It's been a while since we've seen full-blown panic in the mailbag, but the Celtics' head-shaking loss to the New Jersey Nets Saturday inspired full-scale alarm among some readers.
Going through this week's mail, the only thing we could think of was the scene in "Semi-Pro" when Will Ferrell's character Jackie Moon screams, "Everybody panic! It's just like the Titanic, but it's full of bears!" That about sums up the mood of Boston fans after losing to the worst team in basketball.
But there is no easy fix at this point and it's up to the Celtics to simply pull themselves together over the final 24 games of the season. Can the team flip the switch it so often suggests it will find, or will it be lights out early in the postseason? While we wait for the answer, let's tackle your questions.
Q: This nonsense has got to stop. First of all you have three of the best players in the league in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, and you are still losing. Second, it was a stupid move getting Nate Robinson because Eddie House is such a better player. And, third of all, the Celtics just lost to the Nets. They have six wins and 52 losses. The Celtics should be killing them every time they play, and also they were at home. The Garden is one of the most energetic places to play. Start winning or pack up early. -- Nick (Kennett Square, Pa.)
A: Yep, that's this week's mailbag in a nutshell. I can just feel the rage and incredulousness coming from Nick's keyboard. But wait, Carl from Boston wants to grab the hate baton...
Q: The Celtics are so horrible right now. They have so many issues, beginning with the play of KG, he's been dragging his leg for half the season. He looks soft. I've watched all the games so far this year and, in tight games in the fourth quarter, guys have been blowing by him with ease, no problem. There have been times me and my mother watch games and, by halftime, the Celtics are winning by 11. I go grab a bite to eat and by the time I get back they are losing by 11 and lose the game by 20 at home. Rasheed Wallace plays no defense whatsoever. I watch him closely, I would rather have him play solid defense, rebound, and try to block some shots then watch him shot 3's all day. Kendrick Perkins made a comment about them being bored with the regular season, but they are 0-5 at home against the top teams (Atlanta, Cleveland, Orlando). That doesn't make any sense at all because they could lose in the first round of the playoffs. Then what? You got bored playing the Raptors? Do me a favor, Chris, ask these guys the hard questions. Let them know Boston fans are getting ready for Opening Day of the Red Sox because, if you ask me, the Celtics are done. KG can retire after next season and take Rasheed with him. He plays no D. -- Carl (Boston)
A: Not even going to lie, had to clean that one up a bit. Pretty sure Carl sent that from his mobile device before throwing it straight off a cliff. Fans are OK with losing when the team doesn't deserve to win. They're not OK with losing when the team clearly boasts the talent to win games (particularly ones against the likes of the Nets). Oh, hey, wait, Simo from Boston's got some venom, too...
Q: I still don't understand what happened to this C's team? Is the fame getting to the Big Three's heads? Are they getting old? Or are other teams simply getting better? I don't see the necessity of Nate Robinson on this team, what did he bring to the table yet? Nothing. Celtics need to practice hard, work on free throws, as well as jump shots. It is killing me the the way they are missing shots, not penetrating, losing the ball. I swore after the Nets game I will not watch the Celtics again until they fix themselves and play better basketball. -- Simo (Boston)
A: Did Tuesday's win do anything for you, Simo? At least Nate Robinson gave you a reason to climb back from the ledge on that trade, no? Sure, the starters still looked awful, but a win is a win is a win. Let's see how the Celtics bounce back tonight on the second night of a back-to-back. Will the energy be there against a young and athletic Charlotte squad?
Just kinda angry
Q: When are these guys going to stop talking and actually get stops on defense? I watched the Cleveland game and this team quit in the second half. They played a great first half and thought the Cavs were going to stay in the locker room. This team is headed for a first-round playoff exit (especially if the Hawks get them). -- Leonard (Philadelphia)
A: The Celtics and Hawks are unlikely to meet in the first round unless the wheels come off for one of the teams, but your larger point is taken. More concerning than the second-half meltdown against Cleveland -- arguably the best team in the league -- is how Boston has given up 100 points in five straight games, including against the worst (New Jersey, 90.2 points per game) and second-worst (Detroit, 92.6 ppg) scoring offenses in the NBA. (Incidentally, the third-worst offense? Tonight's opponent, Charlotte at 94.9 ppg.) It is frustrating to hear the Celtics talk about needing to be a better defensive team -- getting back to what made them so good two years ago -- then give up triple digits on a nightly basis. That needs to change for this team to have any success moving forward. Remember when we were talking about this team and the 1985 Bears?
Q: I know next year won't be addressed until May or June, but do you think there is any possibility that Doc Rivers will not be back as coach in 2010-2011? Coaches have a limited shelf life, and there appear to be some signs -- to me, anyway -- that perhaps the players have tuned Doc out. You can't fire 11 players, but you can fire one coach. Thoughts? -- Joe (New York City)
A: Coaches are far too often the fall guys when a team struggles (Just ask Byron Scott, who went from Coach of the Year to unemployed in the blink of an eye). That's not exactly new in sports, that's just the way things go. But Celtics players have been adamant that their recent struggles have nothing to do with Rivers. Even Rasheed Wallace noted that, "Doc's not out there on the floor with us." It's up to the players to execute what's being presented to them. Now, a coach does have to be able to properly motivate his players and keep them marching towards the ultimate goal. It's on Rivers to bring the best out of this team and keep them accountable. If that's simply not possible, he needs to make the changes that do give this team the best chance to win. Barring a complete flop (first-round sweep?), I see Rivers at the helm for the foreseeable future.
Q: It is not the players, it is Doc Rivers. He handed the Cavs the game by playing our 7-11 players in the fourth quarter and the last of the third. He never played Tony Allen in the second half -- he played Scal for most of second half. It is Rivers and his terrible rotations and subs. The starters played hard today, but they sat on the bench more. Fire Rivers. -- Susie (Boston)
A: Not sure I agree and you've got a few facts wrong. The starters were on the court at the start of the second half when Boston let Cleveland back into the game. The subs didn't stop the bleeding, but by the time Glen Davis checked in for KG, it was a five-point game with 3:45 to go in that third frame. Tony Allen entered a short time after and Boston still led by one going to the fourth quarter. When the starters came back in, Cleveland was only up four, and the Cavs motored away with 6:07 to play and the starters unable to limit Mo Williams beyond the arc. As Danny Ainge said after that loss, the starters have to be held more accountable for the team's struggles.
Q: Do you think the C's are actually bored with the regular season? Or officially too old and unhealthy? -- Nick (Savannah, Ga.)
A: Is there a secret Celtics fan club in Georgia? Half the mail in this week's bag seemed to come from around the 30301 zip code. You guys know you've got a pretty good team in the Hawks, right? Anyhow, I do think the Celtics are bored. I think Rivers said it best at the beginning of the season when he noted that Boston's biggest opponent would be itself and getting psyched up for the rigors of an 82-game campaign. Let's face it, this team's goal is to win an NBA championship and you can't do that in the regular season. But you can lose one, and if this team doesn't at least start positioning itself for postseason success, it can only blame itself. Age and health have most certainly played a role in their struggles this season, but Boston can hardly lean on that when they can't get motivated even with a healthy lineup.
Q: How would you rate Danny Ainge as a general manager since the title in 2008? I think overall he is a poor GM. He has not strengthened the Celts as much as other top teams in the East. He seems to draft to the team's strengths, instead of drafting for need or weakness. I think he is a big reason for the Celtics' slide (no bench for ailing and aging "Big Three"). -- Phillip (Lawrence, Kansas)
A: Ainge's moves have been the least of Boston's problems. Let's focus on this season: Hamstrung by the cap, he still managed to bring back Glen Davis at reasonable money, signed Marquis Daniels to what might be the best value deal of the offseason, and obtained Rasheed Wallace (and it's hard to blame Ainge for his struggles; we all expected more from Wallace). Ainge didn't have much to work with in the draft and there's no shame in the fact that Lester Hudson didn't stick here -- he hasn't cracked the Memphis lineup either lately. Ainge put this team in position to win before the season, then identified a need for an energy guy off the bench with the addition of Nate Robinson at the deadline. What's more, he locked up Rajon Rondo earlier this season. Much like Rivers, I don't think you can fault the general manager for the players' struggles. Ainge does face the unenviable task of trying to shape this team for the future with an aging core and limited cap flexibility.
Who let this guy in?
Q: I don't know why everybody is stressing about Saturday's loss. The Nets have a losing record but they are still professional basketball players. I was as disappointed about the loss as any other, but everybody has good games and everyone has bad ones. -- Dominique (Augusta, Ga.)
A: Hey, take your reasonable thinking elsewhere, pal. Sports fans reserve the right to overreact to everything, particularly losing to the worst team in the league. (Truth be told, we don't necessarily disagree with you. These things happen. Still inexcusable, but it's not like the Celtics lost to the Brockton High varsity team. As Kendrick Perkins stressed after the loss, they're still an NBA team with an All-Star-caliber talent in Brook Lopez. These things happen. You can only hope it serves as yet another wake-up call for the Celtics).
Q: Why would the old-leg Celtics want to bring Mike Finley into the fold? -- Steve (Springfield, Mass.)
A: To make Rasheed Wallace look young by comparison? (Rimshot) Finley turns 37 on Saturday and it's clear he's on the decline as his numbers have tumbled this season. But given that the team has two open roster spots, what's the harm in adding a veteran with championship experience to this locker room? I actually very much like the possibility of adding Finley. What's more, you'll almost certainly get a two-week honeymoon period, where Finley can turn back the clock for a handful of games and maybe help the team get an extra win or two down the stretch. The one caveat is that he has to understand that playing time is not guaranteed come playoff time. The Celtics can't promise him anything when his play this season hasn't warranted any such guarantee.
Q: What seed do you think the Celtics will be in the playoffs? -- Bill (Hartford, Conn.)
A: Looking at the Celtics' home-heavy schedule over the final 24 games, and seeing a lot of the weaker teams in the league coming to town, the instinct is to suggest that this squad should pad its record and, dare I say, even compete for the second seed in the Eastern Conference (Boston is four games behind Orlando in the win column, having played four fewer games than the Magic). But it's hard to write that with any conviction since this team has been riddled with inconsistent play. So we'll guess it's more likely that Boston sneaks past Atlanta (one game back in the win column, one fewer game) and lands at No. 3. Ironically, if the playoffs were to start today, the No. 6 seed that the Celtics would be matched up against in the first round is the Bulls. Anyone want a replay of last year's series? Even if Boston were to slip to the fourth seed, Toronto is the current No. 5 seed, and one thing Boston has done consistently is beat the Raptors. Things get interesting in the second round. By shimmying up to the third seed, the Celtics are more likely to see the Magic than the Cavaliers in the conference semifinals, something alone that should have them playing their best ball over the next six weeks.
Q: Why don't the Celtics try giving Sheldon Williams a chance? I know he's an end-of-the-bench guy, but, hey, the Celtics are desperate at this point (they lost to the Nets), so they might as well give it a shot. Oh, and change your picture by the way. LOL. -- James (Woburn)
A: It's funny, watching Williams turn in a serviceable effort Tuesday night against the Pistons, I kept thinking, "Oh geez, all these, 'More Shelden!' folks are going to be insufferable in this week's mailbag and chat. As Rivers summed it up after the game, Boston is fortunate to have guys like Williams and Brian Scalabrine who can log two weeks worth of DNPs, then pop off the bench in a pinch and give you 15 quality minutes. That can't be undervalued in this league. But in the end, that's what these guys are here for. I know people keep wanting the Shelden Williams circa 2005-06 (18.8 points, 10.7 rebounds his senior year at Duke), but it just hasn't transferred over to the pro game. Enjoy him for what he is.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.