So here are the Celtics, once again at .500, mired in the middle of the pack in both the Eastern Conference and the entire NBA and about to embark on their first, truly meaningful road trip of the season.
While 26 games most certainly doesn't spell out all one needs to know about a season (unless you're the Sacramento Kings or Washington Wizards), we've learned enough by now to know that the Celtics need to get bigger and tougher and must begin to start embracing the defensive concepts that made them title contenders in the previous five seasons before it's too late.
We saw some signs that changes are coming during Wednesday night's win over the Cavs when 12th man Jason Collins earned a start and 23 minutes of playing time just because he's a big and big off-season acquisition Jason Terry was finally re-inserted into the starting lineup in place of the perpetually lost Courtney Lee. Those two started again in Friday night's OT loss to Milwaukee.
But even with those moves (as well as the reduction of minutes for trick-or-treat Jeff Green to just 14), it still took a 13-of-16, six 3-pointer, 40-point, throwback performance from Paul Pierce to nail down the victory at home against a team that has won but five games all year.
Pierce was on fire again against the Bucks, almost single-handedly winning if for the C's once again. But he couldn't overcome the rest of his teammates inconsistency and the C's bowed 99-94, blowing a double digit lead to to Milwaukee for the second time in two meetings.
There are chemistry issues here, folks and while those are explainable given all of the new faces and solvable even on the fly, the fact that so many guys still aren't seeming to get it after the first quarter pole of the season has passed is a bit alarming.
Lee has come nowhere near as advertised. His shooting percentage is way down, particularly from deep, and the solid perimeter defense we were told he'd bring has been nowhere. He may just be struggling to fit in, having played for an actual winning team just once in his career, in his rookie year with Orlando.
When you look at all of his numbers including the advanced metrics (career lows in PER, win shares and win shares per 48 minutes to name three), they are all way down. One can hope that he'll continue to get more comfortable as the season wears on as it seems impossible for any player to fall so sharply from his career averages without there being some kind of issue with adjusting to a new team, city or role. These next 15-20 games will be key.
Then there's Green, a player who still doesn't seem to fit into the Celtics' system. He didn't fit when he came over from Oklahoma at the 2011 trade deadline and now, with his minutes fluctuating and his output way down of late, it's fair to wonder if he ever truly will.
Green is here to score, defend, create mismatches at the 3 and 4 by using his length and athleticism and spell Pierce so that the 35-year old Captain doesn't have to put up numbers like he did on Wednesday for the team to win. But his output is so wildly all over the map, it's tough to count on him.
Green is averaging 15 points and five rebounds in roughly 25 minutes per game. But loom at his game logs and you'll see a player who is still trying to find his footing and is therefore maddeningly inconsistent.
On Nov. 25, just two nights after a game-changing, 17-point performance in a win against Portland, Green was 0-for-9 and had one points and tow boards in 20-plus minutes against the Magic. After managing just two points on only three shot attempts in 16 minutes in the C's next game against Brooklyn, he began a run of 16 or more points in five of his next six games before a total of 25 in the next four, the last of which was Wednesday night's no-show against the Cavs.
Green is still a relatively young player and he is coming back from missing an entire season thanks to heart surgery. But those factors only partially explain his game being as all over the map as it's been this season. His defensive rating of 106 (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) and woeful PER and win share per 48 minutes numbers (11.1, .016 respectively) don't do him any favors, especially when you take into consideration the contract the Celts lavished upon him last summer.
Consistency and chemistry. Those are the biggest problems facing the Celtics heading into this big, Christmas week road trip. The rebounding and defensive lapses are both issues that can work themselves out as they did last season when a much thinner roster woke up halfway through the abbreviated schedule and came one game from a third Finals appearance in five years.
Unless everyone, Green and Lee in particular, gets on the same page and starts bringing it on a far more regular basis, this group won't even sniff such an opportunity.