A team’s deep confidence on the basketball court comes from a collective belief that they, as a unit, can stop the other team from scoring. It’s one thing for Pierce to hit his first few three-pointers and work his way to a 40-point game against one of the worst teams in the NBA. That's nice. It's retro. It's reassuring. But it's not satisfying the way a defensive-stand and an expiring shot-clock possession against a playoff team is satisfying. It’s another thing entirely to make stops at crucial moments against the better teams in the league. That's what these playoff runs have always been about. That's what the character of this team has been about since Garnett came in pointing and badgering, occasionally screaming and making damn sure every Celtic on the court knew where they needed to be at any given moment. A jolt of confidence comes from those stops, which leads to these victories over good teams. A bigger jolt comes from road victories over good teams. This year, after 31 games, the Celtics have one big victory, and it came six weeks ago. Kevin Garnett’s presence on the defensive end still gives the Celtics the top defensive efficiency rating in the NBA when he’s on the court (29 minutes per game). During the other 19 minutes, the Celtics are 30th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency. The lack of communication and intensity from the second unit is glaring. Something has got to give, as the fan chorus asks Danny Ainge for a single, functioning, defensive-minded big man.
Over the last four games, Celtics fans have seen how hard it is to win consistently with a team that lacks a true defensive identity. Early in the pre-season, all the talk was about how good the offense might turn out to be. No more ugly half-court sets, like the ones we saw at times last spring when Philadelphia's defensive intensity and length (Young, Turner, Igoudala) was handling the C's in the second round. Now they have instant offense in Terry. Now they have the athletic Jeff Green back. Now Courtney Lee will rescue those dwindling possessions with corner threes. That was before the season started, when all new things are shiny. Before Darko departed for Serbia. Before Courtney Lee forgot how to shoot. And before Terry was thrust into the starting role. Over the last few weeks, Celtic fans have been given a reminder that their current roster includes only three defensive-minded players (Garnett, Bradley, Lee). Of those three, one is being saved for a post-season run that may start as a 7th or 8th seed. Another missed the first 30 games of the season, and has yet to show he can consistently shoot the ball. The third has shown a perplexing knack to suddenly misfire from distance. Lee's 28% three-point shooting garnered the unenviable distinction of making Sports Illustrated's All-Disappointment team last week.
This caravan has eclipsed the 200,000 mile mark. We can admit it. The engine still turns over, and it will go, but not like it used to. The new brakes aren’t stopping us as quickly and the new radiator takes a while to warm up in the wintry mornings. With that in mind, here’s an invitation: if you are one of those fans who jumped on this Celtics train in 2007 after the Garnett trade, and you need a team to be one of the best in the league to put your heart into them (also known as being a "front-runner," or a "casual" fan), if this describes your attitude, then I invite you to take the leap: it’s time to jump off this bandwagon and melt away into Patriots fan-dom--goodness knows the Red Sox won't provide you a front-runner in 2013.
If you’re still reading after all of that, here are the reasons for optimism you’ve been waiting for:
1) On a team that is determined to save two of its three best players for April, the bench has been
given intensified scrutiny from day one of this season.
For the entire post, continue reading here at The Darko Index.
Thanks for reading and for being non-plastic,