Celtics Mailbag: Rajon Rondo Key to Title Run, Tony Allen Effect Trickling Into Postseason Ask and ye shall receive, Celtics fans. The playoffs are finally here.

Perhaps the journey here didn't go according to plan. The Celtics finished the season 10-11 after March 6, they're now without a core piece of their previous playoff teams and they're dogged by skepticism about their chances to win another championship in 2011. But they're here — they're in the postseason, and it's time for them to silence everyone who doubted them. Either that, or die trying.

With the playoffs days away, you all came armed with questions about the state of the green team heading into the second season. Some of you are hopeful, some of you are pessimistic, and still others are just plain confused.

In any event, thank you all for the questions. Let's dive headfirst into the 2011 postseason together, shall we?

I have tickets to Game 1 of the playoffs. What should I expect from the Celtics? Will Shaquille O'Neal play and be helpful against the Knicks?
–Spencer

I think you'll see a Celtics team eager to start the playoffs strong. Call it "flipping the switch," call it what you will, but whatever it is, the C's know how to come out firing to start the playoffs. Remember Game 1 against the Heat last year? They were absolutely dominant down the stretch, holding the Heat to 10 fourth-quarter points and turning a close game into a runaway. This team knows how to channel its energy into a solid playoff opener.

As for Shaq, I definitely think he will play Sunday. He's been lying in wait for this for a long, long time. Now's the time for him to emerge in playoff form.

I think you'll enjoy Game 1. This is a Knicks team led by Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Mike D'Antoni, so a 110-100 shootout may well be in the cards.

Do you see the Knicks series taking a lot out of the aging Celtics, or acting as a confidence boost for a probable second-round series against Miami?
–scousechris

Neither, really. The series shouldn't be too disastrous for the Celtics physically — there are plenty of days off in between games for TV reasons, which should give the C's veterans lots of time to rest. The Knicks are an athletic team, but the Celtics should have plenty of gas in the tank to give their best effort against them.

As for a confidence boost — who needs it? The Celtics have been there and done that. Everyone in their starting five has won championships. In the case of Shaquille O'Neal, four of them. The C's don't need to look for confidence in a first-round series with a 42-40 team. They've already got plenty.

Each playoff series is its own distinct, separate chapter. If they get through the first one, they'll be ready to go for round two.

Why is there no mention of beating out the Lakers for home court? They've had a golden opportunity lately but don't seem to care. I see this home-court advantage as the most important of all.
–CT

That's a very, very good question, CT. It baffles me too, to be honest.

The Celtics did indeed have a golden opportunity. The Lakers lost five straight games in early April, opening the door for the Celtics to overtake them and earn home court. Entering the final two games, they were dead even at 55-25. With two very winnable games against the Wizards and Knicks, the Celtics could have easily gone all-out and looked to seal the deal against L.A.

The C's have said in the past, or at least implied, that things could have turned out differently in the Finals last year if they'd been at home. It does sound like they care. But then they rest the starters this week and coast to a 1-1 finish, and all that goes out the window. It sends mixed signals, to say the least. I wish I had an answer for you.

Isn't Tom Thibodeau a big reason the Bulls are atop the Eastern Conference right now? He has a lot of experience as a former Celtics assistant coach and has really turned the Bulls around.
–celtsfan34

Absolutely, yes. Everyone gives Derrick Rose the credit for turning the Bulls around this season, but hold on. Let's get real nerdy for a second.

The Bulls are 11th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, averaging just over 108 points per 100 possessions. They're first in defense, allowing almost exactly 100. The real reason they've vaulted to the top of the NBA this season isn't their offense — it's their D. And Thibodeau has been the mastermind behind that.

The credit for the defense doesn't necessarily fall to the superstar. Rose is a dazzling player but a mediocre defender. The stars of that team defensively are Joakim Noah and the modest role players like Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson, Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik. Coach Thibs has gotten all those guys to buy in on the defensive end, and that's the underrated reason behind their success this season.

For the Celtics, the prospect of facing Thibs in the East finals should be terrifying. He knows all their plays, all their tendencies and all the secrets to shutting them down. He proved that last week, didn't he?

Do you think it's possible Danny Ainge moved Kendrick Perkins to make room for Dwight Howard in free agency? Wouldn't that be something?
–Soxrkillinme

I've maintained for a while that the Celtics pursuing Howard in 2012 is a possibility. Howard will be a free agent, the Celtics will have tons of cap space, they'll need a big man and they can offer Howard the chance to be the biggest superstar in a big market. It all makes sense. It all fits.

That said, it's hard to believe that the Howard possibility was the reason to move Perk. No matter what anyone says, winning a championship right now is still Danny Ainge's No. 1 priority, and to make room for Howard now would be to lose sight of that.

Everyone involved in the trade — Perkins, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Nate Robinson — is on a short-term contract. Robinson's expires in 2012, the other three in 2011. So both teams are still free to do whatever they please in '12 and beyond regardless.

Do you think that if Ainge offered Tony Allen what he wanted, the Celtics still end up straining their front-line depth by trading Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green? I think the move handcuffed the team to the health of Marquis Daniels. Was Ainge's vision short-sighted?
–MoMo

Interesting. You raise a very good point — the main reason the Celtics were forced to pull the trigger on trading Perk was the absence of a reliable backup for Paul Pierce. If they had been able to keep T.A. around for another few years, they never would have needed a deal for Jeff Green.

T.A. ultimately signed with the Memphis Grizzlies for a fairly modest price — three years and about $9.5 million. If $9.5 million was all it took to keep T.A., keep Perk and keep intact the nucleus that brought the Celtics within minutes of another NBA championship, should Ainge be feeling a little bit remorseful right now? Quite possibly, yes.

Then again, let's give Green some credit here. He's a much better player than T.A. ever was, and he's a very nice building block for the future. Not having T.A. around did force the Celtics into a very big risk, but that risk could reap big rewards if Green becomes a star in Boston. So let's reserve judgment for now.

Which gives the Celtics a better chance in the playoffs — Paul Pierce scoring and staying consistent on the boards, or Rajon Rondo firing on all cylinders? Pierce can score whenever he wants, distribute and play D. I think he's the most important overall player on the team.
–Glenn

Got to disagree with you here, Glenn. Sorry.

Over the last two years, the golden rule has been, "As Rondo goes, so go the Celtics." When Rondo throws down a triple-double, the Celtics win. When he sulks, stands around and struggles to get the C's going on both ends of the floor, they lose.

Rondo's the key to the Celtics' offense, because it's his playmaking that fuels everyone else. He's the key to their defense, because it's his on-ball pressure that initially hinders opposing offenses. As good as Pierce has been this season, Rondo is still the more important player. Pierce may be able to score whenever he wants, but it's Rondo who gets him — and everyone else — going.

How big will the health and solid play of Delonte West be in the playoffs?
–rocksanddimes, via Twitter

Huge. You can't win a championship in this league with only two good guards. The C's have Rondo and they have Ray Allen, but those guys can't play 48 minutes. West brings the versatility to play backup for both of them.

In addition to quarterbacking the offense, hitting jumpers and guarding pretty much anyone at either guard position, West also brings a degree of toughness that's really hard to find in a reserve guard. He's fearless. He'll risk life and limb just to make the right play. The Celtics need that mentality to win a title.

West has sat out this week with a sprained ankle, but he expects to be back by this weekend. He badly wants to be a contributor to this playoff run, and it all starts with Game 1 on Sunday at the TD Garden.

Tough times to be a Boston sports fan these days. After two embarrassing losses in one week and with the playoffs just around the corner, can you please give Celtics fans any hope? Can we still believe that "anything is possible?"
–Marcel Lima

Indeed, Marcel, it's really tough. The Sox are 2-9, Tom Brady's crying and there are all kinds of doubts surrounding the Celtics and Bruins in the playoffs.

But I still think the Celtics are in great shape. Call me naive. Their main goal this season wasn't to win 70 games or strike the fear of God in the rest of the NBA — it was simply to get everyone to the finish line in one piece. Say what you will, but they've done that. Come Sunday night, they should have 15 healthy bodies for the first time all year. That means everything to them.

The Celtics have never failed to reach the NBA Finals with a healthy Kevin Garnett. Their main foes this year are one team that's never won a playoff series (Chicago), another that has only three quality players (Miami), and another that's just in total disarray (Orlando). Then you have the C's, who are deep, experienced, healthy and confident going into the postseason. They've won before, and they're determined to win again.

If that doesn't give you hope, then I give up. Can't say I didn't try, though.