EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 27, 2008

Celtics Preview: 'You just have to win another'


On Pro Basketball

David Willis

One year ago, the questions were endless.

Could a team built in one offseason really win a title? Could the trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen come through in a big game? Did they have enough depth to contend?

Well, the Celtics answered those questions in fine fashion on their way to downing the Los Angeles Lakers for their first NBA championship since the 1986 season.

Now it's one simple question. Can they win it again?

"When you win one championship it's a craving to win another," said C's guard Sam Cassell, who also won championships with Houston in 1994 and 1995. "Every guy on last year's team can say they had a great summer. You want that again. You just have to win another."

As long as the new Big 3 are still on top of their games, the C's head into the 2008-09 season as one of the favorites to take home the title, and pull off their first back-to-back championships since 1968-69.

Forward

It's hard to do better than the reigning NBA Finals Most Valuable Player and the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.

Still the heart-and-soul of the Celtics, Paul Pierce played the best basketball of his career in the finals, averaging 21.8 points a game while helping slow down L.A. star Kobe Bryant.

For the season, he averaged 19.6 points a game. That was his lowest since his second season (19.5), but it had more to do with the talent surrounding him. Don't be fooled, "The Truth," who recently turned 31, never looked better.

Kevin Garnett provided the Celtics their best low-post presence since Cheers was still in production. The 6-foot-11, 220-pounder tallied 18.8 points and 9.2 rebounds a game during the regular season while playing his traditional stellar defense and earning his 11th All-Star appearance.

He followed it up with 20.4 points a game in the playoffs, second only to Bryant, and was named All-NBA first team.

The C's signed former top prospect Darius Miles in the offseason, but let him go last week. So that shows confidence in the young duo of Leon Powe and Glen "Big Baby" Davis.

Powe was the Celts' biggest surprise last season, scoring 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 56 games. He then turned in the game of his career with 21 points in Game 2 of the NBA finals. His gritty defense also allows him to play center at just 6-foot-8.

Davis, a big body at 6-foot-9 and 289 pounds, played limited minutes in 69 games last season. The LSU product turned in a productive preseason to open a few eyes. Brian Scalabrine also provides depth.

Center

The numbers won't blow you away, but Kendrick Perkins seems to have developed into a legitimate center. The 6-foot-10, 280-pounder cut down on his fouls and was a worth low-post partner for Garnett on defense. He added 6.9 points and 6.1 rebound a game last year.

Powe will serve as a backup along with free-agent signee Patrick O'Bryant. Just two years ago he was drafted ninth overall by Golden State, now he is looking to avoid being a lottery-pick bust. He averaged 4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds in the preseason.

Guard

Some wondered if Ray Allen was still an All-Star after ankle surgery prior to last year. But he answered the doubters by averaging 17.4 points a game and making his eighth All-Star team.

The 33-year-old future Hall of Famer hit a rough patch in the playoffs against Cleveland, but rebounded to tally 20.3 points a game in the finals while also helping to guard Kobe. The No. 2 3-pointer shooter in NBA history led the C's with 180 treys.

Talk around the Celtics during the preseason has been the new swagger of Rajon Rondo. Who could blame the third-year point guard for feeling good. Once looked at as the weak link, Rondo deftly led the C's offense with the help of Allen and Pierce. He also scored 12.7 points a game.

The newly bulked up Rondo's weakness is his outside shot, and that happens to be the strength of Eddie House. The marksman hit 117 3-pointers last year, third behind Pierce and Allen, and played big minutes in the playoffs.

Gabe Pruitt seems to have emerged as the backup point guard. The speedster excelled in the Developmental League last season (18.6 points a game), and impressed in the preseason, averaging 6.0 points and 3.3 assists.

Sam Cassell, who'll turn 39 on Nov. 18, is also back, and has made it clear he is not a coach.

A wild card is 6-6 rookie Bill Walker. Once considered a lottery pick, he fell to the Celtics in the second round after rupturing his ACL during the 2006-07 season.

But he showed major spring in the preseason, and could be a spark.

With the loss of James Posey to free agency (New Orleans), Tony Allen may be asked to play some defense. First-round pick J.R. Giddens looks headed for the D-League.

House expressed confidence in his team.

"We have a group of guys that will settle for nothing less than defending a championship," he said.