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Diagnosing the Ailing Celtics

With injuries to Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics have been forced to turn to Brian Scalabrine at power forward. (Photo from Nike.com)

The NBA regular season is almost half-way over and the Boston Celtics sit at 27-13. The record has the Celtics atop of the Atlantic Division and leading the Toronto Raptors by 7.5 games. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the only Eastern Conference team with more wins than the C’s.

Certainly, the Celtics are right where they want to be nearing the All-Star Break. It all looks good on paper. “I like our record,” coach Doc Rivers told Celtic’s play by play man Mike Gorman before the loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.

So why should Celtics fans have any reason to worry?

I, like Doc Rivers, love the Celtics overall record, but I don’t like their 4-8 record over their last 12 games. I also don’t like the fact that two of those four wins came against the Raptors (1/2 & 1/10), and another came against the 3-37 New Jersey Nets. Not to mention, the Celtics needed last-second (literally the last second) heroics from Rajon Rondo to beat the Miami Heat in overtime.

So why are the Celtics struggling as of late? Well there are many reasons…

Injuries

  • The Celtics have been absolutely devastated by injuries this season. It all started in early December when Marquis Daniels injured his left wrist and thumb taking a pass from Rajon Rondo in practice. Daniels was a key bench contributor before the injury averaging 5.7 points and 2.1 assists per game.
  • Paul Pierce, the team’s leading scorer, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery just before Christmas and missed five games. The Celtics went 1-4 without Pierce in the lineup.
  • Kevin Garnett was the next casualty. The star power forward hyper-extended his right knee just before the new year. The Celtics lost three games in a row to the Clippers, Warriors, and Suns immediately after losing KG. Garnett was averaging 15 points and 7.6 rebounds per game prior to the injury. He is aiming to comeback this Friday night against the Trailblazers.
  • Just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, Rasheed Wallace injured his left foot and missed all of last week. It was a week during which the Celtics suffered losses to the Hawks and the Bulls.

Just to be clear, that’s the two best bench players on the team, the team’s leading scorer, and one of the best power forwards in the league — and all-around best player on the team, who have all missed significant time due to injuries.

Depth

The Celtics were well aware that injuries would play a role at some point during their 2009/10 regular season run. Three of their five starters are over 30 years old, Eddie House is 31, and Rasheed Wallace is 35. Players who have this much mileage on them, at this age, are bound to break down at one point or another during the season, and with the exception of Ray Allen and Eddie House, they all have succumbed to injuries.

The Celtics are hurting the most at the power forward position. With both KG and Wallace down, they Celtics had to turn to Brian Scalabrine to matchup against the likes of Josh Smith, Taj Gibson, and Dirk Nowitzki. Guess what all three of these players have in common? They’re all bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic than Scalabrine. Smith and the rookie Gibson each dropped 14 points in victories over the Celtics, and Nowitzki scored 37 points against the Celtics on Monday night.

This team is also hurting in depth at the point guard position. Rondo is, in my opinion, far and away the best player on the team, but he can’t play 48 minutes a game. Eddie House had a solid start to the campaign, but his level of play has dropped off over the past few weeks. His three point percentage has declined from 37 percent in December, to 32 percent in January, and his average points per game has dropped from 8.6 in December, to 6.4 in January.

The Celtics tried to work in Lester Hudson earlier in the season, but he was later waived and claimed by the Grizzlies. J.R. Giddens ran the point at times during the Jann. 2nd win over the Raptors and in cleanup duty in a blowout win over the Nets, but Doc Rivers, for whatever reason, has been reluctant to give Giddens playing time.

There are rumors circulating that the Celtics have made a formal offer to the Knicks for point guard Nate Robinson. Adding Robinson to the roster could be just what the doctor ordered for Boston.

Fatigue

At 82 games, the NBA regular season is a marathon. Thus, for an older team like the Celtics, it’s very important to try to limit the minutes of players like KG, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. In the absence of one of their primary scorers, Paul Pierce’s average minutes per game has risen from 34.7 in December, to 36.4 in January. Two minutes may not seem like a significant rise, but for a 32-year-old trying to carry the team on his back night in and night out, it can take its toll.

Its puzzling to me that Doc Rivers hasn’t tried to work in Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens more to spell Pierce and Allen. If Allen continues to play almost 40 minutes per game, he’ll be completely gassed by the time the playoffs come around. Walker proved he belongs in the NBA after a dominant stint with the Red Claws, and Giddens is an incredible athlete. Both have performed well in cleanup duty, and have shown flashes of brilliance. I think it’s time for Doc to wipe the baffled look off of his sweat-drenched face while the opposing team makes a second half comeback, and starts making some strategic executive decisions.

Losing to the Mavericks and Hawks is one thing, but losing to the Detroit Pistons is embarrassing for a team like Boston. Let’s hope that once KG and Daniels return this team stays relatively healthy, because if they don’t, I’m not sure that Captain Rivers will be capable of stopping the ship from sinking.

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