They start three hall-of-famers. Their supposed "weak links" are an all star point guard and a center leading the league in field goal percentage. They won an NBA championship two years ago and were one of the league's best teams last season. So somebody needs to ask, what's wrong with the Boston Celtics?
The C's are currently a lame fourth in the Eastern Conference, and going nowhere. Sure they will likely make the playoffs, but what gives any hope that they'll do anything once they get there? They haven't consistently beaten winning teams since the first month of the season. Worse, Boston got swept by the surprising Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are younger and play hungrier, perhaps signifying a changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference.
With Boston having lost six of their last eight, here are three reasons for this midseason swoon:
Phoning it in: Unlike the NFL, NBA players don't try every game. Sure, they're paid millions but it's a long season with few rest periods. The Celtics playing the Wizards Monday night was like watching the cocky kids on the playground. They play like they're too good to care for three quarters, and then try to turn it on in the fourth. This lame strategy has come back to haunt them a few times this year, as even the worst teams can beat you if you let them hang around long enough.
For their opponents, every game is a playoff game: Every ticket taker at an NBA arena will confirm what the Celtics coming to town means: more business. Take DC's Verizon Center, where Wizard fans, burdened by a mediocre team this year, often cheer louder for the kiss cam than the game itself. This changes when the Celtics come to town. The enthusiasm spreads to the Wizards themselves, who give a more inspired effort then usual.
They're Getting Old: This may be the most logical explanation and the hardest to deal with for Celtic fans. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, are all great players. The fact is, they're also 32, 33 and 34 respectively. Rajon Rondo offers hope for the future, but he isn't ready to carry a team yet. As shocking as it may seem, the Celtics have only one player in the top 40 for points, rebounds and assists. Their high point man, Pierce, is a disappointing 25th in the league. These are terrible numbers for a supposed title contender.
After Monday's less than impressive win against a struggling Wizards team, the Celtics offered the same old answers. "We're getting there," Garnett said. Rondo offered, "We take one game at a time," as if sports fans had never heard the line before. When asked about his opinion on the Celtics age, Washington Center Brendan Haywood said with a smirk, "I can't call them old if they still beat us."
The consensus among NBA analysts is that the Celtics can still be a force. They can put their foot back on the accelerator any time they want. Once the playoffs come they'll avenge their losses to Atlanta and stifle Lebron and Kobe.
I don't see it. Regular season games are like practice -- if you don't practice well you won't play well. If the Celtics don't turn it around quickly, their postseason run could be short lived.