Celtics show their vulnerable side -- not unexpectedly



BDodgers at aol.com BDodgers at aol.com
Thu Jan 17 17:26:47 CST 2008


  
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Only human
Celtics show their vulnerable side -- not unexpectedly
 
 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/services/rss/) 


 
Scot Pollard sat in front of his locker before a recent game at TD Banknorth 
Garden and agreed that, yes, with all the attention given to the Celtics' Big 
Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, people have tended to 
overlook the "Pollard Factor." The 11th-year center, who has toiled (mostly in 
obscurity) for six teams, elaborated on that point. 
"As someone pointed out to me," Pollard said, "you also have to look at what 
happens to teams after I leave. They tend to fall apart. It happened with 
Indiana, Sacramento and, now, Cleveland." 
Pollard's tongue was planted firmly in his cheek, of course, which is where 
you would expect it to be on a guy who wears a ski cap bearing the message 
"Male Escort" and claims, "I got it from my wife." 
Across the way, backup forward Brian Scalabrine, whose 1.9 scoring average 
matches Pollard's, was asking strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo when he 
had time to stretch him. 
"You wanna do it now?" Doo asked. 
"I just want to make sure it's not interrupting anything else for you," said 
Scalabrine, whose entry into games prompts a wild response from the fans, just 
as it did in the four seasons that he played for the Nets. (Translation: 
Scalabrine wanted to make sure that no one in the regular rotation needed 
stretching.) 
Between Pollard and Scalabrine stood backup guard Eddie House, talking half 
to himself and half to anyone in the vicinity, revving himself up with chatter, 
as he always does. I asked him how he fit into this Celtics puzzle. "I'm one 
small piece amid three big pieces," he said. Then he smiled: "But I am a 
piece." 
The Celtics have one of the crucial elements of a hastily assembled power 
team: strong support from the reserves. Pollard, House and Scalabrine are all 
established vets who know the score, as does sixth man James Posey, who won a 
championship ring with the Miami Heat in 2006 and whose minutes are bound to 
increase as this season goes on. 
In fact, the Celtics' overall chemistry seems to be fine. And, trust me, many 
journalistic detectives have been scouring the lab, as I did a couple of 
weeks ago when I hung around the Celtics for several days. The three major pieces 
seem to have adjusted to each other; the two young starters (point guard Rajon 
Rondo and Kendrick Perkins) seem to take any criticism well and want to get 
better; and no one seems to have tuned out coach Doc Rivers. 
But the Celtics have shown a mortal streak recently, losing three of four 
(including back-to-back games to the Washington Wizards) before Wednesday night's 
solid 100-90 home victory against the Portland Trail Blazers. Yes, their 
record is still 31-6, best in the league, but the seemingly magical season that 
began from the opening tip-off on Nov. 2 has run into that brick wall known as 
reality. 
My reaction? 
Of course it has. 
The Celtics were never a 70-win team, probably not a 60-win team. But can 
they still be considered a championship-caliber team considering they are trying 
to make the leap from winning 24 games last season? That's a more difficult 
question to which we'll return in a minute.


 
At the very least, the Celtics, with the help of the Pistons, have 
significantly raised the level of Eastern Conference basketball, a phrase that once 
indicated (and too often still does) a certain type of game. Maybe it ended 77-73 
or, at best, 82-79. Three players fouled out. Somebody lost a tooth. The 
winning team shot 33.2 percent from the field because the losers shot 27.6 percent. 
It took 3½ hours, by which time anyone watching it was face down in a bag of 
Doritos. But the Celtics and Pistons play in-your-face Eastern ball at the 
highest level. 
That doesn't mean, however, that the East has surpassed the West. Not even 
close. The Big Three in the West -- Spurs, Mavericks and Suns -- doesn't seem 
quite so big this season, but that's mainly because the Next Six (Lakers, 
Hornets, Blazers, Nuggets, Warriors and Jazz) are so good. If the East could find a 
solid No. 3 team (the Magic's struggles since a 16-4 start have diminished 
some of their early-season buzz), the gap would be reduced, but it would still be 
there. 
But back to the Celtics. What's wrong with them, if anything? Here are a few 
things: 
• They're still learning how to play with each other. They seem at first 
glance to be a veteran squad, the Big Three having been around collectively for 32 
seasons. But five players in the regular rotation are new to Boston. 
• And sometimes they show their unfamiliarity with each other in 
beat-the-clock situations. Who takes the big shot? Pierce? Allen? Garnett? Does Rondo even 
handle? Dare they go down low to Perkins and depend on him to make a play? 
• The weaknesses of Rondo (decision-making) and Perkins (not an instinctive 
low-post scorer; he spends too much time "gathering himself," in Rivers' 
words), can be hidden for a while -- like, say, the first two months of the season 
-- but are eventually exposed. 
• The Celtics aren't weak at guard, but they are weak at point guard, the 
decision-making position, where backups House and Tony Allen are shoot-first 
players. 
• Having come out of the gate fast, determined to prove that three stars 
could play together, the Celtics are gassed, particularly Pierce, whose scoring 
average has gone down by almost six points in the last half dozen games. 
Bothered by a rep for being selfish, Pierce has worked his tail off this season, 
particularly on defense, but it has taken its toll. Garnett has talked in recent 
days about his team having lost some of its "energy" and "spunk." 
None of these, however, are necessarily fatal flaws. There will be growth and 
revival and strategic adjustments. True, Boston has yet to play San Antonio, 
Dallas and Phoenix, but the Celtics are 11-0 against Western Conference teams, 
including road wins against the Lakers and Jazz. And if I had to pencil in 
two East teams for the conference finals right now, I would make the 
unsurprising choice of the Celtics and the Pistons. 
Perhaps the Celtics' recent swoon will turn out to be a good thing, too, if 
it served to lower expectations. One popular sign at TD Banknorth before the 
losing streak read: "Patriots 16-0, Celtics Postseason 16-0." Everyone should 
now understand that this turnaround from the playoff-less futility of the last 
two seasons just won't be that easy.



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