Celtics show their vulnerable side -- not unexpectedly

dforant1 dforant1 at nycap.rr.com
Thu Jan 17 18:04:57 CST 2008

Excellent observations from a voice familiar with Round Ball.

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From: <BDodgers at aol.com>
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Sent: Thursday, January 17, 2008 6:26 PM
Subject: Celtics show their vulnerable side -- not unexpectedly

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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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