It would have been easier had the Lakers expanded their 12-point, first-quarter lead, and proceeded to destroy the home team. The KG-Era could have been declared O-V-E-R, while the Rasheed Wallace experiment could have been declared a failure. We could have talked about the need to clean house, but lamented the fact that we’re stuck with Garnett and Wallace for two-and-a-half more seasons. We could have speculated about the 100 different ways Danny Ainge would try to unload Ray Allen between now and the trade deadline.
But nothing is ever easy with this team. Contrast the 2007-08 regular season with the playoff run that followed. Precisely because yesterday’s loss could have easily been a win, much like Thursday’s loss to Orlando, Celtics fans are left to wonder what can we reasonably expect from this team the rest of the season.
First, let me give you an opinion from the Dark Side.
KG is kaput. Rasheed was kaput last year (come to think of it, so was Garnett). With any luck, both players retire at the end of this season, and the Celtics can stick a toe in the free agent market. Without Garnett or Sheed on the squad, however, the Celtics cease to become an attractive landing-spot for game-changing free-agents. Instead, the best the team can hope for are players like Xavier McDaniel and Dominique Wilkens. We all know how that worked out. Forget about the late 1980s, Celtics fans. Here come the early 1990s!
Now let’s turn to the glass half-full analysis.
At times yesterday, the Celtics looked very good, Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen in particular. Yet Tony Allen scored only two points in the fourth quarter, Rajon Rondo none. Neither player was shut-down by the opposition. Both players were simply peripheralized by their teammates. That’s enough to raise at least one eyebrow of concern, until you realize that neither Paul Pierce nor Ray Allen scored a single field-goal in the final frame, and Pierce made only one-field goal attempt! That’s four viable weapons coming up almost totally empty (Ray-Ray did hit a pair of free throws) in the deciding quarter of a big game. Meanwhile, the defense was AWOL in crunch-time yet again.
How is this glass half-full, you ask?
Let’s start with the defense. The Celtics play team defense, and thus any failures on the defensive end are a team failure. On Thursday night, Rashard Lewis said he was surprised to find that after getting past the first wave of Celtics defenders in the final seconds, he had a wide open path to the game-winning basket. TEAM FAILURE. On the offensive end, the fact that the Celtics have multiple weapons and make use of none of them in crunch time also represents a TEAM FAILURE.
Doc and Danny understand this. I’m pretty sure this message has been communicated to the team. The problem is there nothing anyone can say to make things click. Whatever needs to be said to the team undoubtedly has been said. Doc can keep fighting the good fight and keep on preaching the need to play team ball and trust each other. Reality tells me that things will either click or they won’t. I’ve got it at 50-50 whether it clicks or not.
How do I know my analysis is correct?
What disappointed me about that is that I told our guys, ‘We can’t act like we’re surprised to be up.’ We should have been up, and we should have been up more. So that was rough.
That was Doc Rivers talking. The Boston Celtics were surprised to have the lead at home against the Los Angeles Lakers. A Celtics' team that was expected by some to win 70 games or thereabouts is having crisis of confidence. A team that should have close to 40 wins and close to 10 losses now looks more likely to reach the .500 mark than they do of winning more than 50 games this season. And have you looked at the Atlantic Division standings recently? Toronto’s only 6 games out in the loss column!
So what gives?
Kevin Garnett’s knee. The Celtics play with uncertainty because they play not knowing whether their most important player will suit up, play a full game, or be forced to take more time off to rest. There is no "flow," no comfort level, no level of familiarity, no feeling of shared success. Even when he does suit up, no one knows what Kevin Garnett will show up. In the Ticket's absence, Rasheed’s warts become all the more apparent, which further unsettles the team. Assuming KG stays healthy, how much swagger can we expect to return? It depends on how long he stays healthy for. Remind anyone of the Bill Walton saga?
Bottom line is that the situation is what it is, and the Celtics just have to assume KG will be healthy, and try to get back on the same page with each other and start winning some games, the more the better. There’s plenty of time for this to happen, unless, of course, KG’s knee keeps acting up.