Celtics facing major issues as playoffs approach

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Celtics facing major issues as playoffs approach

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

SAN ANTONIO The Boston Celtics are in a bit of a quandary these days.

They know their past success can't do a thing for them right now in terms of keeping them from sinking any further than they have the past couple of weeks.

But those past experiences, no matter how outdated they may seem, serve as the blueprint for a rescue-and-recovery mission that is sorely needed in order to salvage a season that has taken on a Titanic-esque feel lately.

"We know what the big picture is," said Paul Pierce, easily the most frustrated member of the Celtics these days. "We know what it takes."

But knowledge can only go so far without work.

And lately, it has been the C's -- not their opponents -- that have been getting worked over.

Coach Doc Rivers has been at this long enough to know regardless of how good a team is, they're going to have stretches where they won't play well.

As far as whether the Celtics will be better when the postseason arrives, Rivers has no worries about that.

"But I don't like losing games," he said. "And I don't like the way we're losing games."

When you look at the Celtics recent slump, there are a couple of things that stick out and to a large degree, have become major issues lately.

Late game execution
There are very few teams in the NBA in recent years whose ability to make the big play at the biggest moment of the game -- we'll call it "clutch quotient" -- can rival that of the Boston Celtics.

How many times have we seen Ray Allen deliver a late-game, dagger 3-pointer from the corner, in front of the opposing team's bench?

Or Kevin Garnett grabbing a tough rebound in traffic?

Or Paul Pierce going to his right for the step-back jumper, a shot that teams seem to know is coming but can't seem to stop?

You look back at the past couple of weeks, and you'll find few of those plays being made in close games.

Instead, we see Garnett fumbling the ball or being pushed aside by the likes of Tyler Hansbrough. We see Allen in the corner, but either his teammates don't see him or when they do see him, he misses.

Pierce hasn't been much better, either.

And then there's Rajon Rondo, the man who has the ball in his hands more than anybody.

Whether it's physical or mental, one thing is clear: Aside from Monday's 22-point, 8-assist effort in a loss to the Indiana Pacers, Rondo has been off his game lately.

Those problems occur throughout games, but lately have been problematic when the game is up for grabs in the fourth quarter.

"In the fourth quarter, if you don't get the job done, you'll probably lose the game," Rondo said.

Father Time gaining ground?
A year ago, there were lots of questions surrounding this team about whether they were too old to remain a title contender.

Well, advancing to the NBA Finals proved a lot of their naysayers wrong.

But when you see what has transpired recently with the C's, many of those same questions are once again being raised.

And remember, the Celtics are even older now -- and lately, they've looked and played like it.

"It's almost like we have great energy, and then run out," Rivers said.

Take a look at their last game, a 107-100 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

They opened the game with 33 points in the first quarter, scored just 16 in the second, went back up to 36 points in the third, but could muster up 15 in the decisive fourth quarter.

Pinning the slumping numbers on the second unit isn't fair.

When you look at Boston's 16-point second quarter, at least one member of the Big 4 was in the game for all but the first 40 seconds of the quarter. And in the fourth quarter, Boston had at least two of the Big 4 in the game for the entire period.

Scoring hasn't been where it should be for the Celtics, but that's the biggest issue impacting this team.

It has been the Celtics' defense weakening at a time when it needs to be strong.

And as they go about sorting through all the different problems they're having, shoring up their defense has to be the number one priority.

"I know we're dealing with different issues here, but we're a defensive team," Garnett said. "We gotta get back to that. We gotta get back into a rhythm."

Certainly the fact that they have been essentially playing with a patchwork lineup all season is an issue, but it doesn't explain or justify how a team that's so grounded in defense, has suddenly become a team where defense has become a liability down the stretch.

"When one thing doesn't go right, it's sort of a trickle effect," Garnett added. "So now, it's like a domino effect. We're going to continue to grind. We're going to continue to work to get this thing right."

Rewriting history
It's as if they're taking a page from last season's playbook in which they stumbled down the stretch to close out the regular season, only to storm back in the playoffs and ultimately get to the NBA Finals where they came up short against the Los Angeles Lakers.

"We can't think about last year," Pierce said. "How we eased into the playoffs and got to the Finals. That's not going to work this year. There's a lot of teams hungry, playing well right now."

In addition to Chicago, which currently has the best record in the East, the surging Miami Heat, Tuesday night's loss in Cleveland aside, are starting put together a series of dominant performances -- the kind of performances many expected from them when LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to take their talents to South Beach to team up with Dwyane Wade.

As much as those teams warrant the Celtics' attention, the C's have little choice but to keep their focus on themselves.

Because right now, what those teams do will have little consequence if the Celtics don't get their own house in order, right now.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Crowder and Booker exchange Instagram barbs following 70-point game

Crowder and Booker exchange Instagram barbs following 70-point game

Jae Crowder is not known for being shy on social media.

He was at it again on Friday night, commenting on an Instagram post of the Phoenix Suns celebrating Devin Booker's 70-point game at the TD Garden.

“NEVER SEEN SO MANY GUYS HAPPY AFTER AN ‘L’’” Crowder said in the Instagram comment.

Booker responded, telling the Celtics veteran, “you can’t guard me.”

Booker became just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a game,  the most scored ever at the TD Garden.

Stars, studs and duds: Booker 'in one of those zones' in 70-point game

Stars, studs and duds: Booker 'in one of those zones' in 70-point game

BOSTON – Al Horford knew Devin Booker was having a big game, but it wasn’t until the third quarter was over and he looked up saw Booker already had 42 points.

“When I looked up and saw (his points total) … it’s just impressive.”

Booker would finish with a franchise-record 70 points against the Celtics, a ridiculously unheard of tally that still wasn’t enough as Boston came away with a 130-120 win.

The 6-foot-6 guard became just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a game.

While Celtics players were quick to praise Booker for his historic performance, there were a few Celtics who were clearly bothered by Suns coach Earl Watson having his team commit fouls late in the game in order to get the ball back so Booker could have more shots at the franchise record.

“It was weird what they were doing,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It is what it is. I don’t think anybody has ever seen that; continuing to call time-outs, continuing to foul when we are up 15, but I mean it was obvious what they were trying to do. They were trying to get him the most points possible. Hat off to him (Booker). He played a hell of a game.”

That said, it wasn’t like the Celtics were willing to give him all those points.

“No matter who we tried on him, what we tried on him, he was in one of those zones in a rhythm,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He was in that rhythm early in the game, and we didn’t do a very good job of breaking that rhythm.”

Putting Booker’s performance in words let alone perspective, was not easy – not even for Booker.

“It’s a zone that’s kind of hard to explain,” he said. “I’ve been in those zones before but never to this extent. It’s hard to explain … when you’re in the gym alone. You’re taking shots and making them consecutively. That’s what it starts feeling like for me. Felt comfortable, at my home gym draining.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.

 

STARS

Devin Booker

It was a historic night for the second-year guard, setting a Suns franchise record with 70 points on 21-for-40 shooting. The 70 points were also the most scored at the TD Garden, with Booker becoming only the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a game.

Isaiah Thomas

Very efficient game for Thomas who is steadily getting his groove back after missing a couple games with a knee injury. He led the Celtics with 34 points on 10-for-20 shooting along with dishing out seven assists.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

The Celtics got another strong game from Horford who had 15 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double this season. He also dished out six assists.

Gerald Green

The Celtics hit a bit of a scoring slump in the first half, but there was Green to the rescue. He finished with 15 points off the bench, all of which came in the first half.

Alex Len

One of the players besides Booker to make somewhat of an impact for Phoenix, Len finished with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting with six rebounds and two blocked shots.

Jae Crowder

He had 13 points and 10 rebounds, giving him his eighth double-double this season, while shooting 4-for-8 from the field.

 

DUDS

Celtics defense

Missing Avery Bradley was obviously a factor in Devin Booker’s big night for Phoenix. Boston reverted back to play way too casual defensively and Booker made them pay all night long. The Celtics have to correct this before it costs to something more than pride; but potentially being what winds up getting them eliminated from the playoffs.