It can't get any worse than this, right?
With 6:01 left in the second quarter, the Boston Celtics led the Atlanta Hawks, 48-21. You would think a 27-point lead would be safe, right?
If you've followed this Celtics team for the last couple of years, you knew the answer to that question.
It's as if the Celtics try for a quarter or so just to say, "See, we can do it if we try." Then, for whatever reason, they can't, or don't want to, sustain the energy needed for an entire 48 minutes. The second half of the Atlanta game was replete with little movement from the Celtics on offense, not getting back on defense which led to easy fast break layups, and not being able to find Kyle Korver (eight three-pointers, all in the second half) on the court.
It's a problem which team president Danny Ainge has pointed out in radio interviews. He has expressed frustration at his team taking quarters, games, weeks, even months off. The veterans on the team seem to think they can coast through the regular season, satisfied with just getting into the playoffs, and then flip a switch come playoff time.
They may have been able to do it in 2009-10 when they coasted to a 50-32 record during the regular season and then managed to turn it on to make the Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
Even last year, the Celtics coasted to a 39-27 regular season record before turning it on the final month of the regular season and into the playoffs. They'd lose to the Miami Heat, again in seven games, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Bill Belichick preaches to his Patriots teams, "You play 60 minutes!" His teams are taught never to ease up on an opponent. He doesn't care if his team is up 49-10. Tom Brady stays in. Belichick keeps calling pass plays. Belichick goes for it on fourth down.
I don't blame Doc Rivers. He is doing all he can. I am starting to wonder if perhaps the team is beginning to tune him out. Rivers is in his ninth season as Celtics coach. This is his sixth season coaching Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo together. Possibly their minds are elsewhere when Rivers is imploring, almost begging, them during timeouts, "Come on, guys! Let's go!"
It might almost be understandable if a young team like, say, the Sacramento Kings would blow a 27-point lead. But not a team with players like Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo. Not a team that should be desperate for a victory after having lost five games in a row. And not against a hot-head team that was without it's third leading scorer, Lou Williams.
The situation begs the question: Are the Celtics in need of a facelift? No, but they need some psychological therapy.
I was a proponent of blowing this team up last year. Now, I almost feel as if it is too late. The Celtics have to stick with what they have. Doc Rivers just needs to figure out how the pieces fit. Should Jason Terry start or come off the bench? Is Brandon Bass salvageable? What role, if any, is Leandro Barbosa going to serve this team? Where does Courtney Lee fit? Where is this team going to get rebounding from? Is Jeff Green (averaging 8.3 points per game in January) a lost cause?
The talent is there. The veteran savvy is there. Doc Rivers, along with San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, is one of the top two best coaches in the NBA. Sure, there are some vulnerabilities (rebounding, interior scoring), but this team should be able to overcome those. They should be so much better. Or maybe they should've traded Pierce when I suggested it last year.