The Boston Celtics have won four games in row and are back over .500 for the first time in 2013.
They have impressively beaten three teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
They lost their starting point guard and still were able to defeat the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. They then took care of business in knocking off the Phoenix Suns.
The Boston Celtics are 4-1 since the return of defensive specialist Avery Bradley, and are allowing only 83 points per game over that stretch.
These are all facts, incapable of dispute.
However, allow me to simultaneously pump the breaks and dump some ice water on the drivers of the "Celtics are back!" train.
The four-game winning streak is the longest of the Celtics' season and definitely a cause for some excitement surrounding Boston.
Going a little deeper into the alleged turnaround though, we can see there are some other factors contributing to this new and refreshed green enthusiasm.
This defensive juggernaut we have seen since 2013 began, is it for real? Yes, Avery Bradley helps and is a massive nuisance to point guards who can't handle ball pressure. Which is good because look at the string of point guards the Celtics just faced. Is it any surprise that D.J. Augustin and Jason Kidd had some trouble dealing with Bradley's in-your-face defense?
Of the teams faced during this four-game streak, three have good records. However, only one resides in the top 12 in scoring. The Knicks are No. 5 in the NBA, and to be fair, they did rack up 96 points on the Celtics. In terms of field-goal percentage, Atlanta is the tops at No. 9 in the league.
These were not superb offenses that the Celtics were stymieing. They were, as a whole, average at best.
More than the competition, we were reminded of some of the dangerous habits the Boston Celtics practice.
After three games in five days, the Celtics were visibly gassed while playing the lowly Phoenix Suns on Jan. 9. Clearly the emotional win in New York took more than one day's rest out of them. Kevin Garnett was the only starter to reach double figures. Brandon Bass and Paul Pierce shot a combined 5-of-18, and the Celtics had to be bailed out by Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green off the bench.
Rajon Rondo causes the most concern. He had absolutely zero reason not to dominate that game. Yet, the habit of taking games off continues. He did not exert any energy in the Knicks game, as he sat with a suspension. There is no excuse; if he is who he claims to be, then Goran Dragic shouldn't be a blip on his radar.
Instead, Rondo put up just eight points on 4-of-11 shooting. He turned the ball over four times to go against his eight assists. The only explanation is that Rondo didn't care all that much about the game. A scary concept for your best player. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have earned the right to take a few nights off during the season. Rondo cannot do the same thing. He is too important and has not earned the same right.
All of that is weighing on the Celtics season, as well as the ticking time bomb they have running the point. This was the fourth suspension for Rondo in a year and a half. Three of those have been the disciplinary result of an incident involving the officials. He needs to learn, and learn fast, that neither his reputation, nor his team, can sustain more suspensions.
Of course, we can't be done with Rajon Rondo. Marc Spears of Yahoo! posted a recent interview with Memphis star Rudy Gay. The subject of trade rumors, Gay is quoted as saying Rondo is constantly telling him to join Boston.
Now, nobody has a better pulse on the goings of the Boston Celtics than their floor leader. If he thinks they need a major move involving a player of Gay's caliber, then all cannot be well.
So, do these four impressive wins mean the Celtics are back?
I'm not willing to go all the way there just yet. The Celtics beat Indiana, Atlanta and New York. These are teams Boston has seldom more than chuckled at for the past five years. These are teams the Celtics dominated and entering the season didn't view as legitimate competition. They only had eyes for the Heat.
If this winning keeps up, and the defense is able to slow some real top offenses, I’ll be more convinced. The league’s top scoring team team comes to town on Jan. 11. The Houston Rockets will provide a good test to see how far this defense has truly come.
The Celtics are playing better in January than they did over the first two months of the season, but that doesn’t mean they are totally back.
Those are also indisputable facts.
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