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Back to Basics

Posted By Michael Johnson On Jan 11 2011 @ 11:20 pm In Boston Celtics | No Comments

Just a few short years ago the Celtics traveled to Houston in one of the most anticipated regular season match-ups in recent memory. After 48 minutes of play, Boston came out on top 90-69, snapping the Rockets improbable 21 game winning streak.  A few days later they defeated the Dallas Mavericks, also on the road, to complete the sweep of the Texas triangle. That was the moment I was officially convinced that this team was going to raise the franchise’s 17th banner to the rafters. And that they did.

Yesterday evening that same Rockets squad came to town, boasting a meager 16-21 record. This seemed to be just like any other Tuesday night match up in Janurary– generally uneventful. In the end hardly would this make for the showdown of season’s past, but there was no mistaking who wanted it more. The Rockets prevailed– a team that has experienced as much turnaround in the past couple of seasons as any team in the league.

Led by the fresh young faces of Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry, the days of McGrady and Yao are far behind this franchise. In fact, as rumor has it, Yao Ming may never play another minute in the NBA. Kevin Martin, the team’s leading scorer, was sidelined with a sprained right wrist, but this didn’t seem to slow the Rockets one bit.  Houston shot 53% from the field with 50% on field goals from downtown. The Celtics, though they clawed back late, never seemed to have any motivation to win this game. The lead always seemed to be out of reach, and effort was at a bare minimum. The Rockets point outbreak of 108 isn’t an anomaly for the Celtics. Their defense has been allowing an average of 99.2 points per game in their last 5 contests. This is compared to the stingy 91.8 ppg they’ve been allowing for the rest of the season. What has happened to the defense?

Sadly, this is not a complete surprise. This is especially true considering the fall from grace the Celtics experienced last season. I had a rather prescient take on the matter just after the Celtics Christmas day loss to the Magic [1]. From December 25th onward, the Celtics are 5-5, including losses to the Pistons and Rockets who have a combined record of 29-46. By no means is that the 27-27 they experienced after Christmas last season, but it’s certainly on it’s way. During that stretch last year, the Celtics allowed their opponents to score over 100 points on 20 separate occasions. To put that into perspective, that is half the amount of games they allowed 100 points scored compared to the full two previous seasons (40 games out of 164 in 07-09 compared to 20 in 54 during 09-10).

With this team, it has aways started with defense. Without KG in the lineup, it is understandable that intensity will begin to sag on that end of the floor. The amount that it is has, however, is unacceptable. For years now this team has gotten away with being careless with the ball and an inability to rebound. These characteristics were of course aggravating at times, but their willingness to make the extra pass and clamp down on the defensive end overshadowed any shortcomings. Winning was the end result, so no one asked any questions. However, it looks like KG will be absent for at least a 10 game stretch for the 3rd consecutive season. Rondo has also had his first extended period of time on the sidelines this year, and we can only pray that nothing will happen to Paul or Ray.  The point is, consistency of play is no longer going to be a trademark for this team. Ages are increasing, and injuries will continue to plague the roster. In seasons past the C’s were able to get past these possible derailments. Now, things have changed.

If they are not going to be the same defensive team without Kevin Garnett, they absolutely must address the issues of rebounding and turnovers. Rondo is of course one of the most electrifying players in the league not known for dunking the basketball. He dazzles night in and night out, and has helped his team shoot off the charts this year at a whopping 50.2%. That is 3% higher than the 2nd place Miami Heat. The problem is, however, that as of late the Celtics are allowing every team to hang in there with them in terms of shooting percentage. Just take a look at the 5 of the last 8 games–Rockets 52.7%, Chicago 49.2%, Toronto 50.6%, San Antonio 45.3%, Detroit 55.7%. Compare this with their season avg of 43.9% and clearly something has gone array.

Compound this with the fact that they are dead last in the league in rebounding (38.5 per game) and have been out-rebounded by a margin of 48 in their last 10 and obviously that is going to pile up in some substantial losses. Though they have kept their turnovers in check for much of this season, statistically speaking they are worst teams in that category over the last 3 years. Twice they have fallen in the bottom 5 and once in the bottom 10 in the last 3 season. Presently they are right in the middle of the pack. Despite better numbers this year, however, there are still some decisions this team makes with the ball that leave you scratching your head. Just last night Rondo committed two errant passes in the closing minute as the team was only down by a margin of 7. The miscommunication was evident, and often times is as Rondo attempts to push the ball up the floor while others aren’t paying attention.

Perhaps you can chalk the lapse in defensive intensity and dreadful rebounding margin to the absence of KG. Certainly that would be the most consoling way to think about things. But with the way this team performed down the stretch last season, you can’t help but be fearful it is something more. Ailing from injuries and increasing in age, the C’s must get back down to basics if they want to have a chance come postseason. The carelessness must be quelled and the savy veteran mindset that we have become accustomed to hearing about over the last few seasons must resurface. Because right now it flat out just looks like this team doesn’t want to play. The Heat are no longer on our heels, they are edging in front of us. The tides are beginning to turn in the East, and the only way stop it is by taking care of the basic needs on the court. This team can no longer get away with the mistakes they’ve allowed to happen in the past, because quite frankly they are bruised and battered. Even Doc has begun to realize the importance of taking 1st place in the conference.

“This year’s not like last year, where you can coast,” Rivers remarked after the Rockets loss. “If you don’t have home court this year, you could go home.”

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[1] Celtics Christmas day loss to the Magic: http://prosportsblogging.com/nba-basketball/boston-celtics/2nd-half-trepidation/

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