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2007, December 17: ESPN.com Daily Dime: Road Gets Tougher For Surging Celtics

June 24, 2008

December 17, 2007 — We knew they would do well. But I can’t say I
imagined the Boston Celtics would begin like this. When you get off to
a 20-2 start, that is just getting it done.

They won their ninth straight on Sunday, beating the Toronto Raptors,
which had won four in a row, 90-77. Boston won despite missing Ray
Allen (ankle) for the second straight game.

Can the Celtics keep it up?

That remains to be seen.

Their schedule hasn’t been the toughest. It tightens up on them now,
with their first West Coast trip coming at the end of the month. So
far, Boston has only played four games against the West (all wins). For
comparison, the West has nine teams over .500, the East only five.

That schedule-tightening starts with a Wednesday home game. Now we’re
going to see Boston face the team that looks like it’s going to make it
the hardest on them in the East, the team that’s been there and done
that, the Detroit Pistons.

It’s been a while since these teams have been at the top in the East.
Growing up in Michigan as a fan of both Magic Johnson and the Pistons’
Bad Boys — I still remember the "U Can’t Touch This" T-shirts — I’d
root against Boston and the guy who ended up being my favorite coach
when I played in the NBA, Larry Bird.

"Now there’s a steal by Bird! Underneath to DJ! He lays it up and in!"

That was 20 years ago. But who can forget that play?

Boston’s hopes are up for more glory days ahead with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen, who as expected are leading the way.

In the end, the key to the team and how it’s going to be judged will be
based on how those role players play. When you talk about the next five
after their Big 3, they all are equally important to Boston’s team
effort.

Eddie House’s shooting (3-of-4 on 3-pointers Sunday, now over 43
percent for the season) and his role as backup point guard is just as
important as what Rajon Rondo (14 points, now shooting 53 percent from
the field) gives them as their starting point man.

James Posey’s ability to play defense from the 2, 3 and 4 can’t be
overlooked. Kendrick Perkins’ size is an asset. And you’re going to
need Tony Allen to play the 2 and 3.

Give coach Doc Rivers credit for helping get them off to this start.
They were the preseason magazine cover boys and were put in for plenty
of television appearances this year. They didn’t sneak up on us.

The most important thing for Boston is keep that championship focus
that the other elite teams like San Antonio and Phoenix have.

I see Boston having a really good chance to get home-court advantage
through the playoffs, even if they come back somewhat to Detroit and
Orlando in the East race after this fast start.

Hopefully for the Celtics, they can build up the kind of lead that will
allow them toward the end of the year to start resting guys like KG,
who you don’t want to see going over 40 minutes most nights.

That’s what I mean when we talk about a championship focus.

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By Jalen Rose
ESPN.com