls. When the stars on a team are willing to do the dirty work, all the other players are going to follow that lead.
Chemistry. This team seems to be building something very special. The 3 stars have been mentoring the younger players and they are building chemistry on and off the court. Off the court, they are doing things together. Again from the ESPN article:
Garnett and Pierce organized a team outing to the early-season Patriots-Chargers game. "Those guys are stars, and they could have easily taken their own limos," says rookie guard Gabe Pruitt. "But they rode over with the rest of us in a bus." As NFL highlights played on a TV inside the ride, Allen sat in back, schooling pups like second-year point guard Rajon Rondo on the importance of staying out of trouble off the floor. Garnett held court in the front, with Pruitt and a few others clinging to every word.
And there were the dinners together in Rome and London. It was also reported that Pierce rented an entire theater for the whole team to watch the new Denzel Washington movie together. I am sure that Ray Allen had some inside stories to tell about his time working with Denzel on He Got Game. And, of course, we can't leave out the fact that Pierce, Perk and Rondo all shaved their heads as a sign of solidarity with KG and RA. This isn't the norm for teams. But all of this is going to build a much stronger team and will translate to chemistry on the court as well as off of it. These players actually like each other. I don't remember reading about any other teams with this type of comraderie. This team is truly special in more ways than one.
Ubuntu: This is great. The Celtics new motto is Ubuntu. It is from the Bantu language and means putting aside personal gain for the good of others. What a perfect motto for this group. They will be shouting this in huddles this season and they all have wrist bands with it on and so far, they have been practicing it quite well. With Ubuntu in mind this season we are going to see a lot more things like Perk sprinting over to help up a teammate off the floor. Pierce and Garnett coming to the aid of Ray Allen. Big Baby eating a plate of oysters to help his fellow rookie out (well, maybe not this one). But the spirit is all for one and one for all.
Relevance. The Celtics are once again relevant. In recent seasons, I could count the number of national television appearances on one finger. They are now on national TV every other week. The last Sports Illustrated cover with a Celtic on it was in 1993, 14 years ago, when they featured Reggie Lewis. The last time we were considered contenders for the title was the late 80s. Now, the Celtics are on SI, ESPN, SLAM, and are considered by most to be contenders for the title and have 19 national TV appearances planned.
It has been a long time coming and so I plan to enjoy every minute of this season. I have entered every season, including last season with high hopes for the team and every year, those hopes have been dashed. But this year has a different feel to it. I am not the only one with high hopes for the Celtics. The media and the NBA nation all see something very special happening in Boston. So, join in and pass the koolaid and get ready for a fun and very exciting season.