When it was announced that Kevin Garnett would not be able to play in this year’s NBA Playoffs, most immediately dismissed the Celtics’ chances of repeating as Champions. While the road will be a lot tougher without Garnett, especially with improved Cleveland and LA teams, I wouldn’t completely count out the C’s for two reasons.
While Rajon Rondo played solidly in last year’s playoffs, he took a back seat to the New Big Three. Most of the offense ran through those three with Rondo just dribbling the ball up the court. In last year’s playoffs Rondo averaged 10.2 PPG, 6.6 APG and 4.1 RPG with only 1.81 Turnovers per game. Rondo has always been a great ball handler. Rondo’s shooting percentages last year were .407 FG%, .250 3P% and .691 FT%. It got to the point where Rondo was not on the floor late in games because his low free throw percentage was a liability.
This year, Kevin Garnett is out and the Celtics need other players to step up. Rajon Rondo has certainly done that and then some through three playoff games. He’s averaging close to a triple double while frustrating the other team on defense (4 steals per game so far this playoffs). Currently in the Bulls series, Rondo is averaging 22.7 PPG, 9.7 APG and 10.7 RPG. His turnovers per game are up to 2.0, but that is still an astounding number and due to the fact that Rondo is handling the ball a whole lot more. His shooting numbers so far are .500 FG%, .500 3P% and .750 FT%.
Once considered a liability when it came to outside shooting, Rondo has hit some big three pointers in the series. He can drive on most point guards in the league and his floor awareness is amazing. He was overshadowed by Rose for one game, but has been the more consistent producer.
Another Celtic who has stepped up is the player that is replacing Garnett in the lineup, Glen Davis. “Big Baby” was improving steadily as the season progressed, but it wasn’t until Garnett went down and Baby’s minutes increased that he really began to shine.
Deceptively quick for his size, Davis has a knack for getting his shot off in the post against taller players. He also spent a lot of time on what is now a very consistent jump shot. Davis is third on the team in scoring with 19.3 PPG in the playoffs, but the most important thing that he has brought to the team is an increased defensive presence. Davis had 6 steals in Game 3 against the Bulls and his 6 blocks for the series are tied for the team lead. His 9 Offensive Rebounds have also been a big reason that the Celtics have been able to turn this series around.
Through three games Davis’ numbers are 19.3 PPG, 2.7 APG and 7 RPG. That doesn't even compare to his numbers last year of 2.3 PPG, .4 APG and 1.5 RPG. Of course, Davis was only playing 8.1 Minutes per game last year in the playoffs while this year he’s leading the team in minutes played with 40 MPG. If he can keep up this level of play, the impact of losing Garnett won’t be as great as many thought. The biggest impact is that Davis is no longer available to come off of the bench, but that’s why he’s playing 40 minutes a game.
Last year, the Celtics were expected to win it all. Even though many of the “experts” were picking the Lakers to win it all, you had a feeling that you couldn’t deny three veterans who hadn’t yet achieved that ultimate goal. This year, the team has a lot to prove and I’m going to enjoy watching them do it.