48 consistent minutes. Celtics fans have been pining for it all season long. Today looked like The Celtics had a genuine shot at putting it together for the first time in a long time after a terrific 1st half . The C’s were fighting hard on the glass, taking care of the ball (only 3 turnovers in 1st half), defending well (Orlando shot 38 percent), and perhaps most importantly got Dwight Howard into foul trouble, limiting his minutes. The bench looked great, everyone was healthy for once, finally it was all coming together.
With the entire team finally at full strength and the C’s holding an 11 point lead heading into the locker room, the C’s could have answered the legitimate questions about their struggles against elite teams and uneven performances. Instead, they came out of the tunnel with their worst quarter of the season, got outscored by 25 points and dug a hole far too big for them to climb out of.
There are a laundry list of problems with this team this year. No need to delving into them all now. But I think one of the main issues with this team right now is their psyche. It’s hard to believe this team is composed of the same key players as last year. Ever since KG went down last year, they’ve lost that mental toughness. That 3rd quarter effort never happens in the last 2 years with KG on the floor, definitely not at home.
Yet, this year, the C’s have not been responding well, or even at all to adversity. The walls start to cave in on the team and instead of looking to escape, they play basketball with a deer in the highlights look on their face and aren’t able to resolve the problem until it’s too late. They’ve gone through this situation so many times this year of blowing the big leads, that it’s safe to say getting over that mental hump right now is almost just as crucial to this team as anything else right now.
Yes, they showed fight in the 4th quarter, but again were never able to seriously threaten the Magic until it was too late. And there was always something waiting to slow the C’s down, whether it was a blocked shot, a dumb foul, a missed layup or missed free throw (by Ray Allen!), you name it, it kept the C’s from making a major run until it was too late.
So, what are Celtics fans left with? Well, we’d be foolish not to give a lot of the credit to Dwight Howard and the Magic. The C’s gave them opportunities but they fought hard, defended well and shot the lights out when they needed to. They also kept their cool and weathered the storm.
This is just one game, C’s fans have the remember this. But, it’s safe to start asking real questions about whether this team can put it all together. The focus just hasn’t been there yet. I want to say I trust it will be there when it counts, but after so many breakdowns in games that should matter, I’m not so sure myself anymore. Without a doubt, this team has a lot to prove to themselves and their fanbase in the coming weeks. Luckily, they have 32 more games to put it altogether.
A 3rd quarter breakdown, bullets, and is there anything positive C’s fans can take out of this one? All after the jump
Let’s break down this 3rd quarter a little more, shall we? What exactly went wrong for the C’s? Let’s start with the offense. Turnovers. The 1st half was such a thing of beauty for the Celtics for plenty of reasons but their handling of the ball would have to be number 1 on that list. The team had only 3 turnovers in 24 minutes! Three! Yes I was that excited! You should have been too! Finally, maybe this team had turned a corner. I wasn’t expecting the same kind of effort in the 2nd half, but anything barring a total meltdown with the ball would have worked for me.
So what did we get? The total meltdown. 8 turnovers in the 3rd quarter. 5 in the first 6 minutes of the quarter. 24 second violations, 3 second violations, bad passes, it was the pu pu platter of bad ball control. And everyone in the starting lineup minus Rondo pitched in with KG being the worst culprit having 3 in the frame. Utterly unacceptable.
It’s bizarre too since the quarter started fairly well for the C’s offensively. The team was making a concerted effort to get KG involved after a slow start (o/5 in 1st half) and he did, finding a groove and scoring 6 points in the first few minutes, keeping the Magic at bay. But then the turnover bug hit and the wheels fell off on both sides of the floor.
The C’s looked like they had an ok day taking care of the ball and for 36 minutes they did. Only 11 turnovers total for the game. That’s a great number for this team. But 8 in one quarter will kill you against a good team. And it did for the Magic, who hit their stride just as the C’s offense was collapsing.
Before we kill the C’s too much here, we should talk about the things the Magic did well. Listen, that’s a good basketball team and this Magic performance in the 2nd half reminded of when they closed the C’s out in the Garden during game 7 last year. They played an amazing 48 minutes in that one and likely easily played their best quarter of the season against the C’s in the 3rd and were still solid in the 4th when they had to be.
So what did they do in the 3rd? Well, first they had a great game plan. Get the ball to Dwight Howard who got a nice rhythm going, hitting a couple baskets and drew some fouls by Perk. He even made a bank shot from 12 feet! This is what worried me in my preview. Howard has, in my mind, gotten over the mental hump against the C’s in that last game. He scored in the post when it counted in that one, and it carried over today.
Still, the C’s traded baskets with Howard in the early part of this frame and maintained their lead. Stan Van Gundy then made the pivotal decision to leave Howard in the game after his picked up his 4th foul. Knowing how much the Magic struggled without Superman in the 1st half, SVG bit the bullet, gambled and was dealt blackjack.
In leaving him in, Howard’s solid play opened up the floor for the rest of the team, as the Magic started spreading the floor to perfection, creating a perfect balance of attacking the basket and kicking the ball out for open 3’s. It was a combination of beautiful offense and some shoddy defense by the C’s to the tune of 36 points by the Magic. That team has a lot of offensive firepower and they showed the best of it tonight.
All in all the Magic went on a 25 to 2 run to close the 3rd quarter. Yes, you read that correctly. 25 to 2. This happened to the C’s when they were at home. In a nationally televised game. That can’t happen. It would of been 25 to 0 if Tony Allen of all people didn’t attack the hoop. And while the C’s starters started the fire in the middle portion of the quarter, the bench turned the sequence into a 4 alarm fire once they entered the game. All the flaws were readily apparent in those last 3 minutes.
Eddie House: Burnt on drives twice and an incredibly stupid foul on Jason Williams as 3rd quarter expired.
Glen Davis: Hate to criticize him here since he was fighting so hard in the 4th quarter down low, but the guy gets blocked so much down low and couldn’t put the ball in the bucket around the hoop in the closing moments of the 3rd.
Tony Allen: C’s holding for one shot at the end of the 3rd quarter down 10 and TA slips on a drive to the hoop. Turnover. Again, I feel like I’m picking on him here but again a crucial turnover that led to 2 points the other way before the quarter ended.
Rasheed Wallace: Don’t even get me started. He was flat out useless today. Missed miserably on all 3 point attempts, took some stupid jumpers inside the arc and was out of position all day long when it came to rebounding the ball. I’m close to giving up on this guy and it kills me when Perk sits for long periods of the 4th in favor of him. Ugh. That’s another topic for another day.
So yes, lots of flaws today from the bench in that sequence. Almost everyone on the team played in that quarter and almost everyone did something negative. It was quite impressive, if not disturbing.
So that gave way to the 4th quarter, where the C’s had to make up a 14 point deficit against the 2nd best defensive team in the league. Not easily done. The Magic played some feisty D, contesting layups, closing out on 3 point attempts, rotating well all over the floor, forcing the C’s to work for ever shot and limiting the team’s momentum.
I give the C’s bench unit credit for redeeming themselves early in the 4th. Davis, despite his struggles around the basket worked his ass off and chipped in with 9 points and 7 boards. Eddie House delivered a couple clutch 3’s, one of which was of course taken away with his foot on the line.
And I must say, I am very disappointed that I haven’t even mentioned Marquis Daniels yet. He was tremendous, in fact today may have been his best game in a Celtic uniform. Posted up well in the 2nd quarter for a couple easy buckets, played good D and had a nice between game and steadiness this bench unit desperately needs. Once he learns the playbook, he should be a nice weapon for the Green. I am also pretty excited about this bench unit as composed right now (minus Sheed)
The starters tried to carry over the bench’s momentum in the 4th in chipping away at the lead, but again going against a good defensive team, had trouble scoring buckets. C’s weren’t able to close the deficit to single digits until 1:36 mark. They got it to 5, but the Garden looked like a ghost town in the closing 3 minutes with everyone getting home in time for their Super Bowl plans. You generally never see that at the Garden where the C’s have pulled countless wins out of their ass in recent memory…..but not this year. Not today.
Ok, Super Bowl is starting in about 20 minutes, so bullets the rest of the way here:
* Underlying good news of the day: Rebounds. C’s win the battle 40-38 and double up the Magic on the offensive glass 12 to 6. Does it make me feel any better? Not really, but still we need some kind of positives out of this one.
* Rajon Rondo: 0 turnovers. Still way too hesitant to shoot the midrange jumper in the 4th quarter. But he worked his butt off all over the floor today for loose balls. Nearly a triple double with a line of 17 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals. He wasn’t the problem today.
* Ray Allen looked flat out old today. 4 of 13 from field, lots of misses in the 2nd half. Played 39 minutes. Looked like he was held a lot and Magic did anice defensive job on him. He won’t be traded, but performances like this will keep the rumor mill moving.
* Paul Pierce: Solid in his return though lacked explosion which had to be expected coming out of the injury. Will be nice to see him back at full strength. Team could have used it today.
* I want to see Perk in the game in 4th quarters
* Michael Pietrus and Rashard Lewis are Celtic killers.
* Other good news of the day, Big Baby made a free throw jumper.
*Not sure which game stings more this, or the loss to LA last week.I guess you have to go Lakers since it’s LA but this was brutal
* Other big difference for C’s in 1st half. They were able to get layups. Only shot 6 3’s the entire first 24 minutes. Howard playing less than 10 minutes in the 1st half clearly has a lot to do with that. His presence down low changes the C’s attacking abilities dramatically.
A couple days now to rest and let this one, light a fire under this team’s ass. Got to go into All Star Break on high note Wednesday.