Celtics struggle without Garnett in the lineup

Celtics struggle without Garnett in the lineup
October 16, 2012, 1:52 pm
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PHILADELPHIA For those who questioned Danny Ainge's wisdom in ponying up big money for Kevin Garnett to return to Boston (three years, 34 million), you might want to tuck away for safe keeping Monday night's 107-75 preseason loss to Philadelphia.

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers unveiled a Kevin Garnett-less roster.

From there, the Sixers proceeded to undress the C's in every way imaginable before handing them one of their worst preseason losses ever, 107-75.

Preseason defeats never stick around in the players' minds too long, and Monday night's defeat is no exception. But for good measure, the C's have another game tonight -- the first for this season's team at the TD Garden -- against the Brooklyn Nets with Garnett presumably back in the lineup.

Now the Celtics don't have to get rocked by 32 points for Doc Rivers to know his team is better -- a lot better -- with Garnett on the floor.

The difference with Garnett on the floor has always been there, evident by him being either first or second on the C's roster in all but the 2008-2009 season (he missed the final 25 games and the all of the playoffs with an injury) in plusminus on the team.

"Kevin always makes a difference, clearly," Rivers said. "The way we mentally approached the game (against Philadelphia) on a whole, with Kevin we would have lost by 22. We still would have lost the game."

Brandon Bass is among those not looking to make too big a deal about Garnett being out of the lineup for one night in the preseason.

"Doc's trying a bunch of different things," Bass said. "Ten games into the regular season, that would be a great question if Kevin don't play. But right now, it's preseason. Doc's trying different things to see what works best for us."

True, this is the time to experiment both with different combinations as well as how the team can function without some core guys available.

But the lack of intensity from the outset on Monday and the way that so many players seemingly gave into the struggles of the game and not fight through them, was disturbing - preseason game or not.

Boston's biggest problem on the floor appears to be in their pick-and-roll coverages, which have been inconsistent even with Garnett in the lineup.

A lot of that has to do with guys simply not being on the same page defensively, the kind of thing that Garnett has a tendency to clean up.

"Some of our guys got frustrated early because other guys forgot plays or didn't know things," Rivers said. "That's a lesson, too. You have to be able to grind a game out. We're going to play 82 regular season games, and I guarantee you we're not going to be great in all of them. But you can still win the game if you have mental toughness."

And that is among the many things that Garnett brings to the floor every night.

So is his constant chatter during games which provides his teammates with a vocal reminder of what they need to do and maybe just as important, keeps them all on a "defensive string" which has been a major factor in Boston's defense ranking among the NBA's best since Garnett arrived in 2007.

"Our main focus right now is communication; our communication with obviously Kevin missing (against Philadelphia), was way down," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "Kevin's not always going to be there for us, so somebody has to pick it up including myself."