2012-13 Celtics preview: The South Beach showdown

Ray Allen and LeBron James will see the Celtics for the first time in 2012-13 Tuesday night.

We’re saying it for the sixth straight year now – the Boston Celtics are legitimate title contenders.

It’s Year 6 of what many thought was a three-year window, but we still hold these lofty expectations.

In five seasons, the Celtics have won an NBA Finals series, gone to another, made a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, and two others to the semifinals. Not too shabby.

But make no mistake: another Eastern Conference Finals loss just isn’t going to cut it. Celtics GM Danny Ainge has magnificently assembled a team that from top to bottom could very well be the deepest in the league.

While Celtics coach Doc Rivers is certainly glad to have the depth, he cautions about getting too high about it.

“It’s still a five-on-five game,” Rivers said. “I was laughing, if we could play 10-on-10, we would beat everybody. But you can’t do that, it’s five at a time on the floor.”

Fair point, but having capable bodies to step in due to injury or foul trouble is a huge plus. Last season, Boston’s bench averaged an NBA-low 15.2 minutes per game and ranked second-to-last in scoring at 21.6 points, last in rebounds (11.5), and last in assists (3.6). To put that in perspective, Western Conference contenders Denver, San Antonio and Dallas averaged nearly double that in points in roughly five more minutes of playing time.

Now with the additions of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger to last year’s team, the C’s are built for battle for 48 minutes a night.

But they know that the war will go through South Beach.

Not because of former Celtic Ray Allen, who spurned a return to Boston to join the team’s rival Miami Heat . But because of the reigning NBA MVP, LeBron James, a player the Celtics feel they can manage to contain now with plenty of versatility in their lineup.

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and the remaining players from last year’s team were one quarter away from a return to the Finals. They could taste it – but unfortunately for them, tasted defeat.

This is the most complete team since the 1980s era Big Three, and the C’s know they’re in a position to win it all.

“We have a hell of a team, man,” Green said. “I mean who doesn’t want to be a part of something special like this? We have a great opportunity to win the championship.”

It starts Tuesday night.



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