In the last game before the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics gave up 119 points in a loss to Oklahoma City, their fifth straight loss. Boston limped into the break with a 15-17 record and looked as though it would spend the second half angling for a low seed in the East, a prize that promised a probable first-round annihilation at hands of Miami or Chicago. Boston's 96.4 defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) ranked fourth in the league but wasn't enough to prop up the 23rd-ranked offense.
The postbreak schedule didn't promise to do the Celtics any favors. Boston was looking at a stretch of 12 out of 17 games on the road, including an eight-game trip. Pundits like me were calling for team president Danny Ainge to explore breaking up his veteran core at the trade deadline if the right opportunities came along. The current era of Celtics basketball was teetering on the edge of extinction.
The Celtics won five in a row and six of seven after the break, and the trade deadline came and went with the team's big four of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett intact. The success has continued, as Boston has gone 17-7 overall since that Feb. 22 nadir, and passed Philadelphia for the lead in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics have put up an NBA-best 94.5 defensive rating during that time. The offense has slipped further, to 27th, yet Boston has kept winning with its most dominant defensive stretch in years.