State of The Union - Celtics Blogger Style

Earlier today John from Red’s Army, a top-tier Boston Celtics blog, had the great idea to put together a little meeting with some of the biggest Celtics fans on the web. I was honored to get the invite for John and took place in the “meeting” over email along with some fellow Celtic’s bloggers.

The list included:

  • John From Red’s Army
  • Zach from Celtics Hub
  • Jeff from Celtics Blog
  • Nick from North Station Sports
  • Justin from Celtics Stuff Live
  • Loscy from Loscy
  • John did a great job in putting this together to make it flow. If you enjoy this make sure to go over and tell John or follow him on twitter at @RedsArmy. So without further ado here is the brainstorming session we had today:

    John: the Celtics are absolutely driving me insane with these third quarter collapses…. but I think this is all in their heads.  I keep saying that if it was age, they’d come out of the half strong and then fade. 

    What do you guys think?

    Me: Very good question John. Right now I’m at the point where I’m not sure what it is. This team has my mind going in every direction possible. Some people bring up chemistry issues, some people bring up age, and some bring up focus. Right now I’m going to be honest and say I don’t know what it is. I’ll put it this way, it’s “something”.

    Nick: Their is def a lack of “fun” in these guys. No emotion at all. They’re not having any fun and they look numb. I point mainly at chemistry issues between the “oldsters” and the “youngsters” and Doc’s inability to unite the two. I don’t think Doc playing Rasheed more minutes than Perk is helping the cause either…

    Zach: I don’t like to speculate about this sort of thing since I’m about three degrees removed from the actual players and coaches. I don’t know how KG’s knee feels beyond what I see and what he tells the press. I don’t know what it means to have played more than 35,000 minutes, as Paul Pierce has. 

    But age clearly has something to do with their struggles, whether it be in the 1st or 3rd quarter. We can all see KG is struggling to get back to where he was one year ago. Overall, though, there is just a sloppiness and lack of focus to this team that has not been there before. The team just isn’t as good at as many things as it used to be. The turnovers have always been a problem, but they are a full-fledged crisis now. It’s harder to make up for an ungodly number of turnovers when you don’t shoot the three as well (35 percent, down from 40 percent) and don’t protect the defensive glass as well.

    It’s a combination of talent and focus.

    Me: I find it very hard to blame this on the lack of talent of the squad. Obviously the talent is there to play with teams like the Lakers, Magic, and Cavs because we have, for the most part, outplayed these teams for 36 minutes in each game we played against them. It is that one quarter, usually the third, that kills this team. Because it is the third quarter I also find it hard to blame it on being tired. You shouldn’t be tired after you just sat in a locker room for 20 minutes between halfs. The only thing I can think of here is focus and with 32 games left I’m hoping they can turn this around and play a full 48 minutes of basketball come playoff time, because after all that’s when it matters.

    Loscy: As I see it, there are a few issues here. The first is that the team is CAPABLE of playing good basketball. Sound defense, moving the ball, and hitting shots. There is a lack of discipline or just a lack of giving a crap about keeping that kind of energy up for an entire game. Is that a coaching problem, or a player problem? Probably both, actually. I’m becoming sorely disappointed with the fact that no one has stepped up in the last month and a half in that locker room to say let’s just hit the reset button and go back to the basics and fundamentals. And I’m not even talking about fundamentals like making the right rotations or making the extra pass… I’m talking about hustling, playing hard, helping guys up, committing hard fouls to stop runs, and playing like we care about winning. Just to push them a little to be hungry, and to remember how much fun it is to get big wins against good teams and blow bad teams out of the water. Be the team that everybody hates, instead of being the team that everyone thinks wil fold in the second half.

    A second issue: the team is just lying down when teams are making a run. In every game, there are going to be runs. But we just look flat when it’s happening. It’s like the players start thinking, “Now is the best time to do everything that I’m not supposed to do as a professional basketball player.” Seriously.

    A tangential issue: we are showing almost no fight at times. Once the lead is given up, we look defeated. Like someone just stole our lunch money. Last night, there was a glimpse of that FIGHT left in KG. When KG knocked the ball off of David West with under a minute and still down by 6, he pumped pumped his fist, screamed the classic KG f-word expletive, and ran down to try to get a quick bucket. That’s what I want for an entire game. Whether it’s intensity, focus, or discipline, I think this team is really missing leadership. Leadership from all corners: the front office, the coaching staff, and veteran presence.

    I’m not convinced that this team can win a title as it’s constructed, but on the same token, I’m not convinced that this team can’t win a title as it’s constructed. I just don’t know if a trade will really do anything, but I feel like people are just desperate for answers and a trade is the easiest fix. But, like all things in the world, the quick and easy fix might not be the best one. Maybe we need a front office/coaching summit during the all-star break an the players need a team vacation. Just the players together, just the coaches together, and when we return next week, priorities are just re-aligned.

    Jeff: For lack of a better definition, they are lacking their “mojo.”  I don’t call it confidence, because they know they are capable of great things.  But when things sour, or when you think your teammates are banged up, even if you know you can do better you end up worrying that you won’t and that worrying is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is why I still maintain that they can pull it together down the stretch.  Once they get a few quality wins under their belt, they’ll gain confidence and get their mojo back.  Or they won’t.  Which, as a fan, is quite maddening.

    Me: Just like the game of golf I think basketball requires a lot of mental focus. Right now I think this team has it in the back of their minds that they can’t play 48 minutes of basketball. Who can blame them though right? They have media chirping up their “you know what’s” 24/7 reminding them and questioning them on their inability to play a full game of “Celtics basketball”.

    Like Jeff said, once this team finally gets on a winning streak, and I mean more than two or three games, I think they will put all of this behind them and move forward. It’s just going to be painful to watch until that happens.

    John: Jeff… so are they cocky then?  It seems like they’re still telling themselves they are capable of great things.  They keep talking like they have a switch that can be flipped. 

    I mean… is that it?  Maybe the way age is affecting the Celtics is it makes them not WANT to play during the January/February doldrums of the NBA schedule… as opposed to them not being ABLE to play.  Are the old guys on the team just apathetic right now?  Maybe this has all been an extended preseason for the Celtics.

    Jeff: I think they all have that “shooters mentality” so to speak.  Think about what goes through Ray’s mind when he’s on a bad streak shooting.  He KNOWS he’s the best shooter alive in his heart of hearts.  But he knows it isn’t going in right now.  But he’s going to keep shooting till they go in again.  Maybe he’ll try to drive to the lane more or try more mid-range shots first, but if he stops shooting, he’s dead.  This team knows they have to “keep shooting” but things aren’t working like they normally do, and that messes with your mind.

    Switching gears a bit, I have to focus on the trust element for a bit.  The Celtics defense is founded on trust.  Perk knows he can help on the pick and roll because he knows for sure that KG has his back and KG can rotate because he knows that if the ball is swung, Pierce will face up his man until he can get back. Now, jostle the lineup with constant injuries, take a step of speed away from just about everyone, and backs aren’t covered as well.  Perk starts to wonder, “can I leave my man, or will that be an easy layup for him if I do?”  As soon as trust is questioned, defense fails.

    Fix the defense (trust), and watch the shots start falling (metaphorically and practically speaking)

    John: Interesting point, Jeff. 

    There have been some possessions where I’ve seen guys shrug and look at other guys on the floor as if to say “where were you?” or “what was that?”

    Is it possible that the injuries that have forced guys like Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace into the starting lineups caused this funk?  And if so… can they work through that in practice and snap out of it?

    Justin: I think there are just too many convenient excuses.  The injuries piled up and when they began to lose the chemistry was suffering, but they didn’t realize it because they had an easy scapegoat.   Now it’s caught up to them, but the injuries are still there.  Sean Grande brought up a great point on our show; KG isn’t as comfortable being the vocal leader when his play can’t back it up.  The team has suffered from that, and Doc has not been able to replace that aspect of motivation.

    Zach: We’ve certainly seen the “flip the switch” issue before. I think back to that game before Thanksgiving against the Sixers, who were missing Lou Williams, Elton Brand and Marreese Speights. Boston almost lost that game–at home–but “rallied” to win late, and it was clear they lacked a sense of urgency over the first 36 minutes. 

    Two things to add. 1) Jeff mentions the defense, and it certainly isn’t as air tight as it was in ’08 and pre-KG injury in ’09. But the C’s still lead the league in points allowed per possession. The offense, though, ranks 14th in that category. It’s league average, and that just hasn’t been good enough. 2) We can talk about the talent on the team all we want, but that talent, collectively, just hasn’t been as good in certain areas as it was last year and the year before. They’ve gone from an elite defense rebounding team to an average one. They’ve gone from the best three-point shooting team in the league to an average one. They’ve gone from a top-10 offensive rebounding team to a terrible one. 

    You just can’t ignore those numbers or chalk them up to a flipping the switch mentality. Even when the switch is flipped, they aren’t doing as many things well as they used to.

    John: Zach… Is it possible that the two are related?  Flipping the switch relates to rebounding and defense.  The shooting?  That’s different.  Maybe as Jeff said, with defense will come offense.  Think about how many 3’s the C’s hit in transition.  That’s where they’re really deadly… when Rondo pushes off a steal or rebound… dives into the lane… then kicks it to Ray or Paul for 3. 

    Plus, there’s the issue that Justin brought up about KG and being vocal while being unable to back that up with his play. 

    Could the answer lie simply within KG’s right knee?  Healthy and able to move equals vocal leader and improved play… vs. the inability to play like he used becoming an emotional drain on him?

    Zach: Sure, it’s possible that a lack of urgent effort might be responsible for rebounding problems during the dog days of the season. But I think it’s equally possible that two of the team’s best defensive rebounders–KG and Sheed–are getting older and just aren’t as good anymore. Pinning the team’s problems on a “flip the switch” mentality is too easy. There are deeper issues here. 

    Jeff: I gotta admit, the rebounding concerns me a lot. Rebounding is a bit of an art (to do it exceedingly well) but for the most part it is about effort.  We know our top 3 bigs have enough of the art to do it well, but they aren’t trying.  I seldom watch things like this, but the one time I watched the bigs “box out” when a shot went up the other day, I saw KG with his hands by his side, shoulders slumped, and head craned to see where the shot landed as if he was a spectator.  And he wasn’t the only one.  I’m dumbfounded to see stuff like that.  Even if you are 15 feet from the basket, put your backside on the nearest guy not wearing your jersey for crying out loud!  I feel like this team is collectively drunk on Mark Blount’s port.

    John: Is it possible to go from great rebounder to crappy one in a season?  I don’t disagree with the deeper issues, but I also don’t know how the drop off can be THAT huge. 

    What about the possibility that KG is not rebounding well because he’s out of shape…. and in time he will improve?

    Justin: I def think KG will improve with time and I think its easy to be patient with his progress.  But, it would be a sad statement if this team could not motivate themselves without him at 90% plus.

    Me:  I’m a believer that KG will continue to get better without any future setbacks. You have to remember this guy missed a great portion of last season, and has missed a number of games this season. If he continue to log quality minutes and become more comfortable on that knee I expect his rebounding number to go up.

    The question that I have been asking myself lately is: Where’s Perk? At the beginning of the year we were thinking he was capable of being an all-star and lately he hasn’t been doing squat. In the last two games he has a combined 5 points and 10 rebounds, none of those being offensive rebounds. Anyone else been noticing this and maybe have an answer?

    Nick: Yes, perk has had two low stat games but he has also logged less mins than rasheed who has plaYed far worse. In my mind, this team is broken inside. Their are divides among the young and old players. Can it be fixed? I’m unsure it can be without pierce and garnett reasserting their leadership over the team while embracing rondo as the third team leader. Maybe that can re unite the young and old factions. Also, regarding perk, I think docs lack or trust in him (and the younger guys in general) has truly hurt this team and has possibly made the younger guys a bit resentful. I keep going back to rasheed at the heart of all this… idk

    Justin: Let’s assume that the division on this team is a function of young players vs the veterans.  I’m not sure who has dismissed Doc’s instruction/leadership.  Any thoughts there?

    Loscy: I really have to think that it comes back down to leadership. The excuses are just a bi-product of lack of accountability. No one is stepping up to take control and assume responsibility.
    It’s a shame because the veteran-ness a few years ago is what we relied upon to get the team through difficult game situations… yet right now, the veteran presence seems to not be doing anything to remedy the problem of bad basketball.

    My question deals with starting line-ups and rotations. What’s the best answer at this point INTERNALLY if Danny in fact doesn’t make a trade: TA for Ray? Quisy for Ray? Or Keep Ray in and keep your fingers crossed at the same time… ?

    Zach: I think we wade into dangerous territory when we begin speculating about things like a rift between older and younger players or resentment on Perk’s part. I, honestly, have no idea if any of that stuff is true. None. I do know that Rasheed Wallace is slow to box people out; that KG hasn’t had 10 rebounds in a game since he came back from injury; that KG looks slower than usual on hedge-and-recover plays; that Ray Allen is shooting a shade below 34 percent on three-pointers; and that the team cannot stop turning the ball over. 

    Does any of that stem from internal dissension? Resentment? I have no clue, but I’m dubious.

    John: Let’s start to bring this into a little bit of focus.

    We’ve brought up talent issues… which seem to be the lack of ability to do what they used to do.

    We’ve brought up the chemistry issues… which seem to be an internal divide of some sort that makes it harder to do what they used to do.

    We’ve brought up the mental issues… which seem to be that for some reason, there is a lack of motivation to do what they used to do.

    What percentage of each do you think is at issue here?  I think it’s 70% mental… 15% talent, 10% chemistry and I’ll give 5% to a wildcard… which is Doc Rivers mishandling some things that let the rest get out of control (i.e. minutes for the veterans).

    Jeff: can’t argue with those percentages really – I chalk it up to mostly mental

    Nick: I agree w john and jeff, mental is majority of the issue here but I also feel their strength has always been their ability to overcome mental lapses, adv ersity through teamwork. Cohesiveness… ubuntu. Their confidence always stemmed from the strong belief in the team. When ray struggled in the 08 playoffs, everyone else picked up the slack. You’re just not seeing that now. I rarely see the guys slappin hi fives of even rooting eachother on.

    Idk, I chalk it up to chemistry and team mentality.

    Loscy: Definitely mental.
    Definitely mental.
    Definitely mental.
    95% mental, 4% health, 1% wildcard.

    We’ve seen quarters and halves where this team has played very well. Then quarters and halves where it looks like the team would be doing everyone a favor by handing out their extra gatorade to fans close by. They have the capabilities to play well, but something just isn’t clicking.

    And there you have it… if you have anything additional to add to this please make sure to leave us a comment. Go Celtics!

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