BOSTON -- Had the Celtics turned their 90-89 loss the other way, had they been celebrating their exit from the floor, it all would have been a mirage. On a cold Sunday when neither they nor the Lakers looked capable of playing to June, the Celtics demonstrated how far they've strayed from their championship success of two years ago.
Are they finished as contenders? Of course not.
Can they recover their old form over the next two months? Maybe not.
Preceding losses at Orlando and Atlanta leaves the Celtics with a three-game losing streak against contenders and a 6-8 January record in which they were outscored in a dozen of those fourth quarters. They're playing like a team without a bullpen, like they believe bad things will happen.
"With five minutes left, we went into the stall mode offensively, walked the ball up the floor, took forever to run stuff,'' said Boston coach
It's not who they want to be. Just compare them to the Lakers: This victory said little about the defending champions that we didn't know already.
The only contender that is looking and acting like the real thing at the moment is the Cavaliers, who have already finished a season-sweep of the Lakers. The Lakers have been neither here nor there, but they prevailed Sunday because they don't have as much to fix over the second half of the season as their hosts. The Lakers opened up a 13-point lead by going early and often to center
The Celtics came back fast on the young legs of
When the Celtics were going hard to the basket in the second quarter, their 'Big Three' had nothing to do with it. Of course, those plays by Rondo and Tony Allen were creating enough time for him to update his Twitter at the three-point line before launching his uncontested shots. But, if the Celtics are playing hard and one or all of their triumvirate heart of Garnett, Pierce and Allen aren't in the middle of it, then doesn't it mean very little? Because Rondo and Tony Allen aren't going to carry Boston past Cleveland or Atlanta in May.
You're not going to read here that the Celtics are too old to contend, because they still have two months in which to recuperate from the knee injuries to Garnett and Pierce (who was scoped in late December yet missed only five games) and get their act together. Maybe they'll even make a midseason deal for
But any issue that doesn't involve Garnett, Pierce and Allen is a decoy that isn't worth mentioning. If the complaint is that
For those who think 23-year-old Rondo can offset the difficulties of the Big Three, take a look at the stats: The Celtics are asking too much of Rondo. He is averaging almost as many shots as Allen and Pierce, and he is shooting more often per game than Garnett. Which means that the Celtics have turned into -- and surely played Sunday as if they are -- a perimeter team.
The hierarchy won't make sense unless Garnett regains his legs, because at the moment he is an extended jump shooter who is being outrebounded by
"He's just having to adjust his game,'' said Lakers coach
Two years ago when Garnett, Pierce and Allen sat with Rivers in the Celtics locker room for the first time, they began discussing how each of them would adapt his game to the needs of the team. It is time now for another of those summits. Will Garnett play more in the low post until he grow agile? Will Pierce post up more often? Are there other ways to make the best of what they have left? Two years ago they held their summit from a position of strength and optimism; today they must make adjustments from their current state of weakness.