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7.29.2009

Celtics Fall to Suns

Green Drops to 34-13
1981-82 Boston Celtics

OK, Alvan Adams, what's wrong with the Celtics?

"I'm not sure what's going on," the Phoenix star contends, "but it's easier to score against them than it was last year."

This does not come as news to Bill Fitch, who has arrived here wondering whether he'll ever again see his team play the type of defense that won them a championship. The 112-110 Wednesday night defeat in Phoenix, during which the Suns shot 54 percent from the floor, was the latest in a series of disappointing defensive displays by a team that had played exemplary defense in the first quarter of this season.

A fitting question as the Celtics prepare for tonight's game at the Sports Arena (WRKO, PRISM, 10:35) is this: Did some alien spirit cast a spell on the Celtics back on Dec. 18? For that is the cutoff date at which the Celtics ceased being the Celtics and began being Denver East. Here are some figures that don't lie:

- In the first 24 games of the season, the Celtics held 13 foes under 100 points. In their last 23 games, carrying through Wednesday's loss in Phoenix, they had limited four teams to fewer than 100 points.

- In the first 24 games, no foe cracked 120 points. In the ensuing 23 games, seven teams have gone over 120 against Boston.

- In the first 24 games of the season, two teams shot better than 50 percent from the floor against the Celtics. In the last 23 games, 10 opponents have done so.

- In the first 24 games, seven Celtics' opponents couldn't even shoot 40 percent from the floor against them. In the past 23 games, every team has shot at least 40 percent.

- The Celtics were first in the league in fewest points allowed per game after 24 contests. They are now seventh, and in the past six weeks they've been among the very worst teams in this category.

- After compiling a 19-5 record in the first 24 games, the Celtics have gone 15-8 in their last 23.

In the Phoenix game, the Celtics didn't start playing serious defense until they found themselves trailing, 108-100, with 3:35 remaining. Suddenly they began playing classic team defense, rotating the way it's drawn on the chalkboard while running off a 10-0 spree that gave them a short-lived 110-108 lead. Had they played that type of defense for, say, a two-minute stretch of the second quarter and a two-minute stretch of the third, they would have won easily. Only they know why they didn't.

Fitch implies it would be fruitless to single out any individuals. This collapse has been a team effort. There isn't enough pressure on the ball out front. The forwards are allowing themselves to be posted up at will. The inside intimidation, save occasional bursts by Robert Parish, has been sporadic. Kevin McHale, for instance, has only blocked five shots in his last eight games.

The Celtics are likely to get well temporarily this evening when they play Paul Silas' lowly Clippers, possessors of a 14-34 record. The next true test is likely to come on Sunday in the Forum. Fitch would appreciate seeing his old team at that time, not the sieve outfit he's been staring at for six weeks.

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