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What A Difference a Year Makes

 

One year ago “yesterday” in NBA terms, I arrived in Toronto from New York at about 8:30 p.m. and went to visit my girlfriend, who lived in Toronto then, at her sister’s condo near the SkyDome. They were watching what was apparently a critical episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Someone was dying or having sex with a cadaver on a surgical table or trying to save a unicorn (or whatever happens on that godawful show).

I asked if I might head to the sports bar across the street (“Shoeless Joe’s,” because nothing says “Canada” like a disgraced American baseball player). The Celtics were playing their last game before the All-Star break, at Dallas, and I could still catch the 2nd half. They didn’t mind. The blonde from “Knocked Up” was having sex with McDreamy, or something, and it was clear my girlfriend and her sister would be occupied for a bit.

I got there just in time to see the Mavericks go up 15 mid-way through the 3rd quarter.

Toward the end of that 3rd quarter, KG picked up his third and fourth fouls in the span of 11 seconds—both on touch fouls—and Doc Rivers went crazy. He got tossed, but the C’s fought to within 75-69 at the end of the 3rd.

This was a game I had expected Boston to lose, even though the Mavs were missing Jason Terry due to an injury. It was the last game before the All-Star break and the second half of a road back-to-back. Once a team falls behind by 15 in this kind of game, you sort of expect them to mail it in. Especially when their best player (KG) has been saddled with foul trouble all game. The C’s were 43-11. A loss wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Except the Celtics, at that point, were still maniacally obsessed with winning—with proving 2008 wasn’t a fluke, with defending their crown, with writing their place in Celtic history.

The C’s rallied to win that game by outscoring Dallas 30-17 in the 4th quarter. Paul Pierce scored 18 of his game-high 31 in that 4th quarter, and it was vintage Pierce—step-back jumpers, drives to the hole, bunches of free throws. He iced the game with a jumper–drawn charge-jumper sequence late in the 4th.

My girlfriend had joined me at the bar for the end of the game, and I walked across the street to her sister’s condo on a high. She would understand now why I liked this team so much. They were determined, they never gave up and they won games. There wasn’t a team in the league, I thought, who could beat Boston in a seven-game series.

That was Feb. 12, 2009. Kevin Garnett hurt his knee at Utah one week later, and the Celtics have never been the same. They haven’t reached the level they reached that night at Dallas for one second since then. And last night, in the last game before this year’s All-Star break, we watched the C’s blow another double-digit lead; turn the ball over another 21 times; hit just 16 of 27 free throws; and score just 30 points in the second half. Between them, the big three made six total field goals. And if you say, “Hey, wait, only two of them played last night,” then you’re making the same point I am.

It’s easy to cherry-pick one or two games and make conclusions about a team; announcers and writers do it all the time. But those two games, one year apart on the NBA’s calendar, provide fair representations of where the 2009 and 2010 versions of the Celtics stood and stand, respectively, at the All-Star break. One was a dominant, hungry team with as good a chance as any of the elite at winning the title. The other is, frankly, a mess—the most turnover prone team in the league, 9-13 in its last 22 games, 1-7 combined against Orlando and Atlanta, and trying to squeeze enough points out of an offense that has regressed to league average. They might be just as hungry; if they are, the level of play we are seeing is even more disturbing.

Ray Allen missed last night’s game with back spasms. Paul Pierce played despite a “mid-foot sprain.” Kevin Garnett is recovering from a series of knee injuries, and his prognosis is unclear.

All is not lost. The team was a break or two away from a three-game winning streak against Atlanta, Orlando and the Lakers late last month, and their defense looked like the 2008 version of itself against the Lakers. And this team could look very different in six weeks. Kevin Garnett could proceed through his recovery. Paul Pierce’s foot will feel better. Rasheed Wallace will play himself into shape. The Celtics are playing for May and June, not February.

But this team, right now, is completely out of sorts, and you’d be a fool to deny it. The amount of change—almost all negative—in 363 days is jarring. It’s not shocking, though. This is what the Celtics signed up for when they dealt away young talent and draft picks for Kevin Garnett.

Danny Ainge has a week to figure out if the C’s can rediscover the brand of basketball they played last February at Dallas. Because if the higher-ups don’t think the team can do that—if they think this 9-13 stretch has exposed flaws that won’t correct themselves—they must explore all alternatives before the trade deadline and then again in the off-season.

  • Jay P

    I’m at a loss for words lately… I’m losing faith. I feel like I’m falling down a well, it just keeps getting darker, and I can’t see the light at the top anymore.

    Just one game, one game to restore my faith, one third quarter one, one flash of that old spark… Please, I’m begging you.

  • pinsla

    I know what you mean:)

    But its not that easy

    You either have it or you dont

    And they dont have it this year and one game dont change anything

    except maybe that we feel better for a short period:)

  • Chris

    If the Celts don’t do something before the deadline, there will be nothing left to do this summer.

    If ownership is willing to pony up an $85 million dollar payroll for next year, then taking Nocioni with Martin (or Dalembert with Iggy) is a no-brainer. The alternative is re-signing Ray, using the MLE (Manu? Re-signing Quisy?) and bringing back the same team that WE CAN ALL SEE is not a legitimate championship contender this year. How much better will this team look next year when it’s a year older?

    The window has closed. Time to reload.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    I remember that game. I remember Rondo bringing the ball up & then throwing a high pass to Paul at about the free throw line. Then, Paul would dribble over to his right (everybody–back then–was spacing the floor so Paul had room), to the sweet spot, & shoot a nice & close jumper. Sometimes, he would fake & draw the foul, but they ran that play over & over. Complete isolation. Milking the cow. Paul was not hobbled & had great lift. The Mavs could not stop it. I don’t think the Mavs ever doubled which was really weird. That was a good memory. Thanks Zach.

    I think they need to reevaluate with a whole barrage of tests KGs knee right away. KG would not be happy with it, but there is something else going on there. Cp3 is only going to be out 6 wks after his knee surgery. If KG needs a procedure there is a chance he could be back for the playoffs.

    You can’t be guessing on this. You have got to be EXTREMELY AGGRESSIVE & monitor that knee like a premature born infant. There is so much riding on that knee that it is stupid not to keep scanning it. When you scan it a lot you can compare the latest scan to the previous scans to see if there is the tiniest sliver of a change for the worse in structure. These scans are not painful, & they can be done very quickly so it is stupid not to micro manage this knee right now when he is obviously hurt. If KG hurt it worse, I really think he might try to keep it secret & play thru it, but with constant scanning you would be able to see the problem early without depending on him to be forthcoming. Then, you could fix it sooner & recover sooner. They are really dropping the ball here if they are just depending on KG to tell them what’s going on.

  • hamedgol

    they make me sick, I can even watch them any more, its time for a major change, coach and some other palyer need to go.

  • RBD

    Zach – if you’re ever through Toronto again, and want to meet up to talk Celtics, just let me know…

  • Tebucky

    What about the team we had that stole ALL Stan Van Gundy’s Christmas cookies without The Captain to go to 23-5? All is not lost, use our smaller expiring contracts to get a spark for our bench and make sure the Big Three are healthy for the real NBA season in mid-April.

  • steve

    As much as it seems the C’s need to make a change why can they play so well for a half? Time and again lately they play 2 or 3 quarters well, although not good enough to win a championship. That shows they have what it takes unless the other teams just figure things out and gain confidence. Hard to believe that pros can go out and play well for the first half then absolutely stink it up in the second half. Obviously the Hornets got hot from the outside last night but the Celtics caused their own problems. I shall not lose faith but I am losing patience.

  • Jay P

    I refuse to believe all is not lost. Tebucky is right, up until that christmas win over Orlando, this team was dominate. That wasn’t all that long ago people…

    I’m losing faith, but not hope, there’s a big difference.

  • Chris

    @steve: They’re old.

    @Tebucky: They’re old.

    Simple questions with simple answers.

  • Jeff

    Im going nuts watching the celts like everyone else. However I dont see how trading ray even if it is for iggy / dalembert or kmart / nocioni helps us cut down on turnovers or execute down the stretch. These problems might only get worse by incorporating new players.

  • Sam

    Last night was horrible and can depress the hell out you. Admittedly, I stopped watching half-way through the second half. I’d seen enough by that point and new we were letting another lead slip away. Opted to get some sleep and I actually got some. It saved me from typing up an expliciant filled rant in reaction to the game.

    I still have faith we can right the this ship that seems incredibly out of sorts.

    Other thoughts… I wonder why Ray’s having back spasms could it possibly be because we’ve played him way too many minutes up to this point?

    If last night showed me anything it’s why I don’t think we should trade Ray. If you ask me we missed him out there last night. Even if he’s not knocking down three’s right now, which he’s not. We just flat out missed him out there;.he has that ability to make everyone better.Trading him is hitting the panic but and I don’t think we need to panic yet… worry yes. Do something to fix what’s wrong now, yes.

    I just don’t like the look of this team presently without Ray on the floor or whoever we would get if we traded him.

  • hallik

    Remember before KG and Allen? It was TA and Paul, I rode with those guys then, I will ride with them through this. The thing is, we got used to winning. It should be shame on us right? At this point, I feel like maybe we should have expected this from ‘aging’ stars; it just seemed that it was going to hold up longer than it did. I still bleed green..GO CELTS!!

  • Cptn Bubbles

    I left out probably THE most important reason why KG should be reevaluated asap. If there is more damage there then I think that would DRASTICALLY change Danny’s thinking about trades. The trade deadline is upon us & other teams are antsy. Danny needs to work from facts not feelings. Scan it.

  • Zack

    I’m just going to float this out there. Any one else wonder about Doc Rivers as a coach? I mean the big three were super motivated the first year together, and last year to prove the first year wasn’t a joke but now everyone seems to have lost focus.
    Doc is talking out of both sides of his mouth by saying he will give youngsters a chance but then he plays Ray for 40+ minutes. He talks about rebounding but last night was the first time I saw our big free agent consistently trying to be a post presence. I love Doc, and I love his inbound plays, but this is the coach who has two of the longest losing streaks with two different teams.

  • hallik

    Doc inherited 3 championship hungry veterans. A Defensive beast in KG, who obviously changed the mindframe of the team before his arrival. I think the evolution of Rondo should be attributed to Rondo playing w/ the 3 more so than Doc’s coaching. However, it is unfair to place blame, but Doc should be held accountable for Direction and focus something that this team is lacking at this moment. Do I hate Doc as a Coach, no. Should he be replaced? Who Avery Johnson!?

  • KOD

    Well said, Zach. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of last year versus this year. It’s like night and day.

    I love the Celtics, but it has been tough to watch this once proud team cough up double-digit lead after double-digit lead on a regular basis. This is a veteran ball club, so Doc shouldn’t have to scream at this point. How many times does this type of collapse have to repeat itself before the players themselves collectively say “enough is enough” and just refuse to let it happen any more? When does that warrior mentality finally kick in? When does this team set aside all the injury excuses along with any other BS -and just goes out there with a surly attitude every night and takes care of business? When do they reestablish a home court advantage at TD Garden? When does KG start to regain some semblance of ability to move laterally and have his legs do what his mind and heart wants them to? When do the bigs get back to basics and just rebound the damn ball after the first missed shot? When does Rondo go back to playing complete shutdown defense on his man instead the poke and reach matador variety that allowed Collison to undress him last night?

    Plenty of other questions could be posed, as well. How they are answered will determine this teams’s fate. I have to believe that so long as KG is able to suit up and provide the heart and soul intensity that makes this team tick, that the Celts will have a fighting chance to turn this thing around and compete for a championship.

  • matthew

    I wanna stab my parrot in the eye because of the way these guys are playing!! Ech! I can’t believe I got the international league pass broadband just to watch this tragedy of a team.

    And that’s why, sadly, I’m giving up on the Celts… and will be rooting for a better team with a great future. Go Nets!

  • hallik

    Stab the parrot!! LOL

  • Pingback: Throwing some dimes: Celtics are ‘completely out of sorts’ : Celtics Town

  • CelticJay

    I’m just as frustrated as everybody. I remember the Dallas game last year; what really sealed the comeback in that game was KG’s defensive intensity. He nearly got tossed but he definitely got into Dirk’s head.

    KG simply does not have the same flexibility – especially moving to his left on D. Because the lift is no longer there, quicker players can beat him to the front of the rim. Also, he doesn’t have the speed to play high pick & roll D. I hope he gets more healthy because he TRULY is a warrior. Pierce is obviously hurt, not only is he moving slowly but he is afraid to go to the floor (especially after the collision with Caron Butler). Speed & Quickness don’t always show up in the stats but the opposition smells blood when they know the Celtics are lunging on D instead of playing with intensity. Either Rasheed or Big Baby has to be traded. Wallace refuses to post up low and battle. Even if you don’t shoot the ball you might get fouled and go to the line but more importantly you open up passing lanes & weak side shots for our cutters off the dribble like Ray Allen & Eddie Houde. My biggest frustration with the offense was once the # of illegal screens we were called for. The Celtics are very predictible, if I can see it I’m sure the opposition can too. I still don’t understand why Sheldon Williams hasn’t been given a chance. Trade Big Baby away. He is a very succeptible to mismatches and doesn’t have the speed or length to recover. His lack of defensive quickness has been covered up by KG’s movement & length for two years, we no longer have that luxury.

    After the All-Star break, I would start Rasheed and bring KG in as the 6th man. This tem has the talent but it’s embarrassing to see them not even compete.

    I bleed green too.

  • LuckoftheIrish

    I’m so depressed these days. Rondo has been playing inspired ball as of late, but Doc needs to be shipped.

  • johny

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=ykz7v2a

    if were gonna blow it up, why not start with a young heart of rondo ellis azubuike and perkins

  • Matt

    Poor parrot.

    The ’08 team was a perfect storm.
    Dominant team connected just at the right time. But time waits for no one, least of all athletes.
    The Celt’s will go back to the mean of the last 20 years, just making the playoffs to get beat by the rising teams. Cav’s, Hawk’s, Magic and Raptors.

    Well, you always have the Sox.

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