The headline overstates it.
The good ship Celtics is not about to get swept under the waves. But it is taking on water.
So, everybody better get used to being wet.
True, the effort against the Hornets was far from impressive, and true, Doc Rivers seemed particularly perturbed at his starters (although if you parse his post-game comments, you’ll see he’s actually pointing the finger at Paul Pierce, Glen Davis and perhaps Nate Robinson, who finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists after a series of poor games).
But games like these are the price to be paid for having 60% of your starting rotation on the injured list.
Still, Pierce did underachieve. He turned the ball over six times, nearly lost it a seventh time on the final play (which was the oft-effective flare for Ray Allen off a pick), and made only three shots after halftime.
The captain ended up calling himself out after the game:
“Maybe Paul Pierce has to do a better job in stepping up his game,” Pierce said in third person. “I really didn’t come to play to today, evident when you look up, six turnovers, but we only lose by two. The responsibility is on the guys out on the floor.”
Pierce generally mans-up when he turns in a shoddy performance but I have to think this little self-analysis was prompted by some choice post-game words from Rivers, who isn’t about to let the absence of two all-stars (his most important players) and his elite defensive center lower expectations about where the check should go in the win-loss column.
It’s the only way to approach it. The team needs high expectations to have any chance of succeeding. But for fans and media, it’s a different story. We can more readily deal in what is, rather than what should be.
The real problem here is that against the majority of teams in this league, neither Pierce nor Allen can afford to have an off-game right now if the Celtics expect to win. Pierce has been superb in recent games, while Allen (30.3% on three-balls since Rajon Rondo’s ankle sprain) has been merely ordinary.
Rivers needs them both to bring it every night until some combination of Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Delonte West are back with the team.
- We shouldn’t be surprised if Rondo misses more than just another few games. There is no reason to rush him back besides desperation. Thursday on WEEI, Danny Ainge noted that his point guard was still experiencing pain on both sides of his ankle and wouldn’t play until he could play hard. Given how easily a severe ankle sprain can be re-aggravated, the C’s conservative approach to injuries and the organization’s orientation towards the playoffs above all, it would seem a bad idea to run him out this coming week, with so many games and key point guard matchups on the docket. Do you really want to see a tentative Rondo going one-on-one with Tony Parker (Wednesday) and the borderline un-guardable Derrick Rose (Saturday)?
- Marquis Daniels has responded brilliantly the last few games as he’s been forced into higher pressure situations and longer minutes. Once again, Daniels brought a controlled focus to his play and stuffed up the box score with 10 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and only 1 turnover in 25 heady minutes. Make no mistake, the C’s are going through a miserable stretch right now, but Daniels is finally looking like the player he was for the first month of the 2009-10 season. Imagine the the same Daniels you’ve been watching this last week playing with a fully healthy West on the second unit. It’s an exciting prospect for the Celtics.
- Rivers took the opportunity to flay Davis after the game, something we’ve seen little of this season, but that has been a regular occurrence since Davis came into the league. Let’s be honest here – Davis sucked in this game and took off afterwards before the media could rightly ask about his poor effort on defense and (anti) hero ball on offense. But Friday’s game aside, hasn’t Davis earned a single bad outing? Or even a terrible one? He has been tremendous all year. Even his harshest critics will give him that. If things go downhill for him this month, I think we can revisit this issue with suitable venom, but I’m willing to write off Friday’s problems as the inevitable byproduct of mentally tired players on a broke-down team making mistakes. Are you?
- Von Wafer. Rivers and Garnett must do some kinda voodoo because Wafer has impressed on the defensive end for about five games in a row. He looks like he’s completely bought into the Celtics’ defensive cult, even moreso than Robinson, who was this season’s previous success story (for a while, anyway). And Wafer has also shown hints of a useful off-the-dribble game. Color me intrigued if not expectant.
- Also, solid work from Jermaine O’Neal and Luke Harangody. Both put in good efforts; in particular it’s worth singling out Harangody who played his heart out and should gain confidence from being part of the key fourth quarter run that brought the Celtics back. Let’s hope so, anyway. He’s going to be needed as soon as tomorrow night in Toronto.
So, that’s a wrap for this one. Lots more coming this first weekend of the new year, including the Raptors game tomorrow, a look ahead at the rough waters to come in January later today, and our weekly look back at a classic Celtics game from the past.