Sunday, February 14, 2010

Boston Celtics Hitting the Wall

AP Photo/Mary Schwalm

Boston fans thought the Patriots were the only team that couldn’t close out games.

The Celtics have lost five of their previous eight games dating back to January 28. Twice they lost to the Orlando Magic, who sit two games ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. They lost to the Atlanta Hawks (one and a half games ahead of Boston in the East), Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference’s number one team), and a Chris Paul-less New Orleans Hornets.

Not only have they not beaten good competition, but in four of those losses they blew double digit leads in the second half.

They blew leads of 16 and 11 points against Orlando (the latter just one day after Orlando blew a 21-point lead to Washington), 11 points against the Lakers, and 12 points against the Hornets.

If you cannot close out games, then you cannot win. Period.

“One of the guys said, ‘We’re better than Orlando,’ and I said, ‘No, you’re not,’” Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers said. “They knocked you out of the playoffs last year. Orlando’s better than us right now. Atlanta’s better than us right now. L.A. [Lakers are] better than us right now.”

What has happened to the dominating team just a season and a half removed from their 17th NBA championship?

There have been the injuries. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace, and Marquis Daniels have all been banged up and missed time at one point or another in the past month.

Every team goes through injuries though.

For starters, almost all those names mentioned have put on a lot of NBA miles and are just simply breaking down. It takes them longer to get back to form as well.

A tweet from Bill Simmons, the famous ESPN writer and Boston sports fan, exemplifies this when he quotes the announcer during the Boston-New Orleans game: “A year ago, Kevin Garnett would have caught him. Not this Kevin Garnett.”

They also don’t have a deep enough or talented enough bench. Their starting lineup is very talented but if something happens to them, there isn’t anyone to step up.

If Tony Parker of San Antonio gets hurt, like he is right now, George Hill can come in and score 17 points, dish out four assists, and grab six rebounds.

If Paul Pierce gets hurt who backs him up? Marquis Daniels? That’s a grave drop-off. Rasheed Wallace was supposed to help with depth but he is having his worst season, statistically speaking.

Two problems pose the biggest threat to the Celtics success however, and they go hand-in-hand: bad defense and a lack of discipline.

During their championship run, the Celtics played tough, strong team defense. Now there is zero help-side defense.

When Rashard Lewis made the game-winning layup in the first victory mentioned above, Lewis received a pass and was one-on-one with Kevin Garnett. Garnett was defending a little outside of his range and Lewis spun against him and went baseline to the hoop. Instead of being met mid-way by a defender attempting to thwart Lewis’ attempt to be the hero, he was uncontested and made an easy lay-up.

“Turned the corner with my right hand, took it to the basket and was expecting the defense to collapse,” Lewis said. “I was surprised when I turned to the basket there was nobody there.”

In the second Magic game referred to, at the end of the first half Jason Williams took the ball coast to coast without much pressure. He beat Eddie House and with time running out leaped from around the free throw line to get in a runner before the time expired. Already beat, House turned around and reached out, knocking Williams in the head. Not only was Williams awarded free throws but House is lucky he was not given a flagrant foul.

If you aren’t going to play defense on a guy fine, but why at the last minute, after you’ve been beat, hit him in the head?

And while they aren’t as young and fresh-legged as they used to be in their careers, their experience should make them smarter. Not knowing where the ball is, not helping out your fallen teammate, and not being in the proper position to help is unforgiveable. These players should know better. Kevin Garnett is a former Defensive Player of the Year.

The Celtics were once a team with great leadership thanks to the big three’s motivation for a championship.

Could it be that they see the end is near and just aren’t as hungry anymore?

Something needs to change—GM Danny Ainge has been rumored to be shopping Glenn Davis and Ray Allen—because the Celtics will be lucky to get out of the first round of the playoffs the way they’re playing now.

“We were getting what we deserved,” Rivers said after the second Orlando Magic game. “I love our team on paper, but we tend to be front-runners. When we get a good lead we relax and teams take advantage of it and then you’re caught and it’s tough to turn it back on.”

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