With the 2009-10 regular season for the Boston Celtics now in the rear view mirror, with Boston winding up with a 50-32 record, a question comes to mind – who regrets what more?
Does Rasheed Wallace have more regret for saying before the season that the Celtics could challenge the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins, or does Danny Ainge regret more his decision to sign Rasheed in the first place?
Either way, it is clear that any way you choose to examine it, this was a disappointing season for the Celtics: 12 fewer wins than a season ago, five more home losses this season than in the last two combined, and a .500 record (27-27) since a Christmas Day win in Orlando.
Teams want to go into the playoffs with momentum. In 2007-08, Boston won nine of its final ten games; last year, the C’s were 8-2 in the final ten. This season – Boston will finish the regular season having dropped seven of the last ten. Not exactly clicking on all cylinders.
But let’s not dwell on that. There is a time and a place for everything, and right now, the time is to think about how can Boston right the ship for a sustained playoff run.
As our good friends over at @CelticsBlog tweeted recently:
The Celtics as the four-seed will face Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat in the opening round starting Saturday at the TD Garden. Here is a look at the schedule:
Wade averaged 33.7 points per game against the Celtics this year, but Boston won all three meetings. Miami was just one of two Eastern Conference teams that Boston did not have a loss to this season.
So, can the Celtics find within themselves whatever it is they had that allowed them to go down fighting a year ago even without Kevin Garnett, or that allowed them to charge out to a 23-5 record to start this season?
Not trying to be negative, but the team has not given me much reason over the last four months to think they can. Regardless, no matter how many bad losses I suffered through this season, a small (very small) part of me keeps thinking something may click in the playoffs.
How can this happen? Maybe the Celtics can get a hold of Doc Brown and the Delorean to take this team back to 2008. I would be confident if that team walked through that door. Short of that, however, here are five things that need to happen for the Celtics to make a deep playoff run:
What do I mean by that? Well, the last two seasons, the Celtics’ calling card was their defense. They still talk a lot about defense, but Boston is no longer that same defensive team. In the championship season, the Celtics let up 90.3 points per game; this season Boston allowed 95.4.
Yes, defense is still important. But Doc Rivers and the entire team need to coach and play the game knowing that at times, they cannot count on their defense to bail them out.
A perfect example of this occurred back on April 6th in a loss to the New York Knicks. After a Paul Pierce turnover, the Knicks had the ball leading by one with 27 seconds to play. Boston decided to rely on its defense to get a stop and get the ball back.
The last two seasons, that unquestionably would have been the right call. This season – it was a mistake, as the Knicks ran the clock nearly all the way down and scored a hoop for the three-point lead. Had the Celtics acknowledged they are not a great defensive team anymore, they would have immediately fouled in order to extend the game. Instead they chose to roll the dice with the defense, it didn’t work out, leaving the Celtics with just one opportunity to tie the game.
The Celtics need to not just understand their talent, but the players have to realize what they are and are not capable of.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett led the team to the championship. Two years later, Rajon Rondo is the team’s best player. Who is the second best player? I am not ready to say Ray Allen is a better player at this point than Paul Pierce, but he without question has closed the gap considerably.
Pierce has his moments, but he also has had times where he has looked old this year. Ray looks the same- a little streaky, but capable of single-handedly keeping the team in the game.
The problem for the Celtics is that sometimes they fail to understand just how deadly Allen can be. He will go long stretches where he is on the court, but does not get a touch. Rondo as the point guard and Rivers as the coach have to see this and make sure that Ray Allen is involved in the offense, in particular during crunch time.
On Easter Sunday, Boston defeated LeBron and the Cavaliers. It was Ray Allen who carried the offense in the third quarter and it was Allen who knocked down a huge three-pointer in the final minute of the game. It was Ray Allen who went off for 51 points in a playoff game last year. Simply put, Allen needs his touches.
Along similar lines to understand your talent, the Celtics need to understand that Rajon Rondo is not only their best player but is also the key to any chance of success. When Rondo is flying around the court creating havoc, Boston looks like an elite team. When the offense slows down, and Rondo stands around, the offense becomes stagnant and Rondo becomes disinterested.
Again, looking back to the win over the Cavaliers on Easter – the Celtics suffered through a dreadful stretch that saw Cleveland erase a 22-point deficit and actually take the lead. The offense was at a standstill, scoring just five points in nearly the first ten minutes of the final quarter. Rondo was on the court, but he might as well have been invisible.
The Celtics then turned it around, pulling out the victory, and it was Rondo who led the way. He had not been a part of the offense, and the team could barely score any points. In the final two minutes, Rondo picked up the pace, pushed the tempo, and had a hoop, and drive and a dish for another hoop, and another play where he didn’t score, but showed his ability to pace the offense even in crunch time by easily getting to the hoop.
Too often, the Celtics allow what Rondo can’t do to dictate their offense in the fourth quarter. Rondo is a dynamic offensive player for three quarters; there is no reason he shouldn’t still be the catalyst of the Celtics offense in a game’s closing minutes.
The Celtics this year were their own worst enemy. Too many turnovers, too many bad shots, too many missed defensive assignments, too much chirping on the court like they were still the best team in the league, too much complaining to officials, and too many technical fouls. All of those were self-inflicted wounds. For a veteran team, they need to act like it.
Simply cutting down on the turnovers likely would have changed some of the bad losses to victories. Be smart with the basketball, be smart with your offensive sets, and it should help tremendously.
Remember back in 2007 – J.D. Drew was in year-one of his contract with the Red Sox and hit his lowest home run total over a full season of his entire career and had his lowest batting average and on-base percentage since his rookie season.
Fans were not happy. Drew then made up for the poor regular season by hitting a grand-slam in the first inning of Game Six of the ALCS, keying the Sox to the victory.
Rasheed Wallace’s first regular season was far more disappointing than Drew’s. If Sheed wants any chance at redemption, he needs his own J.D. Drew moment.
Before the playoffs start, either Doc Rivers, or one of the veterans, needs to take Wallace aside and tell him, “The regular season is over. It is playoff time. We need you. We need you to rebound. We need you to play defense. We need you in the post.” Rivers should make it clear that if Wallace does this, he will play; if he doesn’t, he won’t.
Can this happen? Can Rasheed Wallace make up for what can only be described as an awful regular season? I’m not holding my breath.
But I didn’t think J.D. Drew could hit a grand slam off of Fausto Carmona that October night in ‘07. He shocked the Boston sports world – maybe Sheed and the 2010 Boston Celtics can do the same.
For more Celtics and other Boston sports insight from Stew, follow him on Twitter @stew_winkel