Last year we were 15-17 on Feb 22nd. In my opinion, there were 5 reasons why we turned around our garbage season and actually made things interesting.
#1 - It was lockout shortened season. Most teams had minimal practice. That tends to favor a veteran team with multiple years experience playing together... hence why the Spurs had the best record in the league and hence why Boston used muscle memory and veteran fumes to go on a respectable 24-10 run to close out the season.
#2 - Our path in the playoffs really couldn't have been any more cushy. Our size-deprived team lucked out facing Atlanta in the 1st round without Al Horford. A rusty Horford returned to rip us apart in Game 5 (19 points, 13 boards, 3 blocks, 3 steals in a win), but thankfully it was just too little too late and we knocked them off by 3 points in Game 6 thanks to a MONSTER performance by KG (28 points, 14 boards, 5 blocks, 3 steals). I honestly believe a healthy Hawks team could have potentially knocked us off in Round 1. We dodged a bullet there. In Round 2... we literally couldn't have gotten luckier. The Bulls had been the top team in the East (many pegged them as title favorites), but the reigning MVP got injured and they were knocked off in Round 1. That left us facing off against the lowly 8th seeded 76ers. That garbage team managed to take us to 7 games. Woof. Now, I understand we did indeed win 3 games in a row vs Miami (a team we match up better with than any team in the league) before LeBron took us to the woodshed, but we can't deny our path to the ECF was cake.
#3 - Avery Bradley went all early-2006 Delonte West on everyone ( http://espn.go.com/nba/player/gamelog/_/id/2422/year/2006/delonte-west
) ... You know... when Delonte fooled Boston's fanbase into thinking he was the greatest shooter alive for two months by shooting a ridiculous 55%, 50% from three and 80% from the line. An unknown Avery Bradley used the lockout-shortened element of surprise (what I now call "Stuart Tanner Syndrome") and a Delonte-esque ridiculous shooting streak to shoot absolutely lights out for a month. Bradleysanity (who all signs point to being a poor shooter) managed to average 15 points in April while shooting an unreal 52%, 54% from three and 78% from the line. Where the heck did that come from? There's been no point in his career before or after to suggest that was anything more than a complete aberration.
#4 - Rondo in the playoffs was sensational. I understand part of that had to do with the fact he was being defended by Jeff Teague, 21 year old Jrue Holiday and Mario Chalmers... not like he was up against any comparable talents... but you still have to give credit where credit is due. Statistically during the regular season he was merely the 5th best point guard in the league... but in the playoffs, the dude put up stats that made him look like a top 3 player. Averaging 17 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 2.4 steals against the Hawks, 76ers and Heat is pretty great. Yes, his stats were slightly inflated due to the fact that he played 43 minutes a game, but stil... it was definitely helpful in the playoffs as we squeaked by the Hawks and 76ers.
#5 - Kevin Garnett. Above all things... the biggest reason we turned our last season was Kevin freakin Garnett. Way back in his Minny days, KG was arguably the greatest player alive. He still had most of that left when he lead us to a title in 2008. He's been on a steady decline since. Last February he took a 2 game leave of absence for undisclosed "personal reasons". I dont' know how much of this is rumor or fact, but I've heard it mentioned a couple times Bill Simmons on his podcast that KG was all but finished at that point. He was cooked. But something happened. Something snapped inside of KG and he "regained his love of basketball". Whatever happened, it was clearly evident on the court. He was locked in and playing like a top 3 big man... frequently dropping 20 and 10 and dominating defensively. In the playoffs, he was RIDICULOUS... 4 double-doubles vs Atlanta (averaged 18.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 steals)... 5 double-doubles vs Philly (averaged 19.7 points, 11 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.4 steals) and 4 double-doubles vs Miami (averaged 19.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks). Kevin Garnett arguably carried us from February-onward last year. He absolutely played like an MVP. Elite big men make you a contender in this league... and KG was playing as well as any big man in the game.
So now here we are... another dreadful performance by our undersized team in the post-Perkins/Shaq era. What I'm wondering at this point is... does this team continue to live and die with Kevin Garnett? He's playing alright, but his stats are down from last year (14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds 1 blocks)... As far as I can tell, he hasn't yet flipped a switch. Is he still capable of flipping a switch? It's important to note that he's turning 37 years old this year. How much does the guy really have left? If he's not playing like an MVP (like last year), can we even get out of the 1st round?
I'm starting to think that no matter how many bandaids we attempt to put on this team, this beast is soon to be dead. Paul Pierce has been our only reliable go-to scorer (who can create his own shot) of this era and he's 35 years old. If we aren't getting vintage performances from him and Garnett, can this team make any noise at all? I'd like to add another starting big man next to KG and make a run at it... but isn't the window pretty much closed already if KG can't rise to the occasion?