So, we know that they can do it. We know that if the Celtics set their mind to it, they can still play in-your-grill defense and pass the ball quickly to the open man. They can, in other words, still play Celtics basketball, which seems uncomfortably like a nod to the good old days.
True, the opponent Monday night was the woeful Detroit Pistons — who lost Tayshaun Prince in the first quarter from a lineup that already was without Rodney Stuckey and Ben Wallace.
But this is the still the NBA, and anytime you beat anyone 119-93 and get outscored by eight points in the second half while doing it, it has to mean something (click here for the full recap).
“We’ve been talking and talking,” Kevin Garnett said in a manner that suggested he actually has done a lot of talking lately and didn’t feel like doing a whole lot more. “At some point there has to be some action, so it is what it is. I’ll take it though. Hands down, night and day as far as [Sunday] to today.”
The down and dirty on this blowout win included 62 percent shooting, 34 assists on 44 makes, only one turnover in the first half, a plus-nine advantage on the boards and seven players in double figures with no one scoring more than 15 points.
“You know what it is,” Garnett began to say and frankly, everyone would like to know exactly what ‘it’ actually is with this team. “It is frustrating. I’m not even going to try to come up with a big word. You know what you are and what you’re capable of. It doesn’t matter if it’s Cleveland or Detroit. I feel like tonight it was an edge. That level of defense, you know, like it was grimy. We’ve got to play like this every night. It’s a great game to look back and say, hey, ‘This is what we are.’”
The question, of course, is: Are they really?
Here are three things we learned from Monday night’s win:
IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?
One of Doc Rivers favorite expressions when he gets questioned about injuries is to say, “You know, Doc is just a nickname, right?” For all their physical ailments, it seems the Celtics need a psychologist more than an MD these days, and that’s a role that Rivers just might need to fill.
Before the game Rivers was questioned about his team’s letdown in the final minutes of the Cleveland game Sunday. Trailing by 16 points with about five minutes left, they appeared to pack it in, an ominous sign for a team searching for consistency.
“I never mentioned effort,” Rivers said. “With four minutes left in the third quarter we had a tie score. We didn’t sustain our play. The last five minutes we were down 16, you could see guys giving in. I’m not worried about effort. I was worried that we were down 16.”
Rivers talked about how his team started the year 23-5 and then the injuries hit. He knows that’s not an excuse anyone wants to hear, but he feels like it is the reality of the situation.
The injuries, Rivers feels, had a ripple effect on everything they do. With so many players out, different people had to different things that maybe they shouldn’t have been asked to do in the first place. “But we’re not injured anymore,” he said.
His team is back in place, but it’s still searching for itself. “Now we’ve got to get it back,” Rivers said. “What we’ve failed to do is to put it back together.”
Rivers was asked if he liked coaching this team, considering how hard they seem to make for themselves it on a nightly basis. “Very enjoyable,” he said. “You have to get your hands dirty. Push buttons. Get on guys you wouldn’t think you have to.”
That honestly doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but Rivers remains steadfast that he can reach this team. “I keep telling them what I see,” he said. “I see it. I’m going to get it out of you.”
He may need a leather couch more than he needs a clipboard in order to accomplish that goal, but Rivers doesn’t sound like he’s ready to give up on this team yet.
LOOK INTO THEIR FUTURE AND SEE DEE-TROIT BASKETBALL?
Not so long ago there was a veteran team that played deep into the spring and the summer. This team won games with defense and lacked stars in the traditional sense.
But eventually the Pistons began to hit their head against a ceiling and Joe Dumars, who had made his considerable reputation by making the right call at the right time, decided to make a change. He banked the team’s future on a handful of young players and traded his most important player for cap space and let another walk away for even more room.
Dumars used that sudden financial freedom to sign a pair of players who were younger, but not necessarily better than they used to have, and now the Detroit Pistons are a bad team going nowhere.
It’s not hard to extrapolate that uncertain future and see the Celtics in a few years. Barring something completely unexpected, there won’t be any cap room for Danny Ainge to maneuver, and that’s a big reason why it’s so hard to maintain success in the modern NBA. With so little margin for error, one wrong move can be damaging and two can prove fatal.
The future is very unsettled for the Celtics and it’s not something that either the coach or the players particularly like to discuss. That’s fine. It’s not their job anyway.
Ainge has one thing that Dumars didn’t have and that’s a superstar point guard in Rajon Rondo who has yet to enter his peak seasons. He also has a young center in Kendrick Perkins who, recent struggles notwithstanding, should help Rondo provide a bridge to the future.
Whether that future begins in earnest this summer or in another year or two no one really knows at this point. This team is built to win now and it has been given every chance to try and succeed on its own merits.
In a very real way, their long-term future depends on how well they play over the next two months. If the Celtics can get their act together in the time they have left and make a strong playoff showing then there is every reason to believe they will get another chance.
If not, then it’s anybody’s guess what they will look like. One can only hope it doesn’t resemble the team in Detroit.
The win over the Pistons brought some much-needed lightness to the dark clouds that have been hovering around the Celtics, but it’s only temporary relief.
The month of March has already been cruel with nine games in 15 days and it won’t get any better before they get to April. After the Celtics play New York on Wednesday, they travel west for a brutal three games in four days stretch against the Rockets, Mavericks and Jazz.
That’s followed by an odd stretch of six more at home, which considering their struggles at TD Garden may not be such a good thing, against Denver, Sacramento, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston and Cleveland. Stop us when you’ve heard this one before, but the next 10 games will tell us something about this team.
“Well, this year isn’t over,” Garnett said. “We still have a lot more basketball to play. There is nothing we can do about the future. There is nothing we can do about the injuries. Can’t do anything about the past.”
Beating Detroit by 26 may not prove much, but it’s an indication that it’s still too early to give up on the Celtics. Garnett’s right. There’s a not a thing they can do about the past, but can they do anything about the future?