There are many NBA clichés that come to mind when a team like the Celtics loses a game to the Clippers at home.
It wasn’t their night, which was evident when a player like Kevin Garnett misses 14 of the 19 shots he took (shots, he noted later, that he works on every day). You can’t give a young team confidence, such as when the Celtics allowed the Clippers to shoot 67 percent in the first half. They were due for a game like this after winning five straight with all the roster turnover they’ve had.
All of those well-worn NBA maxims were apt in their own way, but the biggest problem the Celtics had in their 108-103 loss (click here for a full recap) was a lack of, well, bigs. With Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal sidelined with injuries and Jermaine O’Neal on the mend from knee surgery, the Celtics were down to two large players – Garnett and Nenad Krstic.
“I’m kind of kicking myself,” Doc Rivers said. “I told our bigs -- our two bigs – ‘Tonight, you can’t get in foul trouble.’ We couldn’t afford Kevin or Nenad in foul trouble.”
Whether it was slow rotations or a lack of assertiveness, the Clippers big men went to town inside, particularly DeAndre Jordan, who known more for his defense than any offensive skill. Jordan made nine of 10 shots, and more than half of them were dunks. “DeAndre Jordan, I love,” Rivers said before adding, “He’s a defensive player who scored 21 points.”
After the Clippers jumped out to a huge early lead, which was entirely on the starters, Rivers put Jeff Green into the game for Krstic. He didn’t want to have to do that against the Clips’ big, athletic frontline, and true to form, it didn’t work. But it was the only option he had.
There are those who will point to a game like this and say that this is the reason the Celtics never should have traded Kendrick Perkins. Considering the fact that Perkins is hurt and unable to play right now, the result would have been largely the same.
“Just one extra big is all we need,” Rivers said. “This has nothing do with the trade or anything, we just don’t have healthy bigs. Hopefully Baby will be back soon.”
The plan right now is for Davis to try and practice Saturday with the hope of having him back on Sunday for the Bucks. Shaq is expected to follow soon thereafter.
The Celtics fought to get back in this game, which if nothing else shows that they won’t concede the final 20 games left on the schedule. They can’t afford to with the Bulls breathing down their neck for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Their lack of depth up front finally caught up to them and that, more than chemistry, new faces or the loss of Perkins, was what lost them the game Wednesday.
Here are three more points:
GETTING TO KNOW NENAD KRSTIC
Kevin Garnett takes pride on getting to know his teammates both on and off the floor. He believes that time spent away from the court is just as vital in figuring out what makes people tick. He’s still working on Nenad Krstic.
“He’s a really chill guy, he doesn’t really talk a lot,” Garnett said. “You got to make him talk sometimes. He’s a cool guy. He’s too himself. I think Sasha [Pavlovic] being here has helped him a lot and has opened him up a little bit.”
Communication is everything to Garnett, especially on the defensive end and yes, he was tied to Perkins in a very special way over the last three and a half years. But that’s over now and he’s determined to make it work with Krstic.
“He’s getting it,” Garnett said. “He’s working really hard at it. I’m just making sure that the communication between us is really solid.”
Garnett and the rest of the Celtics have already figured out that Krstic brings another dimension to their offense that they have never had before. He can shoot out to 15-18 feet. He’s good around the basket and active on the offensive glass. All those things are hugely beneficial, but this is a defensive team first and their defense relies on all five players being tethered together.
It’s simply not realistic to expect Krstic to come in and immediately absorb all of it.
“I’ve never been in this situation before, when I’ve been traded in the middle of the season,” Krstic said. “It’s hard when you go to a new team, a winning team, who is trying to win a championship. I don’t know if I’m where I need to be defensively, but I’m really happy with how the team is progressing.”
It’s not just the team concepts. Rivers would like Krstic to, in coach-speak, “Do his work early. You can see he allows a big to catch it deep and then he tried to defend. With his size, that’s just too late. Krstic, he’s been fine. Listen, he’s been better than I knew.”
No one said this was going to be easy or familiar.
“As a team there’s chemistry that we have to get back to before we made trades, just having that rhythm on the floor, on both ends of the floor,” Ray Allen said. “There are issues, but that’s why we have to get to that point.”
It’s been six games. The Celtics have won five of them and Krstic has put up 16 points a game and grabbed almost as many offensive rebounds (17) as Perkins did (23) in twice as many games. They couldn’t be any more different as players, for good and bad, and the learning curve is steep.
This is their reality now and it’s in all of their best interests to get familiar, as soon as possible.
CARLOS ARROYO IS A PRO
This is what a veteran point guard looks like: At some point in his 14 minute debut, Carlos Arroyo called a Celtics play that was notable in that Rivers didn’t go over it with him. “Everything happened so fast,” Arroyo said. “I don’t even remember what it was.”
Ever since he’s arrived, Arroyo has had his head buried in film, trying to learn the ins and outs of the offense and he has already made an impression on his new teammates.
Garnett: “Carlos played in the league for a long time for a lot of headstrong coaches. He brings a sense of leadership. A lot of respect around the locker room for him and we’re glad he’s here.”
Allen: “He had great control of the second unit when he was out there. I like his calmness under the pressure.”
All in all, Arroyo’s play was the definitive bright spot for the Celtics on an otherwise forgettable night.
WHAT ABOUT TROY?
Troy Murphy played just over four minutes Wednesday night. He took one shot and missed. That makes him 0-for-10 in 45 minutes over four games, which is obviously not what the Celtics had in mind when they outmaneuvered Miami to sign him last week.
“I’m still finding my legs, finding where to go in the offense, where I fit in,” Murphy said. “It’s a process. I’m feeling better every day.”
It’s way too early to give up on Murphy who has a long, productive track record, but the clock is definitely ticking. With Davis on his way back and Green carving out his own niche, the question of playing time will become acute for Murphy unless he shows something soon.