Make no mistake about it, the Celtics lost a winnable game last night. For most of the game, the Celtics played as their fans felt. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith put it best in a quick sideline interview with Comcast Sports Net’s sideline reporter Greg Dickerson when he said, “they’ll turn it around. Look, it’s 82-82 now, just watch this.” It was an easy assumption to make.
The Celtics were heavily favored. They had just handily defeated the projected Eastern Conference Champion the previous night and they were playing a Cavalier team with a lackluster roster. Despite all of the perceived advantages for the Celtics, the Cavaliers came out and beat them in nearly a wire-to-wire win. After the game, Ray Allen put it best (via the Boston Globe):
“You have to play four quarters,’’ Allen said. “It’s opening night for them. I just think we took them too lightly. We didn’t continue to execute and do the things we’re capable of doing for the entirety of the game. A call doesn’t go our way and then the game was tight and ended up going in their favor.’’
The Celtics absolutely took the Cavaliers too lightly. They neglected to plan for J.J. Hickson‘s athleticism. They allowed the Cavaliers to shoot open jumpers by not closing out hard. They felt they could run the Cavaliers out of the building and did not feel the need to execute their offense efficiently in the half court. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett both got caught trying to make SportsCenter’s Top Plays. Both committed turnovers that led to Cavalier points. Nate Robinson felt as if he could out-run and out-finish every Cavalier and missed three layups in the process.
Last night was not Celtic basketball.
Or was it.
Doc Rivers pointed out after the game something that should remain in the back of anyone’s mind who follows this team closely (same Globe Article):
“When we got a lead, you could see us relax, you could feel it,’’ he said. “It’s more the mental toughness part as a group. I didn’t like the way we played for a lot of the game. We’re a better team than that.”
They were a better team than “that” last year too. They still took games off during the regular season yet they still made it to the Finals. Most people agree that the Celtics cannot do what they did last year and still reach the Finals. They have to put at least a small amount of stock into the regular season if they want to get back to the Finals.
The second game of the season may not mean much now, but it should. As Zach Lowe pointed out back in August, the Celtics have 19 back-to-back games and a team’s winning percentage is already .430 for back-to-backs. Already at a disadvantage, this is all the more reason the Celtics need to hold on to these winnable games.
“I don’t think last night’s loss, in any way, means this team is diverting down the path it took last season. We can’t say that after just one loss. It had the makings of a perfect trap game”.
Calling last night’s game a “trap game” may be true, but it’s mostly just convenient. The Celtics flat-out lost a game due to lack of effort. What happens when they start to lose games due to injuries, stamina, age, athleticism…you get the point.
The Celtics need to stockpile wins while they still can and this is all the more reason why last night’s performance cannot become a habit.