The contrast was decidedly stark. Only one game after a no holds barred steel cage match with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics decided to sleepwalk through 48 minutes in “the Mecca of Basketball,” Madison Square Garden. As is often the case when applying zero effort against a team of NBA-caliber players — or, in New York’s case, mostly NBA-caliber players — the Celtics came away bowing their heads in defeat, losers by a score of 104-101.
For the third game in four tries, with the only exception being the Cleveland game, the Celtics were out-executed in crunch-time by an unworthy team. This time, it was Danilo Gallinari, Earl Barron, and the New York Knickerbockers inflicting the damage. Well, them and the Celtics themselves. While the Knicks certainly played a part in winning this game, it was clear that the Celtics did whatever they could to help them.
The Celtics made the Bloody Barron look like a combination of Dennis Rodman and Patrick Ewing, letting him notch 17 points and 18 rebounds while hitting a host of midrange jumpers and outhustling the Celtics to eight offensive rebounds. That’s right, eight. As in, three more than the entire Celtics roster. Barron, just called up from the D-League, was playing in his second NBA game this season. It was his first start since 2008. He’s listed at 7’0″ and 250 pounds, but looks no more than 225. A stiff breeze could knock him over. Yet the Celtics, pretending to be a crew of zombies, looked stuck in cement shoes as Barron ran circles around them, exhibiting more hustle on each play than the Celtics did all night. Never did I think I’d see the day when Kevin Garnett would be so thoroughly outworked, but it’s happened on numerous occasions this season. Even Garnett, with his fanatical work ethic, has allowed complacency to set in. And it’s sad.
The Celtics made Danilo Gallinari look like a combination of Lebron James and Dirk Nowitzki. Since when does the young Italian get to the line so effortlessly (10-11 free throws)? Since when does he put his team on his back and carry them to victory? Since when does he hit banked 23-footers with 36 seconds remaining to put his team ahead for good? Since the Celtics decided to put up no resistance, undoubtedly. The bank shot, said Doc Rivers, “was the basketball gods punishing us for not having great focus. You let them hang around, bank shots happen. I just thought we absolutely deserved that.”
Touche, Doc. For the Celtics deserved nothing but heartbreak and a cold, unsatisfying loss last night. They are bored with the regular season, and it shows. Unless the Cleveland Cavaliers or Los Angeles Lakers are in the opposinglocker room, the Celtics are mildly interested — at best — in winning games.
What they don’t realize is that poor efforts carry over. Teams don’t magically turn the switch on for the playoffs. It’s the teams that consistently exert themselves that win when the going gets tough. Not the ones who put a postage mark on every third game and mail it in. The Celtics plan to turn everything around for the playoffs, but are in for a rude awakening. Playoff basketball is for tough-minded teams able to execute under any circumstances. Not for teams that don’t give a rat’s ass and throw games away against mediocre — and worse — teams.
A bank shot last night was the Celtics’ punishment from the basketball gods. But they deserve more punishment than that.
From the looks of it, the rest of their punishment might be coming in the playoffs.