Danny Ainge was on WEEI this afternoon talking about Boston’s recent struggles. He made the point that in the Celtics’ loss to Memphis last night, the Grizzlies, in a hunt for their playoff lives, were playing like it was a playoff game. “I don’t think we are [lately],” said Ainge. “I think a lot of it is effort.”
Ainge also suggested his team wasn’t as attentive as it should be to the pursuit of the number one seed, their minds wandering perhaps, to the coming playoffs.
“I sense that when you watch us play, [the players] don’t understand the urgency of the games we’re playing right now,” said Ainge, specifying turnovers and offensive execution as prime culprits for recent struggles.
There’s been a ton of speculation the emotional impact of the Kendrick Perkins trade has sent this team into a funk. Over at the ESPN mother ship, Chris Sheridan and Marc Stein say exactly that:
Sheridan: Yes. The Perkins trade did a number on their chemistry, their bench is a collection of cast-offs whom the Heat, Mavericks and even the Nets didn’t want, and Shaq will not be in game shape when the playoffs arrive. Defensively, the Celtics are not what they once were.
Stein: Yeah. The self-proclaimed toughest team in the league is still feeling sorry for itself more than a month removed from the Perkins trade. Get over it, fellas. Danny Ainge didn’t make the deal because he didn’t believe in you. You guys aren’t supposed to be this fragile.
Ainge, however, assigns blame to something more tangible: ineffective play from Boston’s big four.
“Our main guys have to play really well,” said Ainge. “When they play average, then we’re an average team. It’s that simple to me.”
So, which is it? The starters playing poorly or an emotional morass? Or both?
Some thoughts, after the jump…
It’s indisputable the Celtics offense is under-performing right now and that can be laid at the starters’ doorstep. As Brian noted this morning, the first quarter has been a particular struggle, and the offensive efficiency numbers have sagged over the last 8 games.
But you can’t directly tie that to the trade without jumping through some hoops.
Remember, the Celtics’ offense has been mediocre all year. On the upper end of mediocre, yes, but mediocre nonetheless (Boston is 13th in the league in offensive efficiency). And even if the C’s hadn’t made the moves they did, they’d still probably be in an offensive slowdown.
Do we really think replacing Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green with Kendrick Perkins (and his standard 20%+ TOR) would help this team score points?
So are Stein and Sheridan completely wrong?
They might have a point if you’re willing to attribute the bad offensive (and periodically, defensive) output to the Celtics’ starters sulking. The theory being, then, that the big four are allowing themselves to be outplayed because they’re, what? Sad? Grumpy?
I’m far more inclined to tie the slump to things physical, like injuries and waning stamina, both catching up with an aged team 70 games into the season. Plus, and as Ainge notes, the bad games could just be the short term effects of a veteran team conserving energy and looking towards April instead of being fully engaged with what’s happening in March.
That doesn’t help with the quest for the number one spot in the east, or seeding for a potential finals rematch with the Lakers. But it might explain it.