THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

No complaining allowed as Green continue their impressive run

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / December 9, 2009

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Twenty-one games into the 2007-08 season: Celtics, 19-2, en route to 67-15.

Twenty-one games into the 2008-09 season: Celtics, 19-2, en route to 62-20.

Twenty-one games into the 2009-10 season: Celtics, 17-4, en route to . . . ?

What did you do to deserve this? The answer, of course, is nothing, unless you are a season ticket-holder who suffered through the 18-game losing streak of 2006-07. If that’s the case, you definitely have paid your dues, both financial and emotional.

But we are now 2 1/4 years into the era of Big Three II and there is absolutely nothing any halfway reasonable fan can find to complain about. The era clearly began with a three-year window in which to win a championship, and the title was not only delivered in Year 1, it was also delivered in a dramatic fashion, with a six-game conquest of the Lakers that featured a historic comeback in Game 4 and a trashing for the ages in Game 6. When that one was over, it was now-I-can-face-my-maker-with-a-smile-on-my-face time for the faithful Celtics fan.

That deed done, this group really owed no one anything. But then came the sensational start in ’08, peaking at 29-3 before the Lakers enacted a bit of revenge on Christmas Day. The team would never approach that level of greatness again, but there was a pretty good reason, a Kevin Garnett knee injury that messed him up for the remainder of the season.

The Garnett-less team did as well as anyone could expect, surviving an aroused and talented young Chicago team in seven stirring games and then taking a 3-2 lead over Orlando before losing steam and eventually succumbing in a dreary Game 7 effort before the home crowd. That’s happened before (Knicks ’73, 76ers ’82, etc.), but it’s always a bummer. The crowd is never ready to see the Celtics crumble in a Game 7 played right here on the parquet.

Recognizing that the core group needed replenishment, Danny Ainge went to work in the offseason, bringing in the always-entertaining Rasheed Wallace to become the primary big man off the bench (sorry, but a Mikki Moore encore just wouldn’t do), as well as signing the lesser-known, but quite valuable, Marquis Daniels for more bench help. Wallace has proven to be far more than just a 3-point launcher, while Daniels has become a superb two-way, multi-position addition to the mix. Burly Shelden Williams hasn’t been a bad addition, either.

After an early demonstration of apparent superiority (6-0, including a surreal 43-point conquest of the disorganized Bobcats), the Celtics were humbled by the Suns on the night of Nov. 6. But coach Doc Rivers was already of the opinion that his team had been mining fool’s gold, relying too much on 3-pointers while getting by with sloppy defensive efforts. The team went 3-3 over the next six games, looking, yes, old and occasionally overwhelmed by younger, more athletic teams.

And then there was the Garnett issue. After the first 13 games or so, the best you could say about him was that he was a proverbial work in progress. He was not his old explosive self on offense and he was nothing like the terror who had anchored the finest Celtics’ defensive team of them all two years previous.

The important thing was not to panic or write him off. It always stood to reason that he would need time to re-acclimate himself, and his repaired knee, to the rigors of NBA life. He got a break, and perhaps a big psychological boost, when, in the midst of a tedious afternoon against the Knicks, he hit the game-winning shot to steal a lucky win for his team. Two games later he was 6 for 6 against Toronto, followed by an 11 for 12 against Miami. He now has more bounce in the defensive step, as well, and the current assumption is that the best Kevin Garnett basketball of the 2009-10 season is yet to come.

The Celtics cannot possibly be as good as they were two years ago. How could they be? The key players weren’t exactly athletically young then, and they’re all two years older now. Factoring Wallace into the mix, four of their first six players are 32 or older, and the seventh guy, Eddie House, is 31. Fortunately, they have a powerful young (and ever-improving) big man in Kendrick Perkins and a dynamic young point guard in Rajon Rondo, but they ultimately depend on older players to be as good as players their age can be, and that places a tremendous responsibility on the coach to manage team affairs as efficiently and intelligently as possible.

Rivers is always aware of minutes. He may never admit it directly, but you can bet he is perfectly willing to forego an occasional regular season battle in order to maximize his chances of winning the war. In a very real sense, he is already coaching for April, May, and if all goes well, June.

“Yeah, I definitely watch the minutes with Kevin, Ray [Allen], and Paul [Pierce],’’ he says. “You want that happy medium. You don’t want them to play too little, where they can’t get into their rhythm, but you don’t want to play ’em too much.’’

Right now he’s playing shorthanded. Daniels, who has become a key figure on the team, is battling wrist and thumb woes, and will be lost for three or four games, maybe more. The rotation will be disrupted. It could become a serious problem. If it leads to a loss or two, people have to remember that it’s December, and there is a lot of basketball to be played.

This should not be an issue for the fans. The Boston Celtics have already delivered the goods with championship No. 17. They’re once again a prime contender. They’re not the Clippers. They’re not the Knicks. They’re not the Nets. They’re not the 76ers, reduced to hiring a 34-year-old circus attraction in order to sell a few tickets.

They’ve been there, sure. But they aren’t there now. They’re providing superb basketball entertainment. Savor it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and the host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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