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Dan Shaughnessy

Saving their best for last

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 16, 2010

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Everybody around here is simply too negative.

Not me. I still believe.

I don’t care if the Celtics are 2-9 against the Cavaliers, Magic, and Hawks. Seeing them lose at home to the New Jersey Nets doesn’t discourage me. Getting whupped by the Grizz by 20 at the Garden is OK. Sometimes you’ve just got to see the glass as half full.

This is one of those times.

There was a point at the end of the 2009 Patriots season when everything crystallized. It became apparent that this was not your typical Bill Belichick “No I In Team’’ unit. The Patriots repeatedly coughed up second-half leads, never won a clutch game on the road, and ultimately imploded under the weight of their own arrogance and effort. It was not a team to be admired, not a team we liked.

Now the naysayers (you know who you are) claim the same malaise has infected the 2009-10 Celtics. Some of the nattering nabobs are projecting a shocker in the form of a first-round playoff exit next month.

Not me. I see what the Celtics are doing. The Green are Going Green. The NBA’s Team AARP is also Team Energy Conservation.

One day after a nationally televised dubious defeat in Cleveland, the Celtics were back home last night, back on national TV (ESPN) against the going-nowhere Detroit Pistons. Reminding their fans they still can dominate, the Celtics raced to a 31-15 lead in the first quarter and blew it out to 64-35 at halftime. It was 80-49 with 6:17 left in the third. The Celtics shot 62 percent and won, 119-93. It was one of those games that reminded you how good they can be. So what if they were playing at home against the moribund Pistons.

“It was a great game to sit back and look at and say, ‘This is what we are,’ ’’ said Kevin Garnett.

Amen, KG. This is what you are. Still one of the most talented teams in the basketball universe.

Before the game, coach Doc Rivers was asked about lack of effort in Sunday’s loss. He defended his veteran stars, insisting there was effort, at least until they gave up late in the fourth quarter.

This can’t be easy for Rivers. He claims he is having fun, but it’s got to be a nightmare to motivate these guys as they wait for the real games to start.

Rivers admits nobody is afraid of his team anymore, but like his galaxy of fading stars, he believes they can put it together in the playoffs.

And I’m still buying.

In recent weeks Rasheed Wallace has emerged as the poster child for everything that ails these Celtics. Fans are treating Wallace like he’s Julio Lugo with attitude. The Celtics certainly have not gotten a return on their investment, and everyone is tired of ’Sheed launching threes when he should be doing the painful stuff in the paint. He is an easy target. Meanwhile, Marquis Daniels, who has done considerably less than Wallace, gets a free pass. Maybe because he has great hair.

Ultimately, there’s no sense picking on ’Sheed, Daniels, Glen Davis, or anybody on the bench.

The guys who matter are Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Certainly there are nights when Garnett looks like he might be all done as an NBA superstar. He drags his leg around the court, struggles to score, fails to rebound, and makes guys like Anderson Varejao look like Karl Malone.

This is not necessarily KG’s fault. He’s got more miles on him than my 1995 Volvo and isn’t the same player since he injured his knee in the middle of last season. He’s still the master of gesture and noise, but the game just isn’t the same.

Never forget that Garnett is the man who changed everything. The Celtics went from the lottery to the championship in a single season because of Kevin Garnett.

In order for a long run in April, May, and June, Garnett has to be that player again. Or something close. There are moments he shows us the explosiveness is still there. The Celtics are banking on him being the old KG by the middle of next month.

Pierce is almost as important. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the captain was MVP of the 2008 Finals. Pierce totally outplayed Kobe Bryant in that series. Too often this year he’s been Just Another Guy, but last night he came out of the blocks with 12 points in the first period. Then he turned the game over to everybody else.

“We’re working to reestablish him,’’ said Rivers. “It was great to see that tonight. He looked explosive. I think he’s getting closer. The team is getting closer.’’

The Celtics are probably as healthy as they are going to get. Danny Ainge has assembled a deep, experienced bench and Doc is going to use this final month to determine his playoff rotations. Michael Finley (6-of-7 shooting, 15 points last night) looks like a nice addition. Davis continues to play harder than anybody. ’Sheed? We can only hope he’s chairman of the board of energy conservation.

“If we can get this right, it could be an unbelievable feeling at the end,’’ said Rivers.

Count me in. Put me on the Big Green bus.

I believe.

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

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