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ZZZZZZ! Sleepwalking Celtics Give One Away To Thunder 89-84

 

ESPN Box ScoreDaily ThunderWelcome To Loud City

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.

Rondo hunts the court for a teammate who's not asleep

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.

Right?

  • Morpheus

    I'm embarrassed,pathetic effort and you're so right….sleepwalking. I'm not ready to put up with another season of half arsed efforts from the Cs when they play like they think opponents will just roll over.

    Full credit to the Thunder,they deserved the win, came to play and played hard.

    -KG was a no show

    - Baby choked the game away like it was his right and his inability to convert on easy baskets hurts us,i think Doc played him too much.He gave up easy offensive boards where Shaq would have easily grabbed.

    - Shaq was solid

    Some stupid shots down the stretch

    - I think the Cs just lacked the effort tonight,which is sad because we should be putting these games to bed early. We need that homecourt in the playoffs,no way we get it when we lose these

    • Chris O

      "- Baby choked the game away like it was his right and his inability to convert on easy baskets hurts us,i think Doc played him too much.He gave up easy offensive boards where Shaq would have easily grabbed. " – Agreed. Baby, also has this insane head case mentality when he gets to the foul line. Once he hits he keeps hitting his FTs. Once he misses he keeps missing as seen last night when he singlehandedly cost us 3 or 4 points down the stretch. 90%+ FT shooters don't do that. He still needs to grow up mentally.

  • Jamie

    Pierce has to get more then 13 shots to win that game. He gave it up too much in the 4th especially to Baby

  • I_Love_Green

    You don't even want my opinion on the game…

  • JCP

    Just a crazy game all around. Can't wait to see the statistical breakdown. What is the fewest number of field goals ever made in a quarter?

  • jang

    The Thunder may have beat the Celts tonight, but they don't have two guys that will be made into an immortal rock! We DO!!!

  • Phil

    I think the offensive stagnation down the stretch is a bigger deal than the non-effort. Both are old problems that are likely to reoccur more than a few times, but only the offensive struggles will actually matter once we get to the part of the season that actually matters. The effort is an easy focal point, but they completely shut a team down for the entire fourth quarter, and still lost. And it was a single digit lead for basically the entire game, it was never even close to out of reach, the Thunder gave the C's opportunity after opportunity to take the game, and they never did. It looked to me like the Celtics kept waiting for someone on the team to take the game over, and in lieu of Pierce not doing it per usual, time just ran out.

    Not that any of this is new, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't concern me a lot as we move forward with the season. The Heat game, where they were able to successfully trade baskets was a step in the right direction, but the problems are still there. I don't mind a few more no-shows as long as they find out something to do offensively at the end of games before the playoffs roll around.

    • Ryan DeGama

      I'm with you Phil. The crunch time offense is a real worry. Particularly because I think by the end of the year, we won't be thinking of Paul Pierce as a guy who can create and finish his shot against most good defenders at the SF position. He's lost something and it shows in how often he forces up contested jumpers from the elbow…

      • TedL

        The curious thing is that this offensive brain-lock is exactly what they'd manage to avoid the last few games. It was hard to watch them stink it up this way when you know they can play so much better.

  • http://twitter.com/M_DeVelaine @M_DeVelaine

    I'd love to enjoy my weekend after this sort of "We didn't deserve to win anyway" loss, but I have three days of ten-hour shifts for a weekend.

    As strange as it is to note that 7 assists is a season low and a bad game for Rondo, he's still not far off of John Stockton's record pace in the 89-90 season. Through the same number of games, Rondo's only 4 back of Stockton's pace. And Stockton only played 78 games that year. 81 is likely for Rondo, which is good, because according to Basketball Reference, Stockton had two 22+ assist games coming up, and a good number of "weak games" to end the season. I still hold out hope that he's going to make a serious run at that record, and I don't think the league will really be able to do much there.

  • MikeD

    Calling Pierce lethargic doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. He played very well, and has been remarkably efficient all season long. He is 33 years old, and once again deserves a spot on the all star team. His season has gone under the radar, but he is quietly having a 50 40 90 season. Tonight was not his fault in the least

  • http://twitter.com/geronimothomas @geronimothomas

    You know what is really F$#KED up about the current mindset in the NBA? Teams decide to "take the night" off because "it's the playoffs that count". Essentially you are telling the fans that PAY serious $$$ to go to the games that you don't care. F@#KING BS.

    I refuse to buy the "we're battle-tested veterans, we'll show up when it counts". You guys are making ridiculous money when most of your fans are not doing so well, and they show up every game – this team really needs a collective slap to the back of the head!!!!

    (starts breathing again)

  • rob

    I only have 3 things to say about this game…

    1. Big baby blew it by missing 3 free throws in the last 2 minutes
    2. I can't believe how wide open delonte was and still couldn't knock it down
    3. If i here the expression "if i told you that the (fill in here) are beating (fill in here) without (fill in here) you'd call me crazy i WILL throw the controller through the tv. It is quite possibly the most annoying I could ever hear

    • Chris O

      Yes Baby did blow it (not to blame just him). As I stated before once Baby misses one he gets all tweaked and misses a bunch. Its lack of mental toughness. Delonte I can't blame, even wide open a three is not the easiest shot to knock down with the game on the line.

  • JP-

    The Celtics didn't really show up until the 4th quarter, you cant win that way obviously. I thought Rondo would play better, given that he has the rivalry with Westbrook, maybe the feet are hurting him more than he is letting on? KG disappeared after he got that welt on his head, can't blame him too much, did you see the size of that thing! The Celts went away from Shaq who was dominant, not sure why. Thunder had not post presence and Shaq was killing them.

  • playingitout

    The approach of "it's just one bad game, fogetaboutit" is false comfort, friends, and here's why. We've seen this movie before, haven't we? Oh yes. All season long last year. And in the Finals this year, games 3 and 6. Especially game 6, which they just handed to the Lakers with nary a bead of sweat on their brows. This attitude is how they lose games — big AND small. If they can't learn the lessons of these debacles, they're doomed to keep losing games — big and small. You can say "fuhgetaboutit" when the game is small (November)… but the word(s) will not so easily pass your lips in June. So I think we SHOULD be worried now. Not because they lost a game in November, but because of HOW they lost it — disturbingly/disgustingly reminiscent of much more painful losses in the past — and possibly in the future, if they don't ever learn their lesson, finally.

    And is that lesson so hard? Really? So how come we all get it, and they don't?

  • Chris O

    "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)."

    -I wouldn't come to that conclusion. Rondo was actually looking good in the first half and then slowed down incredibly (especially since he had to come out of the game). He had 7 assists in the first half, and the 5 fouls are not indicative of how he did. At least two of those foul calls were blatantly wrong (where Rondo got all ball and no contact and they called a foul). Rondo also clearly controlled Westbrooks dribble except for when the Thunder set a pick (which then it is not Rondo's fault). A good example of how he D'd up Westbrook was the Ivey three. Rondo was picking that boys pocket twice same play and the ball just didn't bounce the C's way.

    • rav

      Also, Rondo seems to do fine against the other big/strong PGs like DWill, CBill etc.

  • torpid bunny

    On the one hand I can sort of understand a veteran, tested team being under motivated against a depleted squad, particularly after a big road trip. Honestly I look at their schedule and, based on the way they've been playing, the majority of their opponents don't even have a chance to beat them if the celtics decide they want to win. This is a team that can rip another team's heart out (see the Orlando series last year). So the problem for them is not deciding early on that they want to win. Every time that celtics have lost this year I thought they looked flat and unmotivated. LIke, "Do we really care about winning this game?" And it's easy to say they're old and need to take it easy, but how much harder, physically, is it to make the effort to win the game? I don't think it's very much harder. If guys aren't feeling up for it they should tell Doc and Doc can play somebody else, but don't go out on the court with the attitude of "I'm not sure I really care about winning this game."

    • Chris O

      Agreed, plus if they win more now they get more rest later in the eason. They need to try to lock up playoff positioning as early as possible.

  • phreesh

    Let's be honest here – yes, the Celtics D locked it down in the fourth, but when your opposition's tactical book reads "Give the ball to Westbrook and check out the cheerleaders for 24 seconds" it makes a strong defensive stand pretty easy.

    Plus, I bet you one *million* dollars that next practice Doc keeps Baby away from the Big Shamrock during FT practice.

    (BTW, I highly recommend 'Doc, Baby and the Big Shamrock' as a Christmas gift for the kids this year. Great read.)

  • torpid bunny

    On the bright side, overall this team looks better than even last year's playoff team. They're deeper, Shaq has been integrated surprisingly well, their offense is more fluid and flexible with a dominating Rondo. This could be a case of a team just overestimating how much it would need to beat the thunder, plus the early loss of Garnett took away the defensive intensity from the first half. But they needed to turn it up in the third, not the fourth.

  • Morpheus

    Exactly, i seriously seriously think that this should be their motto.

    "We Can't Win Number 18 If We Don't Have Homecourt Advantage"

    Putting this into perspective,it makes them play that much harder and forces them to take these "winnable" games seriously. Winning should mean everything to them and losing shouldn't be an option. You can't sleep walk 50% of regular season games and then decide to turn it up in the playoffs and expect to win on the road against an elite team like the Lakers in the finals,it didn't happen this June and it won't happen next June.

  • Greenman

    The thunder were just unbelievable in that game… hitting shots they normally wouldn't make if the rim came alive and swallowed them whole. Jeez, just crazy shots, really. The celts were bumming around, yes, and that basically culminated in the loss. Not that I'm sour-graping but I still think it was a lucky win for OKC.

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