Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a few short weeks. To get you ready for the NBA season, we've put together 25 pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...
Are the Celtics too old to win the title?
Too old for what? I suppose that's the real question here. Too old to win the East? Probably not. Too old to get homecourt advantage? Surely not. Too old to win the title?
That's a tough one.
Let me take you back to a year ago. The Celtics began the season trying to regain their pride after a loss to the then-surprising Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And to be honest? They didn't look very convincing, even on their winning streak as they cruised to the division title. In key games, Garnett looked slow. They lost to a Kobe buzzer-beater. Even when they later got revenge for that game, it seemed to set a tone. And that was before the second half, where they looked terrible. Every Boston fan on the planet will tell you that it was just a lack of resolve, a sense of boredom, and that those games simply didn't matter to them, so their effort wasn't there. That's probably partially true. It's also partially true that even bored the Celtics should have beaten the Nets and beaten them easily in every game they played. There were problems for Boston. Tons of them. Most notably, they were swept by the Hawks, and each time it was a late run by the Hawks featuring the transition game that did them in. The Celtics simply couldn't run with them. Everyone put a plug in them, except their fans, a handful of media, and Nate Jones.
And then the playoffs came, and all of that thought process went out the window.
The San Antonio Spurs throughout the years had drifted and coasted to second half finishes, and yet always seemed to find themselves there at the end for years. But there was no precedent for the rope-a-dope the Celtics seemingly pulled last year. Even the first few games against Miami in the first round seemed close. But then Kevin Garnett got into a fight which lead to a suspension, and from there on out, the Celtics destroyed everyone when they needed to when they came across them, all the way up until the 4th quarter of Game 7 against LA. The pitbulls had regained control of the pack, and everyone that said Boston only lost to the Magic due to Garnett's injury in 2009 was vindicated.
That was last year. The Celtics are now a year older. Ray Allen is 35, Garnett 34, Pierce 33. They added two centers who long ago left the comfort of 30. Rajon Rondo is still young and chipper, alongside Glen Davis and Nate Robinson. But they put on a lot of miles the last two years, which will add to the fatigue factor.
But then, Shaquille O'Neal says that old teams win titles. Which is pretty on par. Experience matters in this league, and the Celtics have a world of it.
How old are the Celtics in comparison to other title teams? Since 2004-2005, championship team starters averaged to be 27.4 years old. The oldest were naturally the Spurs in 2007. Their starting five in the Finals that year began the season at an average age of 30.6 years old. The Celtics enter this season at 30.2 years old if we project Kendrick Perkins as the starter for a theoretical Finals and 32.8 if we go with Shaquille O'Neal, the probably opening night starter. The Celtics, in essence, are trying to be the second oldest team since 2004 to win the title. It's relatively easy to argue that the competition is greater now than it was in 2007, with the Pau-Gasol-era Lakers, the Heat, and the Magic in play, but those are the numbers.
So what's the answer? In case you haven't been able to tell, this is simply not a quiz with a correct answer. If you are to make the case that the Celtics have finally reached the threshold where wisdom becomes physical limitation, you're probably on par. We saw signs of it last year, the Celtics just showed a remarkable amount of grit in powering through it and committing to the team concept (again). If you were to make the case that the Celtics are nowhere near done, not after last year's performance, who could argue with you?
And that's where we hit the Heat.
The Heat are going to be the antithesis for the Celtics this season, and in a lot of ways they are polar opposites. The Celtics rely on players that are very clearly defined in their roles (Rondo is the point guard, distributer, floor general. Garnett the defensive motivational speaker. Pierce is the go-to scorer. Allen is the perimeter marksman, etc.). The Heat have a nebulous lineup that may end up featuring a super freak small forward at point guard and their starting center is an inexperienced Canadian who is 6'9'' (Perkins is 6'10''). The Celtics are committed to a defensive philosophy of sacrifice and communication. The Heat are betting heavily on overwhelming opponents with skill and ability. The Celtics are primarily an old team. The Heat are primarily a mid-20's team. The Celtics have experience. The Heat are inexperie....wait. No they're not. Dwyane Wade's won a title and James has been in the Finals. But that's the perception.
It's an interesting corollary that our society will define age with physically limited, but also often associate it with toughness. If you make it that long, you must have thick skin. And that's the area where most people doubt the Heat and believe in the Celtics. The Celtics are betting that you'll have an easier time drawing breath at your young age, but that they'll be the last one standing when the bell rings.
I closed the door on the Magic's window and needless to say, team bloggers are not buying. I was ready to shut the door on the Celtics last year, and they slammed it back in my face, walked in, made themselves a sandwich and tracked mud on my carpet. I'm not willing to bury the Celtics until the heart's stopped beating. Age can be cruel, but for the Celtics, it's a beast they can live with. They remain contenders to the ring until that last breath gives out.