It’s not a new beginning, but the Celtics are looking at it that way.
Nearing the halfway marker of the 2012/13 season, the Celtics finally have their preferred starting lineup in place - and while this lineup is the exact one that carried last season’s team to the brink of a Conference Championship, it is also a lineup that is seven games in the red on the current Atlantic Division pace-setter.
So if they want to keep alive their steak of five consecutive Atlantic Division titles, there’s nothing like visiting the front runners for a place to start.
The New York Knicks host a Boston Celtics team that is coming off of consecutive wins for the first time in over a month, and at 16-17 are looking to get to a .500 mark that they fell below on an excruciatingly painful recent west coast road trip.
On that swing through California, they got blown out in three straight games, losing to the Clippers, Warriors and Kings – and returned to Beantown only to get handled easily by the Memphis Grizzlies for a 4 game losing streak…
…and then Avery Bradley returned. Bradley is known for his defensive prowess, something that the Celtics have struggled with all season long – and since his return Boston has logged their two best defensive efforts of the season in beating a solid defensive team in the Indiana Pacers and shocking the Atlanta Hawks with a come from behind victory.
In fact, both teams are coming off impressive victories in which they had to come from behind. Anthony scored 16 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter Saturday in a 114-106 victory at Orlando in which the Knicks trailed by eight points entering the final period. Not to be outdone, the Celtics erased a 19 point deficit in the third quarter of their 89-81 win in Atlanta.
It’s been just those couple of games that Bradley has been back that the Celtics have had the capability of being athletic, that they have been able to give their old war horses, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce some youthful assistance – and that athleticism and new-found defensive energy will be put to the test when they take the floor at 7:30 this evening against the Knicks and the explosive Carmello Anthony.
While Anthony is leading all eastern conference scores with nearly 30 points per game, he has done so with little support from hard forward Amare Stoudemire, himself just returning to lineup following knee surgery, and has averaged of 17.7 points and 10.0 boards in three games.
Rajon Rondo, coming off a triple-double against the Hawks, has been suspended by the league for bumping an official in that game, so Courtney Lee will be matched up against ageless Jason Kidd as the Knicks are forced to go without starting point guard Raymond Felton, who is nursing a fractured finger.
So while the Celtics approach the rest of the season with the optimism that health affords them, they still have to contend with the fact that they’ve spotted the Knicks seven games in a race for a divsion title that Boston has dominated lately, and that the Knicks haven’t held in two decades.
Impossible? No. But given the infancy of this lineup, especially in light of Bradley working his way back into game shape, the Celtics can only hope to slowly eat away at the Knicks’ sizable lead – and since this is the first meeting of the season for the two, they will have many more chances to take a bite out the front-runners.
All they have to do is to put the past behind them and concentrate on one game at a time.
After all, that’s what new beginnings are all about.