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In its final two games before All-Star Weekend in Orlando, the Celtics got trounced by a pair of top-four playoff teams from the Western Conference. These two losses stretched their losing streak to five games, the second time this season they have lost five in a row.
Boston’s 16- and 15-point losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder misleadingly make the games seem more competitive than they actually were. The Celtics were consistently down by 20 in the third and fourth quarters in Dallas, then followed that up by giving up 72 (!) first-half points in OKC (essentially what the Celtics managed through four quarters against the Mavericks).
Despite nearly clawing back to within striking distance (six points) of the Thunder in the fourth quarter, the Celtics stayed true to their 2012 form: get behind early, come back late and still walk away with a loss.
Additionally, the Celtics lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to a suspension for deciding that the ball and the referee should chest bump in celebration of screwing him over against the Detroit Pistons, plus both Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal to injury in the second half of the Dallas game. Already without Brandon Bass AND Kevin Garnett, the Celtics had to play the Thunder without three of their top four big men. Awesome!
Though some competitive play against other top-tier teams in the NBA is nice, it won’t matter if the Celtics end up with the seventh or eighth seed and have to play the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
The All-Star Break, it seems, couldn’t have arrived at a better time. So let’s go over the C’s report card heading into the midterm break:
Avery Bradley seems to finally be gaining a little offensive confidence with all the time Rondo has spent in street clothes this season. He averaged 10 field goal attempts in this week’s two games, including three resounding dunks in transition against the Thunder. I guess it would be too much to ask even a defensive stalwart like Bradley to check an athletic, All-Star specimen such as Russell Westbrook, though. Still, Bradley seems to have become a reliable back-up point guard, provided Rondo can stay healthy and avoid turning chest passes into a literal basketball term.
It’s good to see Ray Allen drop 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting (3-of-5 on three-pointers)… even if it was in a horrific bloodbath of a loss.
Doc Rivers credited captain Paul Pierce with leading the comeback effort in Oklahoma City, as he repeatedly got to the line (12-for-16 on free throws) and was one of two Celtics with a positive +/- (+3, same as Bradley). That almost makes up for his 33 percent shooting from the field.
The starting power forward spot consisted of 13 minutes of pre-injury Wilcox and 44 minutes of… Mickael Pietrus? I’m Ron Burgundy? At least Pietrus managed to make a few shots on his way to 16 points in a starting role. I guess.
O’Neal was largely absent thanks to another injury, but Garnett had one of his better statistical efforts returning as the Celtics “center,” pouring in 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting with a season-high 13 rebounds. Maybe the Celtics should just resort to playing him every other game so his knees don’t simply explode.
With Rondo’s suspension, Rivers’s refusal to give E’Twaun Moore any meaningful minutes (maybe for good reason, based on the earful he got on Monday), and the trainer’s discovery that Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic are actually just extras from “The Walking Dead,” “Bench Back-court” is really just a synonym for Keyon Dooling. This has to be some sort of sick joke by Danny Ainge.
I would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Dooling for the first “F” in Celtics Report Card history.
Stiemsma saw 17 minutes against Dallas, then barely sniffed the OKC court’s enamel coating. All that despite being one of only three healthy bodies who can legitimately play forward or center (if you even consider Garnett and his papery knees “healthy”).
Johnson continues to knock down open jumpers but remains a huge liability trying to guard anyone inside of eight feet. I’m pretty sure I could back him down, and I spend half my time wasting away on the couch watching Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith breathe fire at one another on ESPN First Take.
I’m starting to regret adding the coaching section, because I don’t know what Doc is supposed to do with this team. Injuries have wrecked any semblance of a rotation he might have envisioned, and he has zero practice time to develop his young players as replacements contribute off the bench. I’ll give him points for motivating his team to keep fighting in OKC, but if I were him, I would regret my decision to jump back on board a sinking ship piloted by a moody, disinterested point guard and a general manager who needs former teammates to help orchestrate good moves for the Celtics.*
*Simmons, Bill. “The Danny Ainge Anniversary Party.” Grantland. 2/23/12.