THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Show time for Celtics

With most of the starters resting last night, Marquis Daniels saw a lot of action, but he didn’t appreciate this foul call. With most of the starters resting last night, Marquis Daniels saw a lot of action, but he didn’t appreciate this foul call. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 15, 2010

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OK, fellas. Time to put up or shut up. This is where the rubber sole meets the road . . . and the parquet floorboards. The NBA playoffs start this weekend.

The sometimes-annoying Celtics finished their 2009-10 regular season last night with a 106-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks (Rajon Rondo was the only starter who played). The Celtics will meet the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

This group was ready for the playoffs on Oct. 27. The regular season was little more than a nuisance, and they made sure we all knew it. The Celtics went through the motions for 82 games with one goal in mind: be healthy for the playoffs.

So we forgave their foibles. We watched them lose home games to the lowly Nets and Wizards.

We saw them blow double-digit leads in the fourth quarter with alarming regularity. We saw them saunter through games and wondered wheth er Doc Rivers would rather not be around them next year. And Doc said little to dispute that notion.

But it’s all OK. As long as they peak in the playoffs.

Now it’s time. Now we find out if they can flip the switch, or if they’ve been kidding themselves over the last 5 1/2 months. We’re going to find out fairly soon if the Celtics are legit — or fraudulent.

“We’ll find out who we really are,’’ said Rivers. “I hope we’re more consistent, but the No. 1 thing is, we’ll be healthy.’’

I’ve been a buyer all year long with these guys. Going through the motions through the holidays was just fine with me. I just wanted to see Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen still running the floor in April. So here we are. And they’re all healthy. Sort of.

Why can’t we make a case for them? The Celtics have the same starting five they had two years ago when they won the NBA championship. Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and sub Glen Davis are significantly better than they were two years ago. Garnett, Pierce, and Allen are two years older — sure, the miles have taken a toll on all three — but these are Hall of Fame-bound veterans who should play their best ball now that the games matter. Playoff schedules favor older teams because there are a lot of offdays packed into each series.

“Going into the playoffs, I don’t think there’s a team that our players feel we can’t beat,’’ said team president Danny Ainge. “Sure, it’s going to be a challenge. You look at teams that won 60 games and went on to win a championship vs. teams that won 50 [the Celtics finished 50-32], and there’s a big difference there.’’

I’m picking the old green guys to at least make it to the Eastern Conference finals. That means they’ll beat Miami in the first round, then beat Cleveland in the second round.

That’s right. They’ll beat Cleveland. The Cavs have the best record in basketball and they have LeBron James, but the Celtics match up well with Cleveland and the Cavaliers know it.

Here’s the catch: All this optimism requires a leap of faith and logic. It requires that the Celtics fans buy into the Rasheed Wallace School of Energy Conservation. The book on Sheed is that he is a big-game player, a playoff warrior. We’re supposed to forgive the bowser act of the regular season in exchange for playoff hustle and success.

In every way, Sheed is the signature player of this team, and that’s probably why they have been scorned across our region.

Anybody remember Patriots defensive tackle Kenneth “Game Day’’ Sims? He was New England’s 1982 first-round pick (No. 1 in the nation) and he was a big load of nothing. This became obvious when he showed up for camp out of shape and unable to tackle anybody. Sims assured us that he was a “game day’’ guy. Unfortunately, he was a phony. Sims was as bad on Sundays as he was during the week.

The 2009-10 Celtics had better not be like Ken Sims.

The franchise has done it before with fewer wins than they had this year. The 1968-69 Celtics went 48-34 in the regular season and finished fourth in their division. And they were old. Bill Russell was wrapping up a 13-year career. Sam Jones was finishing a 12-year run. Satch Sanders was in his ninth season. Russell, Jones, Sanders, Larry Siegfried, and Emmette Bryant were all over 30. Bailey Howell was 32.

These guys can do it.

I ran my theory by Cedric Maxwell.

“That’s nice,’’ said Max. “You fool.’’

Call me a dreamer. Or call me a fool. I’m taking the Celtics over the Heat, then again over the mighty Cavaliers. We’ll see after that.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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