I can't remember the last time a game scrambled my brain the way Celts-Suns just did.
It's closing in on three o'clock in the morning here in the Midwest. My head is still moving with more spin than any of Ray Allen's shots did last night, and I'm moving on to my third cup of generic-brand lemonade in the last half hour (Wal-Mart sells the cartons for 98 cents). So we're headed to my go-to defense mechanism when incoherence strikes: the bullet points. It's time for lots of random thoughts as I try to sort out the rubble of the season's first three-game losing streak. Away we go.
- Prior to letting the emotions of one game run wild, it's worth trying to keep this losing streak in perspective. In four nights, the Celts have now gone out West and played three teams playing basketball at a .580 clip or better, and those three teams also happen to play the league's fastest, second fastest and fourth fastest-paced games in the entirety of the league. They lost a back-and-forth game in Denver, and they lost what turned into a nail-biting heart-breaker at the buzzer against a very good Golden State team that plays excellent basketball at home. The Suns meanwhile are another excellent basketball team that seems to have become re-energized at least momentarily by its most recent addition. The Celts lost two tough games and a sloppy one in the finale of a very tough three-game sequence. In case that wasn't enough, the week marked KG's return from injury and thus the team's re-adjustment period. No, the vast majority of you don't need me to tell you all this. But it bears repeating simply to fully illuminate what exactly this rough stretch of a week has entailed. I'll be the first to admit that I needed to sit down and recount all of these happenings at the end of the Phoenix game in order to get some sense of balance and perspective back. These things happen. No, it wasn't the most wonderful showing in the face of adversity, but it's three games of 82. This team sits at 41-12, two games ahead of Detroit for the best record in basketball. It has been a dream season thus far, and the likelihood is that we will see more of that as the season progresses. Without question, it's been an immensely frustrating week, but that is life in the Association. Better to have that week in February than come spring time, that much is for sure.
- In that same vein, I'm refraining from going after my personal whipping boys over the courses of their Celtics tenures -- Doc and Perk -- for now. I have never been Doc's biggest booster and was very upset with him last year, but predictably, he has left me at least markedly more content this season (although I have still had my share of concerns about him), and it simply isn't fair to take the knee-jerk reactionary stance in the face of a couple of games going the wrong way. That latter portion goes for Perk as well, who frankly didn't look as bad as many of his teammates did on Friday night. There is a column coming on him at some point over the course of the season, but it would be unjust to take out frustration from a losing streak on a player who simply tends to draw my ire with regularity. It wouldn't even have the mere auspices of rationality or objectivity, and that wouldn't be particularly productive.
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- Fun fact: Prior to last night and including playoffs, since Steve Nash came aboard in 2004, the Suns were 0-14 when scoring less than 90 points. Make that 1-14.
- Hubie Brown was half right when he suggested at the end of last night's contest that Doc Rivers and Celts fans need not complain about this team's effort in an ugly-looking loss. I'm willing to buy that there wasn't a major problem with the physical effort. The team was there all night and did what it could to hang in and get up and down the floor. The Celts weren't walking off plays or lackadaisically going through the motions. Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Perk and the Infuriated Infant in particular all had a fair bit of energy. It didn't even appear to be a lack of trying with regard to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (if you're interested in seeing some world-class loafing, try a Knicks game). Further, teams that don't even show up physically to play at all don't make the types of runs the Celts made to close the Suns' lead to one in the second quarter, largely through playing defense and getting up the floor quickly for one very nice stretch. They looked to play chippy, physically basketball. The team simply couldn't get shots to fall and got outplayed.
- That said, there remains no question that the Celts were not there mentally. Perk's flagrant forearm to Amare Stoudemire's sternum was thoughtless. TA did what TA does: He provided lots of energy, the constant threat of an explosion to the rim for a bucket and the even more constant threat of a turnover thanks to his general clueless nature. There isn't an adequate adjective in this language to articulate the degree of Ray Allen's ineptitude of decision-making in odd-man rush situations on the break. Perhaps the brains were fried in the midst of a long trip. Perhaps it was simply an aberration. But one way or the other, the Celts as a team were never in this game from a mental standpoint. In fact, that is likely what made the game so frustrating to watch. It's one thing to get beaten. It's quite another to commit offensive fouls on three consecutive possessions, throw passes out of bounds without provocation and botch fast breaks like it was part of the job. Here's hoping it was simply a one-game malaise.
- As I mentioned in the game thread earlier, let's show some love to the officiating highlight of the game: Leon Powe getting star treatment, for one play at least! Apparently, the four-step hop-step that allows a post player to get from the wing into the restricted area for a lay-in is now legal. Good to see LoPo getting some love from the referees in his four and a half minutes of run.
- There was something uniquely draining about last night's game that I can't remember feeling in years. Generally speaking, watching a game Steve Weinman-style entails spending the entire game (halftime always excepted, commercial breaks occasionally) on my feet, five to seven feet from the television, mostly screaming from start to finish for the good, bad and everything in between. I'm jumping up and down and high-fiving walls, cabinets and innocent passerby for all that brings forth good for the boys in green and shouting invective at my television and spiking water bottles for all that doesn't bode quite as well ("What do we pay you for?" is a favorite, yelled with special relish in the direction of Brian Scalabrine during the string of games sans KG prior to the All-Star break). It tends to be a great release of energy, and it's usually a fairly decent workout (especially if I have already played some ball earlier in the day). Start to finish, any Celts game I watch, no exceptions, this is how it's done. Friends have warned me of the dangers of trying to keep that sort of energy level for an entire to season but to no avail. I'm determined to do it and kick another gear during the playoffs. Except for last night. Somehow, the all-around sloppiness of last night's game -- and perhaps the fact that after the Celts made their run and the Suns immediately opened the game back up again in the second quarter, at no point did it ever feel like the C's were truly in the game -- took me nearly completely out of this game. Sure, I remained standing and the eternal optimist in me implored the boys to look to get up and down as time grew short and the deficit continued to loom large, but I was for all intents and purposes a shell of my usual self by the midst of the second half. The throat was hoarse, and the continuing mishaps just seemed to zap my remaining energy in a way that usually doesn't happen regardless of outcome. From the looks of the game thread, it appears I wasn't the only one to experience this.
- Plus-minus can be a fickle concept. How Eddie House managed a team-high plus-15 on a particularly poor night for him remains a mystery. Same goes for Raj going for a team-low minus-21.
- Speaking of Rondo, his quickness never ceases to amaze. His blow-by-everyone lay-up to end the first half was awe-inspiring. Even on off nights, watching this guy play is a pleasure. It is a privilege and a thrill to be around to continue to monitor his development.
- Somehow, it felt like Pierce had a very quiet 2-for-13, if that is even possible for a team's top scorer. With the exception of his missed pseudo-dunk during the second quarter, Pierce seemed to be a non-factor all night, whereas Ray Allen's putridity appeared to come to the forefront all night. Between his poor outside shooting (1-for-7 from deep) and his complete lack of competence on the fast break, Allen seemed to consistently stand out all night as the Celtics' biggest offensive disappointment. Not entirely sure why this was the case, although it did seem like a lot more of Pierce's shot attempts came early on, before the game really got ugly for good. Any explanations on the matter would be much appreciated.
- Barring any sort of late-breaking injury reports, the complete lack of Rondo in the fourth quarter was inexplicable.
- Credit KG for finally looking to get into the low post a little bit against a horrendous interior defender in Stoudemire. Garnett did more work than usual around the basket and at times really worked hard to take advantage of that mismatch on the offensive end. He still settled for more jump shots from the outside than would have been optimal, but that tends to be his game in the first place, and the intent to get inside and cause some havoc was definitely there, particularly on the rim-shaking dunk that precipitated the Stoudemire shove and subsequent technical.
- Scot Pollard's dome continues to be a sight to behold.
- The Pugnacious Papoose's steal and individual fast-break for a lay-in brought a huge smile to my face. Sadly, little else last night did. But once more, it was one night, and this debacle of a week has represented just three bad nights in a long season. Here's looking forward to more smiles on Sunday in Portland and throughout the rest of this campaign.