The All-Star break might still be a few weeks away, but the Celtics hit the halfway mark of their 82-game regular-season schedule on Tuesday night, losers of four straight and boasting a 20-21 record overall. With half of the 2012-2013 season behind us, it's time to reflect a bit and hand out some midseason superlatives.
BEST WIN: Jan. 7: Celtics 102, Knicks 96
Boston entered Madison Square Garden on a modest but encouraging two-game winning streak, only to receive word hours before tipoff that Rajon Rondo would be suspended for the night for making contact with a referee during the previous game. Still, the Celtics came out with an inspired defensive effort and got under New York's skin a bit (Carmelo Anthony's postgame tirade proved that) as they embraced an atmosphere that grew more intense with each quarter. Paul Pierce helped seal things with a huge jumper over Tyson Chandler with 45 seconds left, and Boston waltzed off Broadway with its third straight victory.
WORST LOSS: Jan. 20: Pistons 103, Celtics 88
Umm, take your pick, right? Unfortunately the Celtics' inconsistencies this season have given way to more head-scratching losses than quality victories. You could make a case for any of the final three losses during the west coast swing late in December, or even Tuesday's 95-90 loss to the lowly Cavaliers, good for Boston's fourth straight defeat. But we'll go with Sunday's 103-88 loss to the Pistons. Doc Rivers' postgame tirade and threats of potential roster changes are too great to ignore. While not necessarily rock-bottom for this club, Sunday was the clearest sign yet that Rivers is growing impatient with his club's inconsistent effort.
BEST DUNK: Nov. 14: Jeff Green posterizes Al Jefferson
Jeff Green hasn't shown much in the way of consistency this season, but he has had a habit of delivering highlight-worthy dunks on a pretty regular basis. Noting at one point that he enjoys being a highlight to his teammates, Green's had some of his finest moments of the season attacking the rim and slamming the ball home. Arguably his best one of the first half came against the Utah Jazz midway through November. Green started on the left wing, tore into the paint, rose up and brought the ball down hard on old friend Al Jefferson, who was helpless trying to defend the play.
BEST ASSIST: Jan. 14: Rajon Rondo to Courtney Lee vs. Bobcats
Everyone knows Rondo's a wizard with the basketball as he utilizes his enormous hands to control the rock and hit his teammates with pinpoint passes from difficult angles. Against the Bobcats last Monday, Rondo split the pick-and-roll, advanced down the left side of the lane, faked the ball back with his left hand, brought it back to his midsection, rose up, and fired off a laser underhand pass with his right hand to a slicing Courtney Lee along the left baseline. Lee finished the play with a tough up-and-under on the right side.
BEST LATE-GAME SHOT: Dec. 21: Paul Pierce's 3-pointer vs. Milwaukee
Though the Celtics eventually lost in overtime to the Bucks late in December, getting to the extra frame gave us one of the most exciting sequences of the first half of the season. With Boston down 88-85 with 11 seconds left, Rondo picked off a Brandon Jennings pass and immediately fed an open Jason Terry on the left side. Terry motored up the floor and rose up for a potential game-tying 3-pointer with seven seconds left, only to see the shot clang off the right side of the rim. But Green was there to smack the ball back out to the top of the key -- right to Pierce. Pierce collected the ball and calmly rose up and buried the game-tying 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds to play.
MOST OVERPERFORMING OFFSEASON ADDITION: Jared Sullinger
The Celtics' brass was awfully busy last summer, re-signing the likes of Brandon Bass and Green, luring Terry, a coveted free agent, and trading for the versatile Lee. But through 41 games, it's been Boston's top pick from last June's draft who's had arguably the greatest impact. While many of those other players have yet to fully meet expectations, Sullinger has exceeded virtually all of his. He's emerged as Boston's most consistent bench presence, as well as one of its two best rebounders, alongside Garnett. With a nose for the ball and a soft touch around the rim, Sullinger has already cemented his value to the Celtics this season. On top of that, he knows where he needs to make improvements, with cutting back on personal fouls at the very top of his list.
MOST UNDERPERFORMING OFFSEASON ACQUISITION: Jason Terry
Green and Bass were contenders for this one, but Terry's overall lack of production has stood out the most. To be fair, Terry was in an undesirable position at the beginning of the season, rotating in and out of the starting lineup and not having a set role. But not even Avery Bradley's return at the start of the calendar year has helped Terry re-establish himself as a go-to offensive player. In the month of January Terry's averaged just 5.9 points on 39.4 percent shooting from the floor and an even more unsightly 28.1 percent from 3-point nation. There's still half a season for Terry to turn things around, and we aren't saying he can't. But at this point, he hasn't justified the three-year, $15.7 million deal he signed last summer.
BEST SINGLE-GAME PERFORMANCE: Dec. 19: Paul Pierce vs. Cleveland
For one night, all the talk of Paul Pierce being an older player went out the window as he put on a retro scoring display against the Cavaliers last month. Pierce put in a season-high 40 points in just 34 minutes, connecting on 13 of his 16 shots, six of his seven 3-point field goal attempts, and all eight of his free throws. On top of adding eight rebounds, five assists, three steals, and just a single turnover to his totals, Pierce finished a whopping plus-29 in plus/minus as he led the Celtics to a comfortable 103-91 victory over Cleveland.
BEST OPPONENT PERFORMANCE: Jan. 22: Kyrie Irving
Not to pour salt into what is likely still an open wound, but Irving's 40-point outing on Tuesday was easily the best single-game performance Boston has seen from an opposing player this season. Rondo was ineffective in his attempts to stay in front of Irving and even the (slightly hobbled) Avery Bradley could do little to slow Cleveland's dynamic point guard. Rivers admitted after the game that he voted for Irving as an All-Star reserve, and why not? As he showed during his 16-of-24 shooting effort against Boston -- which included a 19-point first quarter and a 15-point fourth quarter -- Irving's one of the NBA's best young talents.
MOST QUOTABLE (AT LEAST WITH THE CURSES EDITED OUT): Darko Milicic
Garnett always deserves mention in this category, but we have to show some love for former Celtic Darko Milicic here. Milicic's stint with Boston ended late in November when he returned to Serbia to be with his ill mother, but not before he graced the microphones of reporters with a somewhat humorous string of expletive-laced remarks. Back in October, after proclaiming to reporters that he felt "strong as [expletive]," Milicic was asked if the team's preseason journey to Europe was fun for him, which netted this response: "No. We had to stop in [expletive] Iceland to refuel. That was terrible. I mean, especially that I came from there. I lived there, so I came from there five, six days before, and then came back again. Switched those time zones two times, I mean, I don't even know what is day or night, or what day, what year."