The Boston Celtics are stuck at 15-15, mediocre in spite of the star power of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers dotting the roster. Since Pierce topped Larry Bird to move into second place on his team's all-time scoring list two weeks ago, the Celtics have lost five of six, with their only win coming in a close game at home against a Bulls team missing Derrick Rose. Playing without Rose a few days later, those same Bulls easily handled Boston in Chicago, and things may have bottomed out on Sunday night with the Celtics' 15-point loss at the hands of the Detroit Pistons -- the new version of the Pistons, and not the one they battled with four years ago. The one that isn't all that good.
For a team full of veteran parts, the disparate nature of the Celtics' winning ways and losing missteps continue to baffle. This seems like it would be the case for most teams, almost as a cliché, but the Celtics look like championship contenders in most wins and lottery denizens in their losses. The supporting player parts appear there, on paper, but Boston can't seem to find consistency. Doc Rivers, for one, points to his team's issues with turnovers (Boston ranks 25th out of 30 teams in turnovers per possession) above all. From WEEI:
"The turnovers are killing this basketball team," Rivers told reporters after the latest debacle. "If we can't fix it, we'll continue to be the .500 team that we are."
WEEI's Paul Flannery agrees, but feels a need to expound further. And we thank him for that:
If only it were so simple. The Celtics' offense right now resembles a pick-up team playing its fifth-straight game at the rec center. Everything is in slow motion, multiple players arrive for the inevitable pick-and-roll, which leads to a steady stream of late, contested jump shots. And that's when the starters are in the game.
Whenever the reserve unit arrives, it manages to get worse. The Celtics scored 22 points in the first eight minutes of the game and then scored a grand total of seven points over the next eight minutes. At no time did they run what could be considered a functioning offense when Rondo was on the bench.
At no point during Boston's two trips to the Finals in 2008 and '10 did the Celtics work smoothly on the offensive end. Their offense was a complicated one that relied on more off-the-ball movement than most teams, which is a long way of saying the C's had to work extra hard and rely on their considerable smarts to execute. It was the defense that has put them over the top, and though they've faltered since the night Pierce set a record against Charlotte, they've only dropped from second to third overall in defensive efficiency.
This team is 24th overall in offense, though. And it looks every bit of it.
We've seen this dance before, of course. The Celtics lost seven of 10 to finish the 2009-10 season, and ended that year ranked just 15th in offensive efficiency. The players are older now, but Rondo is much better this time around, in spite of his 1-for-6 shooting mark and six turnovers in 28 minutes (before being ejected for arguing calls) on Sunday.
What is it with me that, after years of not wasting a second before writing off veteran teams, I can't stop thinking of these Celtics as still in the race?
Something about April, May and June, I suppose. We've seen that dance before, as well. You're still going to have to beat them four times in seven tries.