Celtics’ Age, Experience Could Make or Break Season

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Celtics' Age, Experience Could Make or Break Season The late, great Aaliyah once sang about how "age ain't nothing but a number."

Not to disrespect the deceased, but she was totally wrong: Age is a lot of numbers. Just ask the Boston Celtics.

Age is the number 6,556. That's how many days have passed since Nov. 6, 1992, when a 20-year-old kid named Shaquille O'Neal made his NBA debut with the Orlando Magic.

It's the number 41,695. That's how many minutes Kevin Garnett has played over his 15 seasons in the NBA — it's second only to Jason Kidd among players still active today, and 16th-most in NBA history.

It's the number one. That's how many players in NBA history have debuted younger than Jermaine O'Neal, who was 18 years and 53 days old when he took the court for the Blazers in 1996. Only Andrew Bynum, at 18 years and six days, made it into the league faster. O'Neal is now 32, and he's got a lot of mileage on him.

It's 884, which is how many games captain Paul Pierce has played in Celtic green. That's good for eighth all-time in the C's record books, by far the most of anyone since Robert Parish walked away back in the 1990s.

It's 6,176, which is how many 3-pointers Ray Allen has attempted in his lengthy career. That stat alone is mind-boggling, but he's probably taken 10 times that number by himself in the practice gym.

Age is a lot of numbers. It's a lot of impressive, but unsettling and somewhat scary numbers, and the numbers suggest that it won't exactly be smooth sailing for the C's from here to their 18th NBA championship. Age means declining skills, age means injuries, and age means inconsistency will creep up over the long grind of an 82-game season.

We already saw this problem last year. The Celtics were oft-injured and overly cautious with each ailment that crept up — and even when the C's veterans did play, it took them several months to rediscover the effort level needed to reach the NBA Finals. If the playoffs had begun in February, the C's would have been swiftly sent packing.

Doc Rivers, his assistants and his players will all have to work together to combat the age factor. They'll have to monitor everyone's minutes, making sure their vets are pacing themselves.

They'll have to utilize their great depth, letting the young stars of their bench (Nate Robinson, Glen Davis and Delonte West) take some of the burden off their starters.

The greatest teams of all time have been able both to obliterate their regular-season slates and to win the Finals when all's said and done. The legendary '86 Celtics won 67 games before rolling through the playoffs to their sweet 16th banner. Michael Jordan's Bulls finished a 72-win season in 1996 and cruised to a title as well.

The Celtics aren't one of those teams. They're not in that class and they're not built to be. But slow and steady has also been known to win the race, and the C's best bet is to go that route.

In all likelihood, they won't have home-court advantage for the NBA Finals, if they make it so far. They probably won't have it for the East finals, either — Miami and Orlando have both built young, energetic teams that can sustain the rigors of all 82 contests.

If you want a 70-game winner, pick the Heat. They're young, explosive and loaded with stars.

If you want a champion? That's a tougher question.

It's a double-edged sword — age sure doesn't help you win championships, but experience absolutely does. How many young stars can you name that have carried their teams to titles? They can't do it alone. Kobe Bryant needed Shaq; Tim Duncan needed David Robinson. The youngsters always need the wily vets around them to get it done.

Age is all about numbers. The numbers are against the Celtics, but at the same time, they're not. Expect the C's be in the hunt this year in today's young, star-studded NBA.

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