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Are the Celtics for real?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  March 30, 2012 10:05 AM

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Three straight and 5 of 6, and the Celtics since the All-Star break are now a relatively robust 13-5. The obvious question: are they for real?

Tell you what, let's all agree to reserve definitive judgment on that for about two weeks.

In the interim, enjoy the continuation of the Celtics' renaissance (however brief) tonight, when the Celtics play the Minnesota Timberwolves in what will all but officially mark the end of the club's recent trek through the D League. The Celtics have been playing better of late, for certain, and there are those of us who believe the Celtics could at least throw a scare into one of the two favorites in the Eastern Conference (hint: not Miami) if and when the teams were to meet in the playoffs.

And if Kevin Garnett continues to play like a rejuvenated man.

And if Ray Allen is healthy.

And if Rajon Rondo can reasonably counterbalance Derrick Rose (another hint).

A final run at a championship? Heavens no. Please. That is hardly what anyone is suggesting. The ceiling for this Celtics club is probably the second round of the playoffs. Anything else would border on a stunning development. And that will remain true unless the Celtics do something in the next two weeks that will force us to re-evaluate the last four.

At the moment, much is being made of the Celtics' 13-5 record since the All-Star break, a resume that includes victories over a cast of teams that might just as well include the Albany Patroons and Bay State Bombardiers. The last 13 Celtics victims, in fact, are a combined 91 games under .500 at the moment, a number that only lends further credence to the argument that the Celtics are smack dab in the middle of the NBA population.

They lose to the good teams. They beat the bad ones.

Ask yourselves this question: what is the Celtics' best win of the season? The Sunday overtime game against the Knicks? The late comeback against Houston at the TD Garden? The victory over the Clippers on the second night of shows on consecutive nights at the Staples Center? All were good victories, to be sure. But the Celtics still have not had a great win all season, not really, not against the kind of club that will be contending for a championship.

Which brings us back to the next two weeks.

Following tonight's game at Minnesota - no gimme, by the way - take a good look at the Celtics' schedule beginning on Sunday: Miami, San Antonio, at Chicago, at Indiana, Philadelphia, at Miami. So far this year, the Celtics are a combined 2-7 against those clubs, their only victories coming at home against Indiana and Chicago, the latter a game in which Rose did not play. Boston may be tied with Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division, but the Celtics are 0-2 against the Sixers this season with only one game remaining (in Boston on April 8).

Know what that means? The Sixers win the tiebreaker. If the season ended today, the Celtics would still be the No. 7 seed and draw Miami in the first round.

Good night, Irene.

Bedtime for Bonzo.

Here is what we have really learned about the Celtics over the last few weeks, if anything: at the end of this renaissance, as in the beginning, Garnett remains the single greatest factor in their success. He drove the bus during the championship run in 2008 and he is driving it now. For as well as Rajon Rondo played in the earlier part of this season, especially, the Celtics are 12-6 when he scores fewer than 10 points. Everyone gets excited when Rondo starts racking up numbers, but they don't necessarily translate into wins.

But when Garnett plays well, the Celtics are completely different team, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Of course, we all knew the reality when Garnett and Ray Allen joined the Celtics during the summer of 2007. The window was to be three years in length, maximum, and the Celtics made it to the NBA Finals twice during that span. We are now in Year 5 of the three-year plan. What the Celtics have shown of late certainly warrants some level of acknowledgment given the age and performance of Garnett, in particular, but none of it changes anything with regard to the spring and beyond.

Unless, of course, the Celtics are still winning with the same regularity two weeks from now.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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