Pace: 92 possessions (very slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 91.3 points/100 possessions (awful)
Defensive Efficiency: 96.7 points allowed/100 possessions (elite)
With just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter of an 89-84 loss to the injury-depleted Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Celtics finally woke up for good. They’d been only periodically conscious through the previous 39 minutes, treating the majority of the first half as though it were an uncontentious jog up and down the court before they got to claim the victory that was rightfully theirs.
Over those final nine minutes, the Celtics, motivated perhaps by repeated verbal blasts of No-Doze from Coach Doc Rivers, played suffocating defense, knocked down a few shots and had Delonte West’s three-pointer found mesh in the closing moments, might have been lucid enough to pull this one out in overtime.
As it was, the story of this movie is similar to one Celtics fans watched over and over and over in the second half of last season.
But rather than lament the soft closeouts on jump shooters in the first half (allowing OKC to knock down 13 traditionally low-percentage mid and long range shots), or the lack of activity on the offensive boards (only 3 despite 44 points in the paint and an essentially unguardable Shaquille O’Neal once he’d established position) or the overt mockery of the team’s stated intent not to phone in games this year – let’s focus on a different question.
It’s one of the following four.
A) Have you noticed how Rajon Rondo consistently struggles with bigger, stronger PGs like Russell Westbrook? (Westbrook had 31 points and Rondo finished with 5 fouls and a season-low 7 helpers).
B) Does Paul Pierce think we’re going to let his thunderous third quarter dunk distract us from the lethargic effort he put forth up until that point? (Okay, it was pretty awesome).
C) Why wasn’t Kevin Garnett working over the thin Thunder frontline all night? (we will issue partial credit for – ‘because he had a Muggsy Bogues size welt on the back of his head’).
It’s none of those, nor any other snarky question I have about Ray Allen or anyone else who didn’t play assertively tonight.
The question I’m focused on is:
D) Did this game tell us anything about the Celtics we didn’t already know?
Because I’m having trouble getting too worked up about this loss.
Last spring’s playoff run was not just penance for the miserable 2010 portion of the regular season, but also a prescient reminder of how little these non-statement regular season games matter to these particular Boston Celtics. Or at least to the players. I assumed Doc’s training camp pronouncements about the importance of home-court advantage in the playoffs were no more than inspirational blather. I never thought his players would actually listen. And I assumed the same thing of Danny Ainge‘s comments on WEEI on Thursday, where he lamented his team’s tendency to play down to the level of its opposition.
Rivers on tonight’s non-effort: “Give them [OKC] credit. They played so much harder for three and a half quarters… They were active, athletic, played hard. They really deserved to win the game quite honestly. If we’d have won the game I would’ve been happy with the win but known that we didn’t deserve the win. So we didn’t.”
And Pierce: “We just didn’t come with the right mindset from the start. I think we kind of eased into the game, and then once when we got into the game we’re down, trying to claw our way back in. That’s what happens when you got a team who’s desperate without two of their best players [Kevin Durant and Jeff Green]. You give the other guys confidence, and you can get surprised any given day in the NBA.”
If there’s one thing we know about our Boston Celtics, it’s that once they figure out how good they can be, they’re going to ease up on the throttle. Maybe 9-2 was all it took.
And maybe they’re right…
Let’s be clear here – there’s no doubt the Boston Celtics are a better team than the Oklahoma City Thunder. You could see exactly how much better in the fourth quarter, when they choked off all those midrange jumpers that had fallen earlier in the game and held the Thunder to 12 points and 0-15 shooting down the stretch. You could see sharper man-to-man defense and rotations, more battling on the boards, and the opposition struggling to find a decent look in the dying seconds of the shot clock.
They can do this anytime they want on the defensive end (the offensive end is another story entirely). They just didn’t bother for half of tonight’s game. And they couldn’t pull it out of the fire.
So, that’s it, huh? The whole game was pointless?
We did learn a couple of interesting things tonight.
1. Doc Rivers trusts Delonte West. When Rondo went down for the night after barreling his way into an offensive foul, Rivers inserted West and let him run the point. He got beaten a couple of times by Westbrook but, overall, acquitted himself well. We’re going to see a lot more of West in high-leverage situations as the season plays out.
2. Doc Rivers will bring in Shaq down the stretch in a close game. I thought it a strong move to bring the Diesel back into the game when the sputtering Boston offense needed a kick. They went away from him too much in the third quarter. He remains a game-changer for short stretches, free throw woes and all.
So, that’s it for tonight. I’m sure more than a few people will be ready to rip this team (for the same reason a whipped dog runs away if you get too close to it; it’s used to being mistreated).
But I say relax – enjoy your weekend.
Celtics-Raptors on Sunday. That’s a guaranteed win.