The Celtics have problems. That’s pretty obvious. But one thing that has clearly dug under the skin of both Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers is the Celtics continued propensity to be… lazy. Check out the quotes yesterday… first from Danny
“A frustrating thing that I’ve had with this team over the last two years, not just this year — matter of fact it might be less this year than it was last year — as we got off to a really bad start and we turned it on later in the year as we came together. And the year before we went all the way to Game 7 in the NBA Finals after going 27-27. So, I think that that’s our pattern and that’s frustrating, again, that we’re on cruise control, and trying to turn it on when we think we have a chance to win and our fourth quarters are more intense than other parts of the game. Are we understanding how hard it is to win games in the game of basketball, in the NBA right now? You can’t just show up to play, but you have to show up to win, and winning is much harder.”
“… we have to be better. I have to prepare them better. They have to come ready. They have to come with the right intentions, the right focus. So, there’s a lot of things we can improve to improve our team. And it’s a long season to do it, but you can’t wait for it. You’ve got to do it now.”
The emphasis in both quotes is mine.
In some ways, the Celtics’ late success is coming back to haunt them now. Last season, they went into the All Star break with a losing record but still surged to within a game of the NBA Finals. And while you can argue that a few more early wins would have given the C’s home court and a better chance to win… you can just as easily argue that a few breaks one way or the other and the location of that Game 7 wouldn’t have mattered.
The Celtics look better this year than they did at the start of last year’s season. They do look like they’re trying harder this year than last. But it’s obviously not enough…. not if both Doc and Danny are saying these things. And Doc’s “soft” comments about this team are telling. He’s backing off them now a little because, I think, they were both an emotional outburst after a horribly frustrating game, and offensive to some of the guys in the locker room,especially Kevin Garnett, who didn’t seem to enjoy the comments in the least bit.
“I don’t really want to say that we’re soft, because there’s men in here. Where I’m from you don’t call another man soft. … Coach’s assessment, it is what it is. Whether you take it as criticism or he’s trying to make us better, it’s your call.”
But it’s still telling. Doc isn’t happy with his team’s effort. He’s very unhappy about being pushed around under the basket and teams killing the Celtics with second chance points. We’re approaching an almost-comical point with the Celtics rebounding where other teams might be better off flinging up shots early and just crashing the boards for easy put-backs rather than run an offense against the C’s defense.
Rebounding, as they say, is an effort stat. The two best rebounders on the team are Kevin Garnett (15.8 rebounding percentage), who is a 36 year old converted center who will barely play 30 minutes a game nowadays.. and Jared Sullinger (15.1), a 20 year-old rookie who is still learning the NBA game and can’t really give you extended minutes. That puts a lot of pressure on the other guys to step up their rebounding game…. and honestly… it’s not there.
And it’s not just rebounding. It’s a general “effort” thing. The Oklahoma City win was as damning as it was encouraging. We saw what an energized team is capable of. We saw the cleaner rotations and more suffocating defense that has come to define the Celtics in recent years.
But then we see crap. And it’s hard to tell if this is just temporary crap sometimes, or if the Celtics we thought we’d see were a mirage. Judging from what Doc and Danny are saying, they expect the Celtics to reach for that proverbial switch… again. At some point, though, the lights won’t come on.