The Celtics lost on Wednesday to the Brooklyn Nets to fall to 8-7. Even though the season is barely over one-fifth over, there are some disturbing trends emerging with this Celtics team.
Most notably is the softness of this current group of players. Sure, over time we expected the Big Three Era to age and disintegrate. What we didn’t expect is that the team would dissolve into one that would lack intensity, grittiness, and heart. This has been evidenced by their lack of scoring in the paint and their lack of offensive rebounding. The Celtics have become a perimeter shooting team which walks up and down the court from foul line to foul line.
In a recent loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Celtics came within a minute of making history. Never in the team’s illustrious history have the Celtics gone a whole game without an offensive rebound. Had it not been for a garbage time tip-in by Brandon Bass in the final moments of the game, the Celtics would have created one of those records which could never be broken. It’s hard to win when you don’t get any second chances on the offensive end. You can’t rely on your offense to shoot 50% from the field every night. It is not a formula for success.
It’s one thing if the defense was stifling. But, that’s not the case, either. Once, team defense was the calling card of this team. No team I’ve ever seen was better at covering the pick and roll. It would be rare to see any opponent go into the paint and not get punished for it. Not any more. The Celtics are the fifth-worst team in the NBA in FG% allowed. Easy layups, defensive breakdowns, and follow-up tip-ins have become the norm. Fortunately, the Celtics are fourth, offensively, in FG%. If their shooting ever slumps, combined with their lack of rebounding, the Celtics will be in trouble.
If Danny Ainge had to do it over again, would he still have traded Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green? Perkins was the perfect fit for this team. He brought the intensity and interior toughness that has been sorely missing from this team the last two years. Perkins’ importance to this team never showed up on the stat sheet.
Jeff Green has been a disappointment. He was suppose to be the bridge from the Big Three to whatever comes after. If Green were to be classified as any kind of a bridge, it would be a rope bridge. He lacks the “a**hole” factor that Kevin Garnett referred to in a recent post-game interview. Green has shown glimpses of what he can be, as evidenced by his dunk over Al Jefferson in a recent game against the Utah Jazz. But moments like that have been few and far between.
While Kevin Garnett played well after moving to the center position late last season, it was a mistake to believe the Celtics could succeed with the lanky, under-sized veteran at center for an entire season. It is by no means a criticism of Garnett. He has been the Celtics best player all season. The Celtics would be a better team, however, if they had KG at the power forward spot, and a true enforcer, a la Kendrick Perkins, at the center position. Darko Milicic was never the answer. Chris Wilcox? Nice player, but not an a**hole. Ditto for Brandon Bass. This team has too many “nice” guys, but we all know that saying about where nice guys finish.
Maybe Rondo was aware of that perception. Maybe that’s why he got sick of his team getting bullied Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe that’s why he took the opportunity to shove Kris Humphries (a.k.a. Mr. Kardashian) into the stands after Humphries knocked Garnett to the ground following a routine foul.
But that’s not the kind of toughness that head coach Doc Rivers wants to see. How did it help that Rondo was ejected from the game prior to halftime? And now Rondo will miss the next two games due to a suspension handed down by the league. That doesn’t help the Celtics win games. Just the opposite. Rondo lost his cool, yet again, and it could cost his team.
Ainge, in an interview on Thursday on WEEI, said he’s been concerned, for a couple of seasons now, about his team putting it into “cruise control” for large stretches. This team is not good enough anymore, if ever it had been, to settle for just making it to the playoffs and then flipping a switch. They need to re-learn the importance of chemistry building. They need to learn how much hard work it takes to win against young, hungry opponents. No longer do they just have to worry about the Lakers and their paper-mache center, Pau Gasol. Now there are up-and-coming teams like Memphis, Oklahoma City, and that team they played on Wednesday.
The Nets came to play Wednesday. They viewed the game in Boston as a measuring stick. The Celtics viewed it as just another game on the schedule. The results showed.