LOS ANGELES There was supposed to be a big time basketball game at the Staples Center last night, and within that game, a match-up between two of the best point guards in the NBA.
In theory, we saw both. But unfortunately, the reality never came close to meeting our expectations. Almost instantly, "Clippers vs. Celtics" became "legitimate contender vs. random also-ran." "Chris Paul vs. Rajon Rondo" became "the undisputed best vs. just another point guard in over his head."
For 48 minutes, we watched one of the most complete teams in the league, and their unflappable leader, simply toy with a squad that so badly wants to be there thats supposed to be there with a point guard who continues to come up short in his first season behind the imaginary wheel.
And the question is: What do we make of it?
How seriously should we take last night's Celtics ass-whooping?
One option is to just keep pointing at the calendar. To remember that it's only December. That it doesn't matter that the Clippers have now won 15 games in a row, while the Celtics have won 14 all season. That none of this will mean a thing come the end of April.
It's to ask, "Are we really going to overreact to the Celtics getting blown out:
1) on the road.
2) on the other side of the country
3) in the first game after Christmas
4) against a bonafide contender that's playing at the very top of its game"
It's also to keep talking about Avery Bradley. To say, at this point, that it's probably worth reserving judgment on this team until Bradley's officially back.
January 2. That's two more games. That's less than a week until the debate is finally settled. And patience is especially logical when you consider that, even if you don't think that Bradley will rescue this team, the Celtics certainly do.
Here's a quick story to back that up:
After last night's game, the media was waiting outside the locker room for Doc Rivers' press conference, and about two steps from the pack stood Billy Crystal. If you don't know, Crystal's a huge Clippers fan, and at this moment, he and his wife were clearly waiting to speak with Doc. When the coach came out, he made a b-line for the Crystals, hugged the wife, shook Billy's hand and said: "I hope you've washed this thing since delivering that baby cow."
No, he didn't really say that. Instead, he made a different joke. Something like "you know you guys aren't supposed to treat former Clippers this way." They all laughed, but then Doc turned a little serious: "Yeah, it's tough for us right now. We're still waiting on Avery Bradley. He's our defensive stopper."
I thought that was interesting. Knowing Doc he'd have been just as likely to say something like: "Yeah, we're just in a funk. We're not playing very good basketball." That's just the way he is. But in reality, and genuinely, the first thing Rivers did was bring up Avery Bradley. He clearly believes that Avery will make a significant impact. He also happens to know more about this team, and basketball in general, than all of us combined.
So why not give it two more games?
Why not wait to see what happens with Bradley before pretending we know everything or anything about this year's Celtics?
Especially when the alternative is so unbelievably depressing.
The alternative leaves Boston with a team that's simply not good enough. A team with a young core led by Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee whose minds don't show up every game and aging stars Paul Pierce and KG whose bodies don't show up every game. A team that leaves you asking questions like: Was last night more a matter of the Celtics failing to play as well as they can, or just losing to a much better team? Is Rondo's problem that he wasn't focused, or is that he's just not as good as Chris Paul? And either way, does Rondo even matter? Is he really the problem?
Another way to think about it is like this: Let's say we go back in time and have Rondo and Paul switch teams before last night's game. Rondo plays for the Clippers; Paul for the Celtics. Does that change the outcome? Is Paul as effective when surrounded by four slower, more grounded, 35 starters? Is Rondo as aloof while running fast break after faster break with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan screeching by in his peripheral vision? Does his match-up with Paul negate the Clippers far superior supporting cast?
I don't think so. I think that the Celtics are in trouble either way. And that unless Avery Bradley really does turn things around, there's a lot more trouble ahead.