By Jeremy Gottlieb
If you’re a realist, you understand that what’s happening with the Celtics right now is not the norm. It’s a bump in the road and although the bump gets bigger with each loss, it’s just that – a bump. The Celtics as a whole are not representative of how they’ve performed over the last two weeks – their 27-2 start and 19-game winning streak prove that. They’ll be OK, just give it time and don’t panic.
If you’re a fatalist, you are nauseated, mortified and aghast regarding the current 2-6 skein. It’s a certified tailspin. You can’t believe you’re watching the same team you watched in November and (most of) December. The site of any reserves jogging to the scorer’s table makes you gag. You don’t mind missing half a quarter because you’re in a long beer line at the Garden. You’re living in mortal terror of tonight’s game in Cleveland.
If you’re in between, you know that’s where the Celtics are right now – in between. They aren’t nearly as good as they were in games 1-29, nor are they as putrid as they’ve been from games 30-37. But since it’s a legitimate slump, some part of the routine has to change and we here at the Full Court Press are here to do our part to help the cause. So, in the interest of changing things up, we offer you a streamlined version of the Five-Pack, now more slump-proof.
1. THE CELTICS ARE TIRED
108 games last year, plus 37 games so far this year – not including the preseason – plus a shorter summer peppered with appearances on what Doc Rivers calls the “trophy tour,” equals some tired dudes. Rivers can talk about monitoring the minutes of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all he wants, the bottom line is that they all have to play 40 minutes per night if the team wants to win because of the inconsistency/ineptitude of the bench. When neither KG nor Kendrick Perkins is in the game, the Celtics are at a major disadvantage defensively and with Perk displaying a proclivity for being in foul trouble of late, that scenario is bound to occur. Ray Allen, who played 40+ in the losses to both Houston and Charlotte, is suddenly cold from the perimeter, perhaps as a result of having dead legs. Even Rajon Rondo, for all of his hustle at both ends of the floor, has been sloppy recently (nine turnovers against Charlotte), always a sign of fatigue. The only starter who doesn’t look tired right now is Pierce, probably because he looked tired through the season’s first six weeks and now seems to be into a groove. There isn’t really a way to combat this other than to hope that there is some sort of collective, mind-over-matter bolt of lightning that hits the starting lineup during the team photo.
2. THE BENCH IS BRUTAL
OK, I’ll admit it – they miss James Posey. As noted ad nauseum, Pose didn’t put up big numbers but he didn’t have to. What he did was bring an attitude to the second unit that is sorely lacking this season. The bench doesn’t seem to have any character – it appears to be a collection of role guys whose roles are slightly different than they were last year and are thus far having a hard time to adapting. It’s not productive to pick on anyone in particular – everyone who has watched this team knows the strengths and weaknesses of Eddie House, Glen Davis, Leon Powe, Tony Allen and Scal. The problem is that none of them have the intangible gifts of Posey or P.J. Brown and it’s too late for any of them to develop that now. Some fortification is needed but it must be through bringing in the right kind of players, which leads us to…
3. BRINGING IN STEPHON MARBURY ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT HELP
This doesn’t have much to do with the events of the last two weeks, unless you think the rumors of Stephon Marbury coming here are adversely affecting Rondo. But it could have to do with everything that goes down from now until the end of the season. My question is, why would the Celtics want anyone with the kind of poisonous persona of Marbury? Yes, Marbury is an excellent offensive player. Yes, Marbury is also the ultimate bad guy. He has played for four different teams and to say he’s worn out his welcome with all of them would be an understatement. Ever since he decided he couldn’t share the spotlight with KG in Minnesota just as that Wolves team was beginning to figure it all out and forced a trade to New Jersey, he has been the quintessential me-first player, a guy not remotely interested in sacrificing one iota of his personal talent for the good of his team. This has culminated in his embarrassing dealings with the Knicks, who have deemed him so toxic that they are paying him more than nearly every other player in the league to stay away from them, a fate he seems to have embraced whole-heartedly. This is the kind of guy the Celtics think can help them get back to the Finals? If I were Rivers or Danny Ainge, I wouldn’t want Marbury within 500 feet of the Garden let alone in a locker room or on an airplane with Rondo or Davis or Gabe Pruitt. Marbury is the polar opposite of Posey or Brown and who’s to know if being in a positive situation with winners and team guys like Allen, Garnett and Pierce would lead him to step in line? Regardless of how low-risk a move it might be money-wise, the Celtics will regret it if they bring in Marbury.
4. THE REST OF THE LEAGUE ISN’T SCARED OF THEM
D.J. Augustin, a rookie with the Bobcats, said after his team dropped the Celtics in overtime earlier this week that the Green “kind of fold,” if you don’t succumb to their intimidation tactics.
Just to refresh, Augustin is a rookie who plays for a team that is 10 games under .500 and lost by 30 to (gulp) Cleveland the night after beating Boston. He said the Celtics fold when they don’t intimidate their opponents. If that is true then there may be no beating this slump. Now that the champs have proved mortal, losing games to losing teams (Golden State, Charlotte) or at least teams that were also slumping (Houston), why should anyone else be intimidated? And besides, while I’m not demeaning this idea of intimidation if it was working earlier on, isn’t the point just to play better than your opponent? Why should intimidating them matter if you’re good enough to beat them on your own merit? If anything, the Celtics should use this lack of respect for their status as champs by the rest of the league as a rallying cry. You don’t like us? You think we’re front-runners? You aren’t afraid we’re going to crush you? Fine, here’s the beating of your life, thanks for playing. The Celtics’ swagger isn’t there the way it once was and it’s given opposing teams something of a mental edge. After what they achieved last year, it’s the Celtics who should have the mental edge under all circumstances.
5. SEE WHAT WE MEAN ABOUT STREAMLINED?
At the risk of sounding redundant, which I’m certain has already happened, that’s pretty much it. The tide will turn soon enough, even if it doesn’t happen tonight against the Cavs. The Celtics may not wind up with the league’s best record again, or home court advantage throughout the playoffs. But they will figure out their problems at some point, and respond accordingly. There’s too much talent, smarts and experience for that not too happen. And once the playoffs get here, all bets are off. So don’t panic, fatalists and don’t sleep too soundly, realists. There’s a long way to go.