The who show up at Madison Square Garden on Sunday will not look all that different from the team out of Madison Square Garden on April 24.
The starting five has not changed, although is doubtful because of a bruised right heel. He missed both exhibition games and has been unable to participate in practice for some time.
This year’s Celtics, with an eye on one more run at the franchise’s 18th N.B.A. championship, still lean heavily on Pierce, , and , the only holdovers from .
They have completely reconfigured their bench, trading Glen Davis to the Orlando Magic for . They are adjusting to the loss of their best reserve, , for the season, as he prepares to undergo heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm.
They have brought in hungry veterans like , who has played nine seasons without a sniff of the playoffs, and , who has played 11 seasons. They are counting on the second-year pro to contribute. They are hoping that has recovered mentally and physically from a near career-ending injury (bruised spinal cord.) So far, it looks as if he has.
The new additions give the Celtics more experience, more athleticism and, as Pierce noted recently, fewer histrionics.
“I thought a year ago we had a lot of immaturity with our bench, and it brought inconsistent play from them,” Pierce said. “I think these guys are a lot more experienced, bring a lot more professionalism on a day-to-day basis.”
But, in the end, the fortunes of this team are going to rise and fall on the shoulders of the so-called Big Four. That has been the case since they first all came together in 2007, and nothing in 2011 has changed the equation.
“We look around and see Bass and Wilcox and Dooling, guys that are veteran players that we expect a great deal from,” Allen said. “But the four of us that have been here — we have to play our best basketball, and we have to make sure we bring everybody along. Everyone here has to be good. We can’t be dead weight, any of us.”
The injury to Pierce drives home the rather critical point that Allen (36), Garnett (35), Pierce (34) and Jermaine O’Neal (33) could be especially vulnerable to injuries given the shortened season and the squeezing of 66 games into 124 days. O’Neal has a history of being an injury waiting to happen. Garnett has been unable to get through a single season without an injury since coming to Boston before the 2007-8 season. Before that, he was a paragon of health and durability in Minnesota.
In a regular season, there would be room and time for someone like Pierce to heal. There is no such luxury this time around, and, given his reputation as a player who likes the spotlight, many feel he will not pass up playing in the season opener on national television, sore heel or not.
“He’s a gamer, he’s always been that,” Coach said. “This is an extraordinary circumstance — where we’ve been in a lockout, we’ve had a week to two weeks together, and he’s been a part of none of that. And then we’re going to just throw him in a game when he gets healthy? It’s not the best situation you want to be in, but when you play 66 games in 124 days, you don’t have a choice.”
Rondo, the team’s point guard, arrived in camp hearing his name in trade rumors for on an almost daily basis. Rondo is starting his sixth season with the Celtics, and he is only 25. He has developed into an All-Star and one of the league’s premier defenders at his position. More and more, the Celtics are being viewed as his team.
General Manager Danny Ainge did his best to assure Rondo, who has a reputation for being temperamental, that he was not shopping him, and that even being mentioned in a trade for Paul was a huge compliment. The Rondo of a couple years ago might have pouted and sulked. This year’s version appears to have accepted it as business as usual.
“I’m already pretty fueled up, man,” Rondo said on the day camp opened. He has not spoken with reporters since. “Honestly. I’m running over, actually. I’m just anxious to play. It’s a short season, we’re going to take advantage of this opportunity with this great team we have. We have great chemistry. I’m just ready to go. I’m really excited about our team, and the main goal for me and the team is to win a championship.”
One more season. One more shot. This may be it for the Celtics as fans have known them over the last half-decade.