WHAT?! This team isn’t going to be 82-0?! I am outraged. For all the time and energy I invest into this team they should reward me at every turn. No, but in all seriousness last night’s loss to the Cavaliers was extremely frustrating, and I am preparing myself for another season of rollercoaster-like consistency from the Celtics. Only this year I won’t bury them in April, but all the hallmarks of their maddening style of play from last year have been evident in their first two contests of this season. Playing down to their opponents? Yep. Blowing double digit second half leads? Obviously. Getting beaten on the offensive glass and allowing way too many second chance points? Of course. Being careless with the ball and turning it over at a near league leading rate? Check. These potentially fatal flaws were masked during last year’s deep playoff run, but all reared their ugly heads in Game 7 of the Finals costing the Celtic’s banner #18. We learned that these bad habits become permanent and it is imperative that the 2010-11 Celtic squad mend them before they become indelible.
The game one win over the Heat was a promising start and last night’s performance tempered everyone’s grandiose expectations. Two games is hardly able to be representative on anything in the grand scheme of an 82 game season, but in today’s climate of 24 hours news cycles it’s enough to compose a compendium and affords me the chance to react (and probably overreact).
Let’s start with what was the most high profile and biggest addition to the team during the offseason, Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq has looked decent and serviceable in his first two starts in green. His numbers, specifically in the rebounding category have been underwhelming, but his mere presence has been effective at times. He will be a great safety net for Rondo on his drives to the hoop. Rondo’s penetration into the paint is often collapsed on by the big men of the defending team, and Shaq’s size and positioning make it easier for Rondo to dish off to, as we saw with the two alley-oops early in the Heat game. One thing that has been frustrating with Shaq are his outlet passes. I’ve seen several times when Rondo will be standing at half court waiting for a pass from Shaq looking to initiate a fast break, but perhaps due to his lack of court vision or unwillingness to run the court he hesitates to pass it allowing the defense to recuperate. Minimizing Shaq’s minutes will be important throughout the year and so far Doc has been able to do just that, opting to play Glen Davis during crunch time which segues into my next observation.
Which will also be my bold statement of the day: outside of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, Glen Davis will be the most important player to this team. I think we’ve reached a point where we know what we’ll get from Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Ray will go through his shooting streaks, but will hit countless clutch shots and end up averaging around 18 ppg for the season. Garnett will be his usual maniacal self on the defensive end of the floor and I still think his ability to hit the 20 foot jumper is imperative to the offense, but he can no longer dominate at that end of the floor. I believe the potential offensive stability that Glen Davis brings when the bench is on the court will be essential to this team’s success. So far he has performed adequately in this role scoring 13 and 14 point of the bench in games one and two. His post game and shooting range seem to have improved as evidenced by the waived off three he hit at the end of the first quarter in the Cavs game, all while maintaining his adept ability to use his body to create space and draw fouls around the hoop. His offensive repertoire will keep him on the floor down the stretch of games even when Perkins returns. Glen Davis for 6th Man of the Year anyone?
One of the glaring disappointments of the early season has been the play of Jermaine O’Neal. He has been nothing less than atrocious, committing 7 fouls and 4 turnovers as opposed to 3 points and 4 rebounds in the first two games. Many Celtic fans were perplexed as to why Danny Ainge signed O’Neal after his putrid performance against Boston in the first round of last year’s playoffs. I personally loved the signing thinking if he could return to half of the player he used to be it would be a great pick up. He certainly hasn’t started off on the right foot, but it’s far too early to call him a bust yet.
Finally, I’m not completely sold on the Rondo post up play. I could understand if they gave Rondo the ball on the block in hopes of him finding a slashing cutter with one of his imaginative passes, but the entire team clears out and stands around the perimeter. Rondo was able to convert on a lay-up last night on this play, but in the Heat game he looked lost and clumsy trying to back his way down to the hoop. While I consider him to be of the toughest and scrappiest point guards in the league he is far too slender to power his way to the basket.
For a team that will probably have around 55-60 wins I think we are in for a frustrating season. To see a team with this much talent, experience, and discipline lose to the Lebron-less Cavs is almost inexplicable, but this team will go deep in the playoffs even with those flaws mentioned above. If they can fix them, then Banner #18 is on its way.
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Written by Mike Fillyaw