Let's See How Far We've Come...Or Not

Exactly two weeks have passed since the Celtics collapsed in the second half at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 25. Unfortunately for the C's - with the glaring loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last night still clear in our minds - they have not seemed to improve at all since that loss to the Cavs. Unfortunately, that same lackluster and uninspired play that defined that second half against Cleveland has been present in nearly every game since then, with the possible exception being the March 3 win against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Here's what Kevin Garnett said after that loss to Cleveland (courtesy of CSNNE.com): 
He found himself uttering that all too familiar 'we need to play 48 minutes' tune that he and his teammates have been talking about oh, all season.

"I know you guys are tired of writing it in your columns; I apologize for that," Garnett said. "At some point there has to be some action."
And here's what Garnett said after the Celtics fell to the NBA's worst team, the New Jersey Nets, the following game (courtesy of ESPN Boston): 
"I'm not going to sit up here and give a bunch of excuses, that's not my style," said Garnett. "You lose, you lose. They kicked our [butts] tonight. Period. Point blank. Players have to do more, including myself, we all have to dig deep and see what we're made of as a team. Seriously."

"We're a team that takes a lot of pride in getting stops, we have to get back to that. Hearing it is starting to make my ears ring, but that's what it is, and we will, we have no choice."
A week and a half later, after suffering another bitter home defeat at the hands of the young and athletic Memphis Grizzlies, Garnett was muttering a similar tune (courtesy of CSNNE.com): 
"It's not about coming in here and talking to (the media) about it. It's about actually going out there and doing it." 

"You've got to come out here and put an effort out that's worthy. That's just what it is. I'm not going to come out and give a whole bunch of excuses about it. It's about not talking and doing."
Today, two weeks after falling to the Cavs by 20 points, two rational conclusions can be drawn:

A) The Celtics have not improved over the past two weeks: If two weeks later we're still hearing the same post-game speeches about 'needing to be better' and turning all of the talk into action, with just a few words changed around, then clearly the Celtics haven't progressed as a team. One would hope that the Celtics today would be better than the Celtics of two weeks ago. But can we honestly say that? If LeBron and co. marched back into Boston tomorrow, would we have reason to believe that the outcome would be any different than what it was three weeks ago, even with Paul Pierce back in the lineup? 

This conclusion also means we have to forget about the four-game winning streak we were riding last week. What was once a brief glimpse of hope that maybe, just maybe, things were starting to turn around, is now nothing more  than a small collection of meaningless wins. We really wanted to harp on the good, so we accepted less than stellar wins over the Pistons, 76ers, and Wizards, and a fairly convincing win over the Bobcats. We chose to focus on the comeback against the Wizards, rather than the first three inept quarters, which were eerily similar to all four quarters of last night's game. And weren't we saying that the first three quarters of that Washington game were eerily similar to the four quarters of the New Jersey game (which took place, you know, a week and a day earlier)? Hmm...I see a pattern forming...

B) The Celtics did improve against the Bobcats, only to regress the very next game: Was it actually improvement, or just an anomaly? Even the latest of the birds gets the worm once in a while. Personally, I'm not convinced it was a sign of improvement, but regardless, it's irrelevant at this point. The Celtics could not maintain that measure of defense or overall play, as they barely managed to scrape by the 76ers (it was a five-point game with two minutes left), and crawled past the Wizards in the waning seconds in the following two games. Even if the win over Charlotte was an improvement, the C's couldn't build off of it, so it might as well have never happened, because they now appear to be back to square one. These four most recent wins were phantom wins - playful teases that masqueraded the larger problems still looming beneath the surface. 

If asked to vote, I'd choose option A. If this were a court of law and the Celtics were charged with three counts of not improving, they would not be able to supply any sufficient evidence to argue against the claim. If this were a trial for burglary, the win over Charlotte would be the day when the thief seriously considered walking back to the house he stole from, handing everything back, and vowing to turn his life around - only to do just the opposite the very next day. Optimism is typically a good thing, and believe it or not, in the wake of everything, I still have plenty of it. But if two more weeks pass and we're still in the same spot we are right now, we might be in some serious trouble.
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