Not a winning effort


Not a winning effort

By Rich Levine

BOSTON After six weeks of uninspired basketball, the playoffs were supposed to serve as an immediate wakeup call for the Boston Celtics. But when the curtain went up on Sunday, the Cs merely hit the snooze bar, and spent the better part of the night stuck in a familiar nightmare.

Their All-Star point guard was inconsistent. Their Hall of Fame shooting guard struggled to find rhythm. They were sloppy with the ball and wasted key possessions. Their bench was non-existent, and at many keys moments, so was their defense.

The truth is that for most of their Game One battle with the Knicks, the Celtics were the same team thats struggled since the deadline. The playoff alarm sounded, and they couldn't be bothered. And had any number of things played out differently over the final quarter hell, the last 21 seconds Boston would be a very different place this morning. Bruins fans wouldnt be the only ones lining up at the Zakim Bridge.

Instead, Ray Allen happened, and now the Celtics are up 1-0.

Sure, it wasnt pretty, but style points dont count for much in the NBA playoffs. Regardless of how they got there, Boston still achieved what fellow contenders like the Lakers, Spurs and Magic couldnt. Their homecourts still intact. Momentums on their side. Meanwhile, the Knicks are stunned, and left to wonder if they just let their best chance to steal the series slip away.

Now, Bostons seemingly in control, but as much youd love to get lost in Allens heroics and Carmelo Anthonys failures and celebrate the Celtics win with no strings attached, its also hard to ignore the gory details of their performance:

Although he played better in spurts, Rajon Rondo didnt break out the way everyone expected, or dominate in the way he needs to. The playoff spotlight didnt bust Jeff Green out of his shell, or bring out Big Babys familiar magic. There were still long stretches when the team looked like it was put together that afternoon. The Cs have lost confidence in Nenad Krstic, still have no answer for Amare Stoudemire and are now counting so heavily on Jermaine ONeal who despite an unbelievable performance, still hasnt shown that his body can survive the rigors of playoff hoops.

The fire, chemistry and cohesiveness that we all assumed would return with the start of the playoffs wasnt completely there, and at the end of a long, hard-fought night, the Celtics still only proved that theyre good enough to barely beat the Knicks at the Garden. And that was never even in question.

Despite any general pessimism heading into the postseason, beating New York was always the expectation. The problems, questions and fears were about Miami and Chicago. And despite Sundays win, those fears still very much exist. Boston can take solace in its 1-0 lead its certainly better than the alternative but it did very little to raise expectations or soothe fears that Banner 18 is slipping away.

At least for today.

But moving forward there obviously is reason for optimism.

In an ideal world, the postseason switch was supposed to be an easy remedy to Celtics problems. They were going to just show up at the Garden, see hordes of media, the playoff decals on the court and snap back into shape. But in retrospect, that attitude probably didn't do justice to what the NBA Playoffs are all about.

In reality, you don't just show up playoff ready. You don't just step onto the court, a year later, and snap right back into that mentality. You have to live it. You need to struggle. We saw it all around the league. Game Ones are a crap shoot. All bets are off. Everyone's feeling it out.

Players need to independently remember: "Oh, that's right. I forgot how different this is." Teams, if they're going to succeed, need to collectively have that moment when they come together and realize: "OK, this is for real now. Let's make this happen."

Last year, the Celtics didnt officially arrive in the playoffs until Kevin Garnett shoved Quentin Richardson in front of Miamis bench. That was the moment when the Celtics switch officially flipped, and they never looked back.

On Sunday night, only a few feet from where that season-changing altercation took place, Ray Allen drained a dagger that Celtics fans can only hope will have the same effect.

Boston was at the brink of disaster. Not that a 1-0 is remotely insurmountable, but for all this team has gone through, the way they'd played up to that point and the overriding tension surrounding the franchise after trade, it's hard to imagine them responding well to a Game 1 loss. Especially one lost in that fashion. It would have been bad.

Instead, Ray Allen happened, and now the Celtics are up 1-0.

Now, the Celtics have had their moment. They've gone through the playoff ringer, and should come out awake and ready to play on Tuesday.

If not, at this point, its hard to imagine what might do the trick.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics to begin season with Marcus Smart on the shelf

Celtics to begin season with Marcus Smart on the shelf

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics will be a bit shorthanded for the first few games of the season with Marcus Smart being out with a left ankle sprain injury.
The Celtics were holding out slim hope that it would heal in time for tomorrow’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Smart confirmed a report shortly after the injury on October 19 that it would likely be at least a couple weeks before he returned to action.
Following Tuesday’s practice, one in which Smart watched from the sidelines, he gave an update on his ankle injury which occurred in the Celtics’ last preseason game, a 121-96 loss to the New York Knicks.
“A couple weeks, that’s the projection (of a return) they gave me,” Smart said. “They want to make sure we can limit this from happening again.”
Smart said the two-week timetable began from the time of his injury, which means it’s likely that he will miss the Celtics’ first four games of the season.
That’s a much rosier timetable than the left ankle sprain injury Smart suffered as a rookie which kept him sidelined for several weeks afterwards.
“It shouldn’t be too long,” Smart said. “Better safe than sorry.”
His absence will certainly have an impact on a Celtics defense that ranked among the NBA’s best a year ago, and has only gotten stronger with the addition of Al Horford.
But the Celtics have been a "next man up" team for since Stevens has been the head coach. With Smart out, that’s not going to change.
“That’ll be a great opportunity for someone else to step up in his place,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
Boston guard Isaiah Thomas echoed similar thoughts.
“When somebody’s hurt, the next man has to step up,” Thomas said. “Guys have to take advantage of these opportunities.”
And for Smart, it’ll mean displaying his leadership skills from the sideline.
He’s totally comfortable taking on that role right now.
For his teammates, it might take a little bit of getting used to. Smart has been very loquacious on the Celtics sideline since suffering the injury.
“These last four days, he has been yelling … I told him to shut up a few times,” quipped Isaiah Thomas. “That’s just him, especially when he’s not playing. He’s very vocal.”
Terry Rozier, the likely benefactor in terms of minutes played due to Smart’s injury, agreed.
“He’s been sitting right there in that seat,” said Rozier, adding, “and he hasn’t shut up yet. It’s good; you’re going to need a guy like that who is going to talk to you. It’s like a guy, he says things … it’s like he’s been in the league 10 years. He knows his stuff.”
Smart’s knowledge bank includes understanding that his current injury will probably happen again at some point. The key isn’t dealing with the injury, but how you move forward from it.
“This isn’t my first ankle sprain and I know it won’t be my last,” Smart said. “I just have to let it heal on its own and let your body do what it does.”