The Boston Celtics returned from the All-Star break needing a win, and they did just that in their first game back, defeating the Kings in Sacramento 95-92. Why then do I not feel any better about this team’s chances?
The Celtics went into the break losers of back-to-back games, against Orlando and then New Orleans. In both games, the Celtics looked awful in the third quarter and only marginally better in the fourth, being outscored by a combined score of 106-50 after halftime in the two games.
During the break, article after article was written about the Celtics needing a fresh start, about coming back from the All-Star game with new energy, ready to the turn the page, and move on from a disappointing stretch that saw them compile a Knicksian 10-13 record since Christmas Day.
Maybe the articles were right. Boston did pick up the much-needed win, and winning cures all.
Except, of course, when it doesn’t.
Over the course of a season, there are going to be ugly wins. But when you are looking for some reason to think the future will be better for these Celtics, last night’s game against the Kings did not do much to lift your spirits.
Boston still struggled offensively, failing to reach 100 points for the thirteenth time in the last 14 games. Once again, the Celtics offensive problems began in the second half, where they scored only 38 points (compared to 57 in the first half), and the C’s managed just five field goals in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Garnett again looked to be far removed from the superstar he once was, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds. It was the fifteenth straight game Garnett has failed to reach double digits in rebounds.
Most any team will have periods where they struggle. What becomes difficult is trying to decide if the losses were a tough stretch that the team can and will bounce back from or if the losses were truly indicative of the inferior capabilities of the team.
No team hammered that message home better than this past season’s New England Patriots. The Patriots would lose games in horrible fashion and everyone kept trying to figure out why. But then New England won a couple of games near the end of the year and we all were tricked into thinking they had righted the ship.
What happened next – just as they had done all season, the Patriots blew a fourth-quarter lead in Houston and then were embarrassed in the playoffs against Baltimore. We finally learned that the bad losses were not aberrations, but were in fact what happens to teams that just do not measure up.
That is why I cannot get too excited about the win over Sacramento. Beating the 18-35 Kings does not tell us anything.
What happens against the better teams? The Celtics right now are not one of the league’s better teams and no amount of time off will change that. I keep trying to find a way to make me believe the Celtics, as constructed, can compete for a title.
In 2008, Boston won a title. Let’s compare quickly the two teams – Kevin Garnett is not nearly the player he was then. And for anyone waiting for KG to return to full strength, I hate to break the news to you, but if I may paraphrase old friend Rick Pitino, a healthy Garnett is not walking through that door.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen also are not the same players they were in ’08. Ditto for Eddie House. Gone is James Posey, replaced by Marquis Daniels. Due to injury, it is difficult to get a read on Daniels, but Posey’s real impact came in the post-season and that is where Daniels will have to raise his game as well.
On the other hand, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are no question vastly improved since 2008. Rondo, however, still struggles when the game slows down which is a major contributor to the Celtics’ fourth quarter struggles.
As for Perkins, his game is better now than it was even a year ago in every single area. The only problem being that his minutes are down, as Doc Rivers concedes too much to veterans and is quick to pull Perkins and slow to get him back into the game. Perk has not played more than 30 minutes in 10 straight games now. Sometimes it is due to foul trouble, but in the last two games, Perk has just one foul but has played only a combined 42 minutes.
Rivers is playing 35-year old Rasheed Wallace, who doesn’t rebound, shoots 41.1 percent from the floor, 29.5 percent from three, and blocks less than a shot a game, nearly 24 minutes a game. Conversely, the 25-year old Perkins, who shoots over sixty percent from the floor, who knows not to shoot three-pointers, and who grabs eight rebounds and blocks two shots a night, plays only slightly more, averaging 28 minutes per game
There is time for Boston’s outlook to improve, most notably by making a trade before the deadline. Rumors are swirling at the moment about a possible deal for Nate Robinson. I am of the opinion that almost any move would be a good one because this team desperately needs an injection of new blood.
The trade deadline is tomorrow, and I am assuming Ainge will work up until the final minutes to make a deal. With or without a trade, though, there are games to be played.
Boston plays five games over the next nine days, with the next three being at the Lakers, at Portland, and at Denver, and the fifth game a home meeting with LeBron and the Cavs.
Between the trade deadline and then four games against many of the top teams in the league, these next nine days will tell us far more about this Boston Celtics team than a win over Sacramento ever could.
Let’s hope my pessimism is wrong, and last night’s win was indeed the beginning of the Celtics getting back on track. If it was not, we will look back at 2010 and consider Paul Pierce winning the three-point contest as the season’s high point, and everything else may just be forgettable.