Commentary

Celtics in for a wakeup call

With the Spurs and Thunder visiting, Doc's crew must surpass mediocre

Updated: November 20, 2012, 10:24 PM ET
By Peter May | ESPNBoston.com

They've been hard to gauge, but, as Bill Parcells always liked to point out, you are what your record says you are. The Celtics' 6-5 record says they are barely above average. That about sums it up after 11 games.

Looking at the overall numbers, Nate Silver would have trouble twisting this one any other way: The Celtics are mediocre, maybe even less than mediocre. After Monday night's games, the Celtics find themselves 18th in points allowed and 17th in points scored. They are 24th -- yes, 24th! -- in defensive field goal percentage and fourth in field goal percentage. They are -- spoiler alert! -- dead last in rebounding, with an absolutely pathetic average of 6.8 offensive rebounds a game. Alas, they are third in assists and fourth in fewest turnovers per game.

[+] EnlargeTim Duncan and Kevin Garnett
Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesOn Thanksgiving Eve, the Celtics face Tim Duncan and the Spurs, who are coming off a rare home defeat to the Clippers.

This blah-ness (or, as my daughter would call it, bleh-ness) has come despite a schedule that hasn't been all that demanding in terms of competition (seven games in 10 days is another matter). One-third of their six victories have come against a team that still hasn't won a game. All but one of their victories have come against teams that either didn't make the playoffs last season (Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee) or one that snuck in as a No. 8 seed and was promptly dispatched (Utah). Even the one victory over a playoff team (Chicago) carries an asterisk of sorts in that the Bulls were without their No. 1 and No. 2 point guards.

All of which provides a seamless segue into what looks like a daunting week ahead for Doc Rivers' lads.

The Jazz have been the only Western Conference team to grace the Celtics' schedule to date (every other Eastern Conference team has played at least two; Detroit has played eight; Miami, seven). That changes with visits this week by a couple of conference titans, the venerable San Antonio Spurs on Thanksgiving Eve and the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder on Black Friday/Leftovers Day.

It's way too early to call these games a test. Maybe a wake-up call would be more appropriate, given that the Celtics have at times looked as though they prepared for a game by watching "The English Patient." What's beyond dispute is that these are easily the best two teams the Celtics have faced since Opening Night in Miami. (Sorry, Brooklyn, but it's true.)

The Spurs and the Thunder are among the top five in the tough Western Conference. Both beat the Celtics in Boston last season; San Antonio's one-point win came as the Celtics were making their late-season run.

The Spurs will be spitting nails for this one, and not because of anything the Celtics have said or done. They are coming off a rare home defeat to the Clippers (who are responsible for two of their three defeats), a loss that prompted longtime coach Gregg Popovich to observe, "we were an embarrassment." The Spurs also will be short-handed; starting small forward Kawhi Leonard is out with quadriceps tendinitis and his replacement, Stephen Jackson, broke his right pinkie finger against the Clippers.

"The Spurs are back to where they were when Richard Jefferson was in San Antonio; they don't have a small forward,'' wrote the estimable Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News. Ouch.

But the Spurs still have Tim Duncan, who's averaging a double-double in 30-plus minutes a game. They still have Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They still have Matt Bonner, who will have his own cheering section from Concord, N.H. They beat you by outscoring you, not stopping you. It's been that way for a few years.

It is the first game of a six-game road trip for San Antonio, with marquee bookend games (Boston, Miami) and a lot of flotsam and jetsam in between (Indiana, Toronto, Washington, Orlando.)

[+] EnlargeKevin Martin
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Martin (17.6 ppg) has helped the Thunder forget all about the loss of James Harden. Boston faces the defending Western Conference champion on Friday.

The Thunder, with old friend Kendrick Perkins, will also prep for the Celtics with a home game against the Clippers. OKC has adjusted to the loss of James Harden with newcomer Kevin Martin providing Hardenesque scoring (17.6 ppg). Kevin Durant (a career-best 10.5 a game) has picked it up on the rebounding side and Russell Westbrook (a career-best 8.4) has picked it up on the assists side. He already has four double-digit assist games, as many as he had all last season.

Both Durant and Westbrook are averaging more than 20 points a game; the Thunder are one of three teams with two 20-point scorers. The others are the Lakers (Kobe and Dwight Howard) and the Blazers (LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum). The Thunder are second in scoring (behind Miami) but also are 26th in turnovers, committing 16.8 a game.

Serge Ibaka continues to be a menace defensively, leading the NBA in blocked shots a game. Perk, meanwhile, is averaging only a pitiful 4.6 rebounds a game and has yet to collect as many as 10 a game. He has made headlines lately for getting ejected in a dust-up with Memphis' Zach Randolph, a dispute that Randolph continued postgame and for which he was fined $25,000.

Both the Spurs and the Thunder had 8-3 records heading into Wednesday. They, too, are what their records say they are: among the best in the West and in the NBA. The Celtics? A couple victories would put them back in the "among-the-best-in-the-East" discussion. But that also would require something we've seen precious little of this season: an engaged, committed, determined and smart performance over 48 minutes. Insert your favorite turkey line here.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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