In my last post, Reading the Tea Leaves, I ended with two conclusions. One was that this team lacks a killer instinct. It now appears that I am not alone in my thinking. From "C's crumble in Atlanta" Raj Prashad, Special to ESPNBoston.com:"The Celtics, who have missed that killer instinct thus far this season, followed another strong start with a miserable finish." In the same article KG said "When you have teams down, you have to step on them and finish the game." It begs the question, is the team unwilling or unable to finish off their opponents?
The other conclusion I made in my post was that I thought we had the sufficient pieces to contend for Banner 18. I should have qualified that with if properly utilized. Further in the same ESPN article: "I thought [the game] changed when we put the starters back in with about five minutes to go in the second quarter," coach Doc Rivers said. "Our bench got us up by 27 points, but then they cut into the lead before the half [when the starters had come back in]." I hate to be the one to point this out, but the Atlanta game was not the first one where we have seen this exact same scenario play out. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is becoming the rule rather than the exception. If you recognize that the bench is outproducing the starters, then why do the starters continue to get the bulk of the playing time?
Can it be that Doc's better judgement is being overridden by his loyalty to our aging stars. Or is he just stubborn? In many ways Doc is beginning to remind me of Rooster Cogburn in the movie True Grit, willing to ride his old horses into the ground. "To open the second half, Hawks coach Larry Drew inserted Devin Harris in place of Ivan Johnson, finding an area to attack Rivers' reliance on sticking with his veterans." Sounds like the formula for beating the Celtics is to take advantage of Doc's predictability. Weather the storm from the bench unit in the second quarter and you can get back in the game as later you will only see the bench one or two at a time. Used in that way, they do not make a game changing impact and you can rely on the aging legs of the starters to wilt.
At this point, I am not advocating that Doc should be replaced. I am saying though that how Doc is utilizing the roster needs to change. One fan (I am sorry, I don't remember who) echoed my feelings that there are two kinds of coaches. One type has a system and tries to force everyone else to conform. The other is the coach who adapts his style based on the players available to him. I think we can safely say that Doc is in the first style. This is understandable as much of his influence came from his tutelage under Popovich and there is probably no better or more successful coach out there. But here is the thing; it works for Popovich because the roster changes at a glacial pace in San Antonio. It is not that difficult with only one or two new faces a season to make them fit or not fit an established style. Yet even then, the style is totally unpredictable. What other coach has ever done things such as send four of his five starters home early from a road trip in the middle of a season, as only one example?
A final point relates to a question that Jeff Clark asked the other day. Does Danny and Doc have two different visions for the team? It is a very valid question and personally I think it is possible. Perhaps not so much in the long term, but in the timing of the implementation of the transition. Most of the guys that were brought in are quick uptempo types, the ones retained are the opposite, more comfortable with slowed down half- court play. This is why the one or two guys at a time substitution patterns are not working. It is not like changing a fender with an identically manufactured fender. The sub does not fit the style so both fenders, the hood, the grille, and the headlights all need to be changed at the same time.
We as fans have all been picking this player or that player as the reason for our woeful season. All of the players signed and re-signed over the summer were brought in because each had a particular skill set or specialty that they were known for. We have to ask ourselves, what are the odds that all of them would suddenly be unable to do what they have always done best. Yes, chemistry is a huge factor, but does not appear to be a factor at this point in time. The other common denominator is the system or coaching style. Perhaps the players are at least trying to do what they are asked even if it works to their weaknesses instead of their strengths. If they are not fitting the style, do we just keep endlessly make trades hoping that we finally find just the right combination knowing that that person or persons may not even exist. It would be easier and in the long run probably smarter to change the mold.
None of this is to say that we could not use or do not need another big man. What I am saying is that our roster is not as bad as what we think it is. At the same time, another big probably won't help if we are not getting the maximum from what we currently have.