Last night, I could not being myself to talk about the many many things the Celtics did wrong, did poorly, or were just incapable of doing. It was too painful. I needed to “sleep on it” as the saying goes. The only problem is that all my anger has been replaced by sadness and confusion.
I feel like the love of my life has just cheated on me and then asked, “what? what’s the big deal?” Let me clarify: in the larger context, this game is entirely meaningless. A first round match up against the Miami Heat or the Milwaukee Bucks is not exactly a do-or-die prospect.
In the pregame, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated was doing a little sideline reporting for CSN and he brought up an interesting point: without Bogut, the Bucks will undoubtedly go small. This means Ersan Ilyasova at the five and John Salmons at the four. Hmmm, where have we seen a 6’6″ swingman play power forward? Oh yeah, last night against the Knicks. I do not have time or the mental fortitude to go back and watch how many times Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace had a height advantage in the post; however, it is safe to say that it was any possession Earl Barron was not on the floor and any possession where Earl Barron was matched up with Kendrick Perkins. So essentially every possession.
So, why do I feel like a lover scorned? Because the Celtics actually tricked me into believing that they were going to win this game. The Celtics closed the gap in the third quarter by virtue of the Knicks allowing Tony Allen to get to the basket at will. Couple that with some timely cold shooting by Toney Douglas and Sergio Rodriguez, and there was no way the Celtics were not going to start pulling away.
They did not. Rodriguez eventually started hitting the corner three, Earl Barron continued his inside-outside domination, and Danilo Gallinari hit that ugly bank shot. Still, even after that prayer went in, the basketball Gods tried to intervene and bring the chaos to order: Gallinari saw the shot that would not have counted in a pickup game be knocked down a point. This gave the Knicks a one point lead, 102-101 with 36 seconds left. Again, the basketball Gods gave the C’s another gimmie: the perfect two-for-one situation.
The Celtics should had two chances to make one basket. If they miss this shot, they just have to play solid defense for 24 seconds and then try to win the game once again. So what happened? Paul Pierce drives right and throws a wrap-around pass to no one as Chris Duhon secures the loose ball. Terrible pass, but the Celtics are still okay…until David Lee reminds us that he is not just a great player on a bad team and makes a heavily contested layup on KG. After this make, seven seconds remain. Seven seconds is a long time for the Celtics, a team that is no stranger to late-game dramatics, to at least get off a good look. This is why the last seven seconds are so confusing.
Doc Rivers is the master of drawing up specific plays for specific situations and the Celtics are masters at executing these plays. Why would a team with seven seconds left inbound the ball, dribble in place, try and pass to a guy who is covered and then eventually skip pass the ball to the other wing as time expires? They wouldn’t. To make matters worse, none of what the Celtics did on the final play was part of their identity. Ray Allen inexplicably about-faced while moving without the ball instead of using the Rasheed Wallace screen for an skip-pass open three — a play Celtics’ fans have seen a million times and have seen run successfully half a million times. There was no reason for Ray to backtrack. Duhon was attempting to go over the screen but was still going to get floored by Wallace, and Earl Barron was defending Pierce from the opposite block. There was no way Barron was going to be able to recover to block/contest Ray’s three attempt. Adding to the misery, Rajon Rondo skipped the ball to Rasheed Wallace as time expired instead of trying to shake his defender and get a shot up to the rim. He was defended well by Lee but anything would have been better than a shot after the buzzer.
So Rondo and Ray both picked a bad time to have a brain fart. If that were the only issue, I would be having a much easier time dealing with this loss. I am going to break down a few more of my objections in bullet form.
- I am not a psychologist but I play one at parties — especially if there is an armchair handy. After witnessing almost every game this season, I cannot remember when I interpreted the collective mindset of this team as flat-out apathetic for 48 minutes. Throughout the first half, Rondo attempted to impress the SportsCenter anchors with an array of zip passes no one could handle and some fancy dribbling that provided no advantage. Trust me, I love the passes and the dribbling, but not in a close game. I understand Rondo’s thinking: the Celtics are playing a team that doesn’t play defense and a win or loss doesn’t matter in the long or short run. The “doesn’t matter” part reared it’s ugly head a lot last night. The Celtics have been accused of being “bored with the regular season” and after last night, I finally buy it. The Celtics played last night as if they knew that no matter the outcome, they would still be considered the better team. No one in their right mind would suggest the Knicks are a better team than the Celtics. In the Celtics’ eyes, and in their pride, this game did not matter. The only issue I have with this sentiment, is that this game mattered me. It mattered to you and the Celtics owed their fans something better than last night’s performance.
- After the game I tried to take solace in a few things that normally bring me at least a modicum of joy. I threw on last night’s episode of Lost I had to DVR because of the timing of the game. Man, is that show terrible! Remember when these cast-aways were walking around an island finding really cool stuff? Yeah, I don’t blame you if you don’t because this show has needed to die for the past three seasons. So after sitting through yet another Lost episode that unsurprisingly crammed in way too much information that did not build off a single thing that happened this season, I turned back to basketball. I cracked open Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball I have been plodding through since I finished Jackie MacMullen’s When the Game was Ours (read it! read it! read it!), and read the following gem:
Ranking the 2008 MVP candidates only by [the hypothetical effect a decent player at his position would have on the team’s record], [Chris] Paul ranks first, Kevin Garnett second, LeBron James third, Kobe Bryant fourth, and Earl Barron fifth. (224)
Oh man does that hurt. The “Earl Barron” part being a clear joke. Simmons needed to pick someone who would seem so outrageous that it would elicit laughter from even the biggest Earl Barron fans (who I assume are his parents). I have chronicled before how the Celtics take ordinary players with mundane talents and make them superstars, and they continued this disturbing trend last night with Earl Barron. This guy was not even in the league ten days ago and lit the Celtics up with elbow jumper after elbow jumper, finishing with 17 points and 18 rebounds.
- Tony Allen and Michael Finley were the lone bright spots in the game with an honorable mention going to Glen Davis. Finley did what he was supposed to do and hit open shots. TA was aggressively attacking the basket and finishing, getting to the line, and did not make any bonehead plays (although he was close a few times). Davis had a nice box score line but looked so gassed at times and really could not stay with any of the Knicks’ perimeter forwards.
- Danilo Gallinari had a huge game. From a talent standpoint, this is not all that surprising as this kid can really stroke it from the outside. Still, he should not be able to do that against players that only one game before, limited LeBron James (I’ll just leave it at “limited”). I get that James and Gallinari are different players in terms of strengths, thus defensive schemes are different. That, however, works both ways. James is a far better player than Gallinari so should the defensive let-down was all the more surprising.
That’s all I can muster right now. There is plenty more but it doesn’t matter. The Celtics take on Toronto tonight and I actually expect a win. Not because I am getting back with my cheating girlfriend, but because it is Toronto and Bosh is likely out.
I hate to say it, but ‘Sheeds’ blow up may have been a tipping point for this team. That may have been the exact point where Doc River’s lost his influence on this team. Say what you want about Doc, but without him, this team goes nowhere.
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