To watch the Celtics play, you’d think it’s harder to stitch together 48 minutes of good play than it is to run a marathon in under two hours. A team that once treated even meaningless November games like the NBA championship, now treats big games against rivals like preseason exhibitions.
When, oh when, did that change occur?
Whenever it did, I don’t like it. I used to frown upon Doc Rivers for leaving the Big Three in for too many minutes during blowout games. Now, I can’t even get mad at him for that… there are no blowout games. I used to know when the Celtics were going to stamp their foot on an opponent’s throat and blow a close game wide open. Now, at the point where the C’s used to run away from teams, I know the other team’s about to start a comeback.
Last night, the score was 66-51. The Celtics had been hot from outside, and probably should have been up more points than they were. They’d missed opportunities to put some serious distance between the two teams. Lazy rebounding. Poor weakside rotations. If you’ve seen the Celtics play at all this season, you know the drill.
The funny thing about not stomping on teams when they’re down, is that they start to get a little confidence. All of a sudden, a 9-0 run had the Magic down only six. Game changed.
Where is Boston’s killer instinct? Where is that second gear they used to shift into to blow teams out of the water? Where is the team that used to outwork teams every night? Can they ever be that team again?
I try not to overreact to one game. But this is more than a one-game performance. It’s a pattern that has manifested itself over the course of an entire schedule. It’s damn near the All-Star break, and I’m having trouble remembering one game where the Celtics looked good for all four quarters. Not even a game where they tried for all four quarters.
The biggest surprise of last night? Nobody on the Celtics worked as hard as Vince Carter. Vince Carter. The spoiled once-superstar known for loafing his way around NBA courts. He was in Boston’s shit defensively. He rotated, and gave his teammate’s help. He didn’t score much, didn’t do much of anything offensively actually, but he tried hard. And that’s more than I can say about the Celtics. Maybe they did in spurts, but not the whole game.
You can blame Kevin Garnett for his ole defense that escorted Rashard Lewis to the hoop for the game-winning bucket. But that would be too easy. What about the inability to put teams away? What about the rebounding deficiencies? What about the help defense on that last play? Once upon a time, even if Lewis got by Garnett he never would have reached the paint. He would have had somebody to meet him outside the lane and turn his wide open layup into a contested pullup jumper. That play was the night’s biggest, but it was reminiscent of so many in the game, so many from the season.
If Kevin Garnett was healthy, Lewis probably never gets by him. The Celtics would have went to overtime, and maybe even won the game. But a win would have only masked everything that’s wrong with this season’s Celtics. A win would have masked letting the Magic back into a game where they never should have even sniffed the lead. It would have glazed over the rebounding issues, the bad rotations, the poor effort, and lazy play.
Maybe I’m overreacting to a loss that was hard to stomach. Maybe I’m trying to hang on to days that are long gone. Maybe it’s time to face the facts and realize these Celtics aren’t the type of team to run opponents out of the gym. Maybe they’ll turn it around at some point. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
It’s halfway through the season, and we still don’t know how good the Celtics can be.
Or maybe we do. Perhaps these ragtag efforts and lackadaisical performances are just something we fans are going to have to get used to. It might be time to stop complaining about the lack of focus and enjoy the roller-coaster ride this season has become. After all, who wants blowouts? Wouldn’t you rather see close games every night?
Me neither. I don’t want the Celtics to beat teams. I want them to plow teams. Dismantle them. Annihilate them. Eat them for breakfast.
Right now, the C’s just don’t have it in them. KG’s return helps everything. He provides a sorely needed dose of energy and unselfishness, even when he sometimes looks and plays like a one-legged man.
But on a team that needs focus and determination to instantly appear out of thin air, not even Garnett’s passion is enough to hide the air of superiority, or carelessness, or whatever it is that leaves us wondering why Boston doesn’t always give its best.
“I thought we lost our focus,” Doc Rivers told the Boston Globe. “We started walking around like we had accomplished something by getting up.”
You haven’t accomplished a damn thing yet this season. A few wins here and there, yes. A few All-Star berths, sure.
But anything truly meaningful? Not yet.