Blakely: Once again Celtics go down without swinging

Blakely: Once again Celtics go down without swinging
November 20, 2013, 12:30 am
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Gerald Wallace has been able to put all of the ups and downs of the Boston Celtics' roller coaster of a season in perspective.

He can point to plays or portions of the game when things go unhinged. He can lay out scenarios for what should have been done and what needs to be done in the future.

But for the first time this season, Wallace looked like a defeated man who had done everything and said all that he could, but sensing it was falling on deaf ears.

"I don't know what the (expletive) tonight was," a dejected Wallace said after Boston was trounced 109-85 by Houston. "I really don't know what was going on."

He tried to elaborate by talking about the team being more about getting scores than stops, about scoreboard watching instead and how this is going to be "a long season" if players don't change their ways.

Wallace is right on a lot of those points. But the problems of this team are much deeper than that.

They don't compete anymore.

Period.

It's not an offensive, defensive or even a coaching issue. It's more of a 'we're not good enough and now we're going to play like it' issue.

The last couple of games have shown that it doesn't take a whole lot to deflate this team and get them to go from playing selfless basketball to being selfish.

On Tuesday, the Celtics had 16 assists on 32 made baskets, continuing a disturbing trend of low assists numbers.

It seems that when things start to go wrong, they are looking for someone to bail them out.

When no one steps up which has been the case a lot this season, Avery Bradley does what he can to be that guy.

But here's the problem. Avery Bradley is not that guy.

He is a defensive pest who is gradually evolving into a more athletic, mid-range shot-making version of former NBA defensive ace Bruce Bowen.

And you know what? There's not a team in the NBA that wouldn't love to have a player with that being in his basketball DNA ... that is, unless he's a 6-foot-2 combo guard who leads your team in shot attempts.

Because that's what Bradley is to the Celtics, and that's among the many reasons why they have twice as many losses (8) as victories.

Coaches talk about every game as being an individual entity unto itself, but trends tend to develop over time that have to be accounted for.

Sadly, we're starting to see some bad ones with this Celtics team.

Not only have they been beaten soundly in their last two games, but the losses and the play leading to the losses is getting worse and more decisive.

You name a phase of the game on Tuesday, and the chances of Boston fighting to win that category for more than a quarter were slim to none.

And that's what makes Tuesday's loss more than just another setback.

There was a certain edge, a swagger - "Steez" if we're talking Jordan Crawford -  that this team played with every night.

The Celtics may not win, but dammit you were going to be in for a fight that wouldn't be decided until the fourth quarter because that's what this Green Team does; they fight ... or so we thought.

That fight in them may still be alive, but it's far from well. If that competitive drive still exists, it's fading away quickly.

The fact that the Rockets beat them is not that surprising. But to do it so emphatically, with such ease was unexpected.

Making it an even bigger head-scratcher is the fact that they had an extra day off in between games. Instead of the extra downtime helping, the Celtics came out as flat as we've seen them all season in allowing Houston to score 40 points in the first quarter.

That was just the beginning.

From there, the Rockets scored when and where they wanted to, all game.

Boston's leading scorer this season Jeff Green, was yet again a non-factor for long stretches. He finished with four points on 2-for-7 shooting and at one point in the last two games, had gone seven quarters without a basket.

Blame it on his teammates. Blame it on the coaches. Blame Green.

It doesn't change the fact that he continues to be a basketball tease, delivering big shots one night (Miami) and disappearing for long stretches afterward.

But if Green's disappearing act were the biggest issue impacting this team, they would be in pretty good shape.

A larger problem is developing, one that goes beyond simply winning games.

They forgot what it means to be a competitor.

It's showing up, prepared to do all that you can in order to give your team a shot at success.

But we're not seeing that with this group; at least not with any consistency.

No one likes to lose, but it's palatable when you go down fighting. But for the second straight game, the Celtics were essentially knocked out by halftime.

Yes, 20-plus point leads in the NBA can evaporate like a smoky fog meeting a ray of sunshine. But this Celtics team isn't built to come back from huge deficits.

They have to keep the game within striking distance and hope that they can find a way to execute in the fourth quarter and steal a win.

But we're starting to see a team that's just not understanding that that has to be the way they play, all the time; and that fighting to keep the game close is their only shot at winning.

Boston forward Gerald Wallace talked about how the Celtics have a "bad habit" of letting their offense dictate their play.

Considering they are one of the league's lowest scoring teams, you can understand why Wallace is disturbed by this.

Wallace has been pleading with his teammates to make defense a bigger priority, because without it ... they suck!

"If you're giving up 40 points in the first quarter, for the next (70) games ... that's going to be a long season!" said Wallace, who closed out his interview with one more four-letter expletive.

Indeed, Wallace is expressing the frustration that so many in Celtics Nation have with this team. If they just lacked talent, it wouldn't matter so much if they are blown out.

But the truth is, they are talented enough to battle teams down to the wire. But somewhere along the way, they seemed to have forgotten that the pathway to success has to begin and end with being competitive.

Because without it, well, you get games like Tuesday night's beat down.

And who wants to see 70 more games like that?