Originally written on The I in Team  |  Last updated 11/13/14

It wasn’t too long ago that it looked like the Boston Celtics were going to be blown up. Rajon Rondo was shopped for the better part of the season. Ray Allen was available for the right combination of picks and young players. There were even rumors that Paul Pierce was available, again, for the right price. I don’t think anyone would have been really surprised if Danny Ainge and company punted on the remainder of the season, but it turned out that they stood pat. All of a sudden, it seems like that may not have been such a bad move.

As of late, the Celtics are playing some dominant ball, punctuated by their 91-72 evisceration of the Miami Heat on Sunday. They are amidst a 5 game winning streak and a run of 7 wins out of 8 games. Their average margin of victory has been just over 12 points per game.

This resurgence has lead many to wonder whether the Celtics can put together one more run as a group and make it back to the Finals. Unfortunately for Boston fans, I think that answer is no. Their recent streak has come at the expense of some notably weaker teams. Yes, behind Rondo’s all around brilliant play, the Celtics smoked the Heat. Their other victories though have come against the Rubio-less Timberwolves, the Jazz, Charlotte, Washington, Milwaukee and Atlanta. The Atlanta and Milwaukee game represent their smallest margins of victory over their streak (3 and 9, respectively). There’s also a 13 points loss to Philly serving as their lone blemish as of late.

It is important and no small feat to win games you are supposed to win, but it would take a bit more than that to convince me the Celtics have legitimate title aspirations. Some have pointed to the Celtics recent defensive dominance. This has been truly impressive, but I question whether it is sustainable. Over this stretch, they’re roughly 89 points per 100 possessions. As a point of reference, the 76ers lead the league this year with 95 points per 100 possessions. I think a relative soft spot in the schedule as well as some luck (opponents are missing an absurd number of shots) has helped pump up their defensive efforts. There’s no denying that the Celtics are a good defensive team, but I would like to see them maintain this over a longer stretch, especially as their schedule gets considerably harder. Their next 6 games are against San Antonio, Chicago (much easier game if Rose is still out), Indiana, Philly, Miami, and Atlanta. If they can continue this run of defensive dominance against those teams, I’ll start to believe. At the very least, they’ll need to pick up their scoring as they rank 23rd in the league (by points per 100 possessions).

One other thing to keep an eye on is how they play Miami prior to the playoffs. They have two games left with the Heat and they competitive against the Heat last year in the playoffs before Rondo hyperextended his elbow.

Bottom line, I’m not sold on the Celtics yet. Their recent run has been against so-so competition and their offense has continued to struggle despite some great play by Rondo. That doesn’t mean I’m ruling them out, yet. They have a nice stretch of games here to prove they have the chops to make it deep in the playoffs. If they can prove in this next stretch of 6 games, I may just start rooting for them to play the Heat in the playoffs.

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