On Sunday, the Boston Celtics lost 105-88 to the Detroit Pistons, a team playing its first game since Thursday's "home" game in London. Given the circumstances of the loss, the Celtics have reason to worry. The Celtics had serious problems with rookie big man Andre Drummond, shot just under 40 percent from the field, and turned the ball over 18 times. They were just outplayed by what most everyone would identify as an inferior opponent.
It was also their third straight loss, taking their record down to 20-20 on the season. Things are bad and looking worse. So, Doc Rivers is threatening major changes if their fortunes don't change soon. From A. Sherrod Blakely for CSNNE.com:
Rivers' postgame comments left an unmistakable impression that he has had all he's going to take from this Celtics team that continues to play erratic, inconsistent and underachieving basketball.
"I gotta either find the right combination or the right guys, or we're going to get some guys out of here," said a visibly upset Rivers after the Celtics lost their third straight game. "That's the bottom line. This group right now, they're not playing right. It's in them to play right. But right now they haven't been either because I'm not getting to them, or they're not getting to each other."
Said Kevin Garnett: "I'm pretty sure Doc's upset and frustrated like everybody else here right now. He's mad as me, he thinks in those terms. I'm a player and I have to say, 'what can I do better?' That's where I'm at." [...]
"I'm clearly not doing my job with this team," Rivers said. "I ain't trying to take a bullet for the team. I told them that, 'we gotta find something every night all 12 guys play the same way."' [...]
"I don't think guys are honest with each other," Rivers said. "I just don't think we have committed to being a good basketball team. I think this team wants everything easy; they want the easy way out. They just want to win easy. And I told them, 'the only way you're going to win easy is you're going to have to play hard. The harder you play, the easier the game becomes."'
As Blakely notes in his report, this isn't the first time Rivers has expressed frustration with this season's team after a series of tough losses. In late November, Rivers called the Celtics "soft," and after a particularly awful blowout to the Clippers in December, he implied that only one team on the court was at a championship level. These complaints are now a trend, and it looks like they're only getting worse.
The problem is Rivers' threats of trades may be toothless. Last Wednesday, when the Celtics had a six-game winning streak, Boston's executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge said fans shouldn't expect a big trade before the deadline in a video interview with CSNNE.com (via PBT):
There are a few possibilities for this inconsistency. One, which we can probably dismiss immediately because it's tabloid-ready and not particularly interesting to think about, is that Ainge and Rivers have serious disagreements about the direction of the franchise. That's unlikely, in part because they spoke at very different moments in the Celtics' season. But that explanation is problematic, as well, because it suggests the franchise is overreacting to short winning and losing streaks. The Celtics aren't a substantially different team than they were last Wednesday; the only difference is they're losing instead of winning. Their problems are the same ones that have been present the whole season — the same things that Rivers mentioned in November.
If Rivers and Ainge change their thoughts on the team's ability to contend, then they're not being honest with what they have. This is an aging team that chose to overhaul their unit of secondary players this summer instead of breaking up the core of Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce. They chose to reload, but they didn't change the basic facts of the roster. The expectations for this team shouldn't shift dramatically based on a few wins and losses.
Rivers and Ainge aren't dumb, though, so it's possible these overreactions are nothing more than standard-issue motivational tactics. The Celtics' season has always been predicated on making it to the playoffs with a seed solid enough to hope things break their way on an unlikely-but-not-miraculous path to the NBA Finals. They've done it before — the 2009-10 team looked old and slow at various points throughout the regular season, and last year's East runners-up didn't look ready to take the Heat to the brink at the start of the postseason. At eighth in the East, the Celtics don't look particularly great, but if they move up a few spots, it's not crazy to see them turning it on again and challenging for a title, against the odds.
However, something feels a little different this season. In the past, the Celtics have seemed comfortable while lurching through the regular season, confident their team identity and general veteran knowhow could carry them through the playoffs despite lackluster seeding. This team seems different — notice Rivers' references to a lack of togetherness, or just the fact that he's mentioning these issues far more often than he ever has in the past.
The Celtics have proven before that they can turn it on in the postseason, and they may prove us wrong. It's just that, with every new comment from Rivers, it looks increasingly logical to turn the threats of serious changes into reality. Perhaps this approach has run its course.
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