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Friday, November 9, 2012
Celtics' D seems to be a sieve

By Peter May

BOSTON -- OK, the question has to be asked: What did Ray Allen know and when did he know it? Because the 2012-13 Boston Celtics, through five games, are pretty much unrecognizable from the team we've been accustomed to seeing over the past five years.

They don't play with any discernible sense of urgency. They look discombobulated on offense, especially the second unit. They bear absolutely no resemblance to the lock-'em-down defensive stalwarts of years past. None whatsoever.

Hey, Mike Brown is available. Maybe he can do something with that defense, which has been horrible against any team not from Washington, D.C.

Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday and the 76ers seemed to have the jump on Rajon Rondo and the Celtics all night.

"When I look at this game, if I had to point out one thing that's a major concern for us, and it has been these last five games, it's our transition defense,'' Paul Pierce said after the team fell to 2-3 with a 106-100 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers. "That's the No. 1 thing right now. When you give a team that many layups in transition, that's really disturbing.

"Getting back, talking, matching up with the nearest guy, loading up to the ball, helping one another. That's just basic,'' Pierce continued. "When the ball goes up, you either go and get the rebound or you get back. It's one of two things."

Here's what makes Pierce's comments even more disconcerting. The Celtics don't go and get the rebound. They are the worst offensive rebounding team in the NBA. Offensive rebounding is at the bottom of Rivers' to-do list. Always has been. Which begs the question: If they don't go get the rebound, what's the excuse to not get back?

Part of it is athleticism. The Sixers do have some high flyers. So, too, do the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks (Saturday night's opponent). Part of it is hustle. Part of it is, as Pierce said, talking and knowing where to go.

"Just communication,'' Rajon Rondo said. "We have to do a better job of matching up when we're [playing] small. We've got to learn it's not a specific man, it's just to get the guy in the [proper] area. And that comes from communication."

Probably the most telling transition basket of the game came with 4:52 to play and the Celtics thinking they still had a puncher's chance, down 95-88. Jeff Green (another underwater game with four points in nearly 18 minutes) drove to the basket, squirted between a couple of defenders, fell down, threw up an air ball and, needless to say, was late getting back to stop a Jrue Holiday 3-pointer.

Another killer came not in transition, but with the Celtics in their defensive set. Boston had pulled to 100-94 with 2:04 left. The Sixers called time. Six seconds out of the break, Holiday found Thaddeus Young isolated on Pierce and Young coolly canned a 7-foot turnaround hook shot.

The Sixers came into this game ranked dead last in scoring (83.3 points a game) and dead last in field goal percentage (38.3 percent). They were coming off a game in which they scored 77 points -- and won by 15.

"I would have to think eventually we're a team that's going to make some shots,'' Sixers coach Doug Collins said before the game.

Against the Celtics, the Sixers were a certifiable scoring machine. Along with the 106 points, they shot 49 percent.

"We're a defensive team that usually can score the basketball,'' said Kevin Garnett. "Right now we have indecision."

Doc Rivers added, "Overall, we have not been a great defensive team.'' No kidding, Doc.

The Celtics haven't even been an average defensive team. Through the first four games, they were in the bottom third in points allowed, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Those were three categories they excelled in last season. And with the numbers Philly put up Friday night (including 53.8 percent from 3-point territory), the Celtics' league ranking will probably drop perilously close to the Bobcat Line.

The silver lining? They've played only five games. They've even won two of them, although they barely beat a winless team, twice, to get those W's. They still have yet to lead at the end of regulation in any of the games at TD Garden.

Five games can mean nothing -- or it can mean a lot. The Lakers clearly thought five games was more than enough to justify jettisoning the beleaguered Brown, a defensive-minded coach who is from the Gregg Popovich School.

But the number of games means little if the Celtics don't begin to show the defensive tenacity and mindset they had in the past half-decade. Those teams used to own the paint. The Sixers, bereft of any kind of real big man with Andrew Bynum out, still shot 67 percent within 5 feet of the basket, roughly 10 percent more than the league average.

Those things rarely happened when Allen was in Boston. No, he was not known for his defense. But, clearly, something went with him. These are not the Celtics we're used to seeing -- or expected to see. Could it be that maybe Ray knew exactly what he was doing after all?