Celtics struggle without Garnett in the lineup

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Celtics struggle without Garnett in the lineup

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."

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."