Thursday, December 29, 2011
Updated: December 30, 9:10 AM ET
Don't sweat Boston's bad start ... yet
By Peter May
What's all the fuss about? This time last season, the Boston Celtics already had six losses. It was eight the year before that at this point of the season.
Oh, that's right. This season started on Christmas Day, not around Halloween, like the two before. Oh well ...
Seriously, folks, does anyone see the sky falling in Celtics Nation? Sure, there are reasons to be concerned, even three games into a 66-game season (see below). But it's waaaay too soon to be worried, unless, of course, the Celtics lose at home to Detroit on Friday night. Which they WILL NOT DO. I think.
Before we get to the Debbie Downer portion of this column, let's look at the positives -- even after an 0-3 start. The Celtics coulda, shoulda beat the New York Knicks -- and doesn't it steam you even more to know that those two bogus, I-AM-BIGGER-THAN-THE-GAME Joey Crawford technical fouls in the fourth quarter have now been rescinded?
Did anyone really expect Boston to beat Miami, in Miami? I didn't. The Heat may not lose a game until February. New Orleans was a bit of a surprise, except I think Doc Rivers is right about the Hornets, at least at this point in the season. Take them lightly at your own peril.
So here, then, is one reason not to get overly despondent about the Celtics' current state of affairs: the schedule. It is their BFF -- at least for the next six weeks (don't even look at March or April without a pail nearby).
The Celtics' next five games are against Detroit, Washington (back-to-back, home-and-away), New Jersey and Indiana. The only road game is the New Year's night affair in Washington. They should be no worse than 4-4 at that point and really should be 5-3. Even better for the Celtics, after their game against Indiana on Jan. 6, they do not play again until Jan. 11.
That stretch of no games in five days is a veritable mother lode for Rivers and his staff, if for no other reason than it may provide them with their first days of practice since the start of the season. The stretch will (hopefully) give Mickael Pietrus time to integrate with his new team. It will (hopefully) give Paul Pierce time to integrate with his old team. It will (definitely) give those who need a rest some time to actually get some downtime. (Right now, that looks like everyone but JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.)
Wait, there's more. Starting with Friday's game against Detroit, the Celtics play 19 of their next 25 at home. If they can't right the ship with a favorable stretch like that, a period that includes nine games against Washington, Toronto, Cleveland and (I know they're better, but ... ) the Pacers, then everyone should just bookmark Chad Ford's 2012 Mock Draft as your home page and start watching college games. There are some really good games in that stretch as well, all at home (Chicago, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Orlando and the Lakers.)
So the schedule is favorable. We have to think Pierce will be back soon and that is also good news. (If he's not on the court by New Year's, however, count me as being Officially Concerned.) Pietrus is an excellent addition; let's hope he can get healthy enough, soon enough, to get on the floor and actually help the Celtics. Brandon Bass looks like a find.
But when you're 0-3, to quote Bill Parcells, "you are what you are." And you can't have watched the Celtics' first three games without having more than a few questions about the team. To name a few:
• The Defense: It's only three games (keep repeating that) but, through Wednesday, only two teams -- Dallas and Utah -- were allowing more points per game than the 106 allowed by the winless Celtics. Even worse, only Houston, which had played one game, was allowing opponents to shoot at a higher percentage than the 49.6 percent that the Celtics' foes are shooting. Isn't this supposed to be a defensive-minded team? (Hint: Yes, it is.) Ray Allen pretty much summed it up after the New Orleans game: "Our defense was terrible."
|Paul Pierce can't come back too soon for the Celtics.|
• Jermaine O'Neal: Some know-nothing wrote a piece on ESPNBoston.com last week postulating that O'Neal must give the Celtics a lot more this season than he did last season if the team is to be successful. Then again, it's still true, isn't it? Sorta? He does have to be more than the borderline unwatchable he has been so far, with more fouls (13) than field goal attempts (12) and more fouls than anyone on the team, despite averaging 20 minutes a game. He's also shooting 25 percent. This cannot continue. He's the youngest of the 30-something starters. He's played a lot fewer minutes than they have over his career. Is this the guy who was the MVP of training camp?
• Kevin Garnett: This, too, cannot continue: 11.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 45.7 percent shooting. Most of us have more or less come to the conclusion that Rajon Rondo runs the team. But Garnett has always been the defensive motor, which is running on fumes (see above), and it is affecting his overall game. The only noise he has made in three games is for skirmishing with Bill Walker after the opener. Then again, if you go back to the Miami series, he had one good game out of five. Just throwing that out there ...
• Bench Scoring: Do you think Danny Ainge still has time to trade Avery Bradley while at least one of the other 28 GMs and/or David Stern thinks the kid can still play? (Where's Kevin McHale when we need him?) To think that Danny, of all people, passed on Jimmer Fredette in 2010 because of concerns over his size and defense. (He wouldn't guarantee Jimmer would be Boston's first-round pick, so Jimmer went back to BYU and the Celtics took Bradley.) Well, Jimmer has plenty of company in the NBA in his inability to play defense. But there aren't many who can fill it like he can and, last we heard, Rivers was worrying about offense from his second unit. Bradley just looks utterly lost out there with his cringe-inducing jumpers. It won't be long before Moore gets his minutes.
There's more (like turnovers and slow starts), but this is enough for now. It's time to let the schedule take its course. In the meantime, stay tuned for a piece next week discussing the four-game winning streak of the red-hot, defensive-minded Celtics -- and the All-Star play of O'Neal and Garnett.
|The Celtics have to get more out of Jermaine O'Neal and Garnett.|
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.