Here's what's ironic about the Celtics' disgraceful performance in tonight's home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Two days prior to taking the floor at the TD Garden to face the C's, the Bucks held a practice session at their gym in St. Francis, Wisc., and the big headline that afternoon was Brandon Jennings' frustration with his failure to land a contract extension in Milwaukee. Bucks general manager John Hammond said he wanted to keep Jennings around, but the two sides weren't able to work out a deal before Wednesday's deadline, and it left the young guard fuming to the media.
"I'll be able to make my own decision," Jennings told reporters. "The main thing is, I could say I'm kind of auditioning for other teams, too. The fact if they see what I can do, what I can bring to the table this year for the Bucks, anything can happen in the summertime."
File under "things you might think but should never state publicly, especially not 48 hours before the season starts."
There had been doubts ever since March, when the Bucks made a blockbuster trade with the Golden State Warriors to land Monta Ellis, about the team's chemistry. How was Jennings, an undersized, inexperienced, shoot-first guard, supposed to coexist peacefully with Ellis, another undersized, inexperienced, shoot-first guard? It appeared Wednesday that we had our answer -- he wouldn't. The Bucks would be a mess. With an "auditioning for other teams" mindset from their supposed star player, they had no hope.
Which brings us to the irony -- when the Bucks finally took the court on Friday night for their season opener, they were a well-oiled machine. It was the Celtics -- the wise, unselfish, well-coached, Ubuntu-ized Celtics -- in shambles. Who'd have thunk it?
Certainly not Doc Rivers, who emerged from the Celtics' second loss, 99-88 to the visiting Bucks, dismayed that his team couldn't perform better on either end of the court.
"I thought it was that thing where you start struggling on offense, you get down, and then you start not playing defense," Rivers said. "I thought that was a lot of it. I thought early on, we got open shots, but then I thought we pressed. We played a little 'every man for himself.' Not selfishly -- I thought guys were trying to win the game for us -- but I thought there was very little ball movement. I thought each guy tried to make the play. It was out of frustration. I really thought they were pressing."
To say the least, it was unexpected. The Bucks surged into the lead early thanks to a 9-0 run at the end of the first quarter, fueled by a flurry of Boston mistakes. A turnover here, a bad shot there, a blown defensive assignment on the other end, and things snowballed. The Celtics, usually known for their patience, poise and ball movement, had none of the above. Meanwhile the Bucks were able to sit back and wait for the open shot. Time and time again, they'd get it and hit it.
"They spread the floor, they attacked off the dribble, they stretched us out," Rivers said. "And then on defense, they just sagged the paint and dared us to shoot -- or make an extra pass. We decided to shoot."
Defensively, the Celtics have been in disarray for two games now. After letting the Miami Heat hang a cool 120 on them in Tuesday night's season opener, the C's let in 97 against a Bucks team that's not exactly known for its sophistication on the offensive end. Their rotations are slow, their help defense is disorganized, and their effort to contest jump shots is nonexistent. It's obviously still early, but so far, the Celtics haven't shown the D that's made them an elite team the last five years.
"Defense is really about effort and communication, and tonight we just didn't have either one of them," Paul Pierce said. "Even at times when we did have effort, we didn't communicate. Those are the kinds of things that cause defensive breakdowns."
"We're still a work in progress, obviously," added Kevin Garnett. "The lack of communication on the court makes it more difficult. We're still working to get some consistency, we're still playing with the chemistry, and we have different lineups that Doc is playing with simultaneously. We're still working. No one said this would be an easy process."
Progress. Communication. Consistency. Chemistry. Process. These are buzzwords tossed around by young teams, by struggling teams, by teams still learning to play together. But for a veteran, supposedly championship-caliber team, whose nucleus has been together five years? These qualities should be a given.
For some reason, the Celtics still look like a fractured group of individuals, not a cohesive team.
In other words, they look a lot like the Milwaukee Bucks.
"You have to invest into the team to become a team," Rivers said, falling back on a truism he really shouldn't need to fall back on. "I don't think we've done that yet, but I think we will."