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Thursday, April 1, 2010
C's Mailbag: On and off the bandwagon

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

There's nothing like a couple of humbling losses to add a little fire to the Celtics Mailbag. Readers appeared content with the team's progress until Boston got stomped by the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

Then Wednesday's loss to the upstart Thunder only made fans wonder if this team is truly capable of competing for a championship if it can't find a way to beat a young team at home in a playoff-like atmosphere.

Eight games to go and there's still a ton of questions about this team. But if you've been jumping on and off the bandwagon lately, coach Doc Rivers would like you to pick a seat.

Rasheed Wallace
Despite a decent showing Wednesday against the Thunder, Rasheed Wallace's play continues to frustrate fans.

"You don't have to be [optimistic] -- I am," said Rivers. "I don't care what [the media thinks]. I really don't. I look at our team and, you know, we played one bad night. We were playing great up until two games ago. Were you optimists three games ago? Either you're on the bandwagon or you're off. I tell guys that all the time. That's the way I think. And that's how our team should think. I'm not going to spend time trying to convince you to dislike us or like us. That's up to you guys. Our team has to just keep working. We can't stay in the past."

Enjoy the highs, weather the lows. That's the 2009-10 season in a nutshell for Celtics fans. Let's start this week's mailbag with the despondent:

Q: As a lifelong Celtics fan, this has been a very frustrating season. To me -- and I watch nearly every game on TV -- they are very uninspired and the injury thing is no excuse to me. Besides being healthy, what is the most important factor for them to be a viable playoff contender? -- Rob (Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada)

A: At the risk of oversimplifying things, it might truly be that health is the key to Boston's success. Even Wednesday's loss to the Thunder proved that Boston, despite some defensive woes, which I think we can all agree is the easiest thing for this team to work out, is capable of playing extremely well with all of its guns available. For a while, the starters and bench both had it clicking, a product of having normal roles restored with a healthy starting five.

Rivers remains steadfast in his assertion that Boston was the healthiest it's been at the start of the year, when they not-so-coincidentally started the season at 23-5 overall. Injuries have certainly played a part in their struggles ever since. The idea is that players had roles in which they excelled and injuries forced everyone to assume new roles. It's only recently that the Celtics have fallen back in line, even if injuries to Kendrick Perkins and Paul Pierce have forced the team to modify on the fly yet again. But games like Wednesday night against the Thunder should actually give fans optimism, particularly about the bench's potential, something that can't be undervalued in the postseason.

Q: Ask Doc Rivers when he is going to coach. He does nothing to coach, he just sits there. Trade him! -- Susie (Boston)

A: Did you really just suggest trading a coach? And when exactly does Doc actually sit? He's always pacing a path in front of the Celtics' bench?

Wait, Susie wasn't off her soapbox quite yet. This came in a minute later&

Q: Rasheed Wallace is just lazy. He does not defend, he does not rebound offensively. He just hangs at the 3-point arc instead. He does not even sweat! -- Susie (Boston)

A: Susie's comments came in after the lopsided loss to San Antonio, so maybe she's humming a different tune after Wallace's performance Wednesday. We'd still like to see a stretch (even just back-to-back games) where Wallace shows the ability to both dominate the low post and step outside and hit the 3 like he did Wednesday before we suggest this is the type of player we'll see in the playoffs. It is promising to at least see that Wallace still has the potential to be a dominant force.

Q: Just watched the Spurs game. Totally embarrassed. I wouldn't play Rasheed Wallace at all. Tony Allen needs more minutes. Marquis Daniels needs more minutes. Nate Robinson needs more minutes. They're getting beat by the athletic players. For all of Rondo's steals, he can't stop a guy face up going to the hole. The Celtics act like they've never seen the high screen before. I'd blow the whole thing up and bring the Big Three off the bench. I know I'm being reactionary, but that was embarrassing. What Celtic Pride? -- Michael (Austin, Texas)

A: I'm sure Michael's cooled down a bit since that loss (and Spurs fans probably have become a little easier to stomach in his neck of the woods after they lost to New Jersey the next night without Manu Ginobili). We're actually at the other end of the spectrum. After all the hand-wringing about the Big Three's age and how they've been riddled with injuries (first-half struggles in the case of Ray Allen), look who's putting the team on their shoulders coming to the home stretch. Wednesday night's performance by Wallace aside, the combination of him, Daniels and Robinson -- for all intents and purposes Boston's three big acquisitions since last summer -- have been woefully unproductive. Hang in there, Michael, this team is going to go as far as its superstars can carry it.

Q: Why can't the C's develop and keep some consistency? -- Jim (Presque Isle, Maine)

A: As we've joked in this space before, the Celtics have at least been consistently inconsistent. But the reasons for their up-and-down play are truly baffling at times. Over the course of an NBA season, even good teams just flat out get beat sometimes, as you can't possibly bring the proper intensity and execution for 82 games. I do think Boston has been about as consistent as you could expect lately, the complete stinker against San Antonio aside. But even losses like the one to the Spurs happen. Even though they didn't get the win Wednesday, the team did rebound nicely and fans needn't be overly concerned about losing back-to-back games.

Speaking of despondent e-mails...

And now it's time for Roberto's freak-out question of the week!

(Roberto is a frequent letter-sender to the 'bag and his passion tends to send him to and from the ledge on a regular basis during Boston's seesaw season).

Q: I feel a little sick after that humbling, humbling loss to the Spurs. A third-quarter collapse and the most dismal shooting performance in a while. Do you think the Celtics can recover from this awful performance? Their seesaw actions leave me with little faith, even though they've been dominating for the past few games, games that gave me hopes of another ring. I think they have the potential, but it's just that their potential can't compare any more to the greats and they will face a second-round elimination in the playoffs, as sad as it is to admit. -- Roberto (New York City)

A: Roberto! Step back from the Tappan Zee Bridge. I know fans would feel a lot more confident if this team went on an eight-game winning streak to close out the season, but I think we all know that's not going to happen. That said, the Green must proceed with the goal of playing their best basketball possible when the postseason arrives in two weeks. And if they can beat playoff contenders like the Bucks and Cavs along the way, all the better for the psyche.

But even if they don't, it's a clean slate in the postseason. Besides playoff seeding, it really won't matter how many games the Celtics lost at home during the regular season. It won't matter if they'd laid an egg versus the Spurs, or if the referees made things difficult for them against the Thunder. The 2009-10 season will ultimately be judged on how this team performs after April 14. Until then, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Wednesday's game against Oklahoma City gave us a glimpse of how much fun those playoff games can be at the Garden.

Q: The Celtics are starting to pick it up. I remember them going on a streak just before this one and everyone thought they would become elite again. Then they came back to Earth. Do you think this streak is for real? -- John (Atlanta, Ga.)

A: John's question came in after Friday's win over the Kings, with Boston having won five of its last six to that point. The point here is to show 1) John was correct to have a little skepticism about whether the team was truly emerging from its struggles, and 2) How quickly we can change our view of this team.

I keep going back to it, but it's an 82-game season. That's A LOT of games. Not a season goes by where a team doesn't endure a series of highs and lows. Even when you're winning, coaches often see room for improvement in their squads (just look at Boston's hot start last year when Rivers noted the team wasn't playing great fundamental ball despite the wins).

Some Celtics fans are frustrated by this team because they can't get a read on it. They slam the panic button at the lows and boast about raising an 18th banner at the highs.

But remember to enjoy the ride. The best part of sports is the unpredictability. It's always fun to look back and reflect how a team galvanized en route to a championship.

In June we might look back and laugh at all the hair that fans pulled out over this team during the regular season. Or we might look back and wonder how it all ended before the month of May. On this roller coaster, you never know what's around the next bend.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.