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Uncertainty Still Looms for the Celtics

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Is anyone else not fully satisfied with last night's win over the Clippers?

Don't get me wrong, I'll take a win any day of the week, but some wins just aren't satisfying, like the mystery meat most colleges serve on Wednesdays. There were some terrific performances against the Clippers last night, yet the final product was not a confidence booster heading into this weekend's heavyweight bouts with the Hawks, Magic and Lakers. The stats from last night point to a convincing win, but the Celtics defeated a less than average Clippers team at home by just six points. 

The stats probably mask the inconsistencies that plagued the C's for much of the game. The Clippers shot just 38.8 percent from the field and studs Baron Davis and Chris Kaman were held to just 5-13 and 5-19 shooting, respectively. Yet the Celtics failed to actually close out the Clippers, despite having multiple opportunities to do so. The C's held an 8-10 point advantage several times early in the fourth quarter, but couldn't slam the door on Los Angeles, and despite the sense of calm one might have felt watching the final two minutes of last night's game, the Clippers actually had an outside shot of winning. 

Consistency is the Celtics' greatest enemy right now and it's an issue that has to be tackled from within. Self-inflicted wounds are always more difficult to swallow and the C's certainly aren't doing themselves any favors by playing in the glorified spurts we've seen over the last two games. Wins might be wins, but if the issues don't seem to be getting addressed game-by-game, then there can't be much evidence of growth. 

The Celtics' best quarter last night was arguably the third quarter, as there was a noticeable difference in the team's ball movement, which led to a 9-15 performance from the field for the quarter and put the Celtics up five heading into the final frame, after trailing by a point at the half. Paul Pierce found himself in a nice groove early, the C's opened it up with a slew of fast court baskets and Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett showed signs of their still-consistent chemistry even after KG's long layoff. The C's did turn it over five times in that quarter, but some of those turnovers you'll live with because they were a result of over-passing or over aggressiveness, which you'll take over sloppy passes and lackluster effort. 

And it wasn't just the offense finding it's groove in the third, as the C's held the Clippers to just 6-21 shooting in the period, which scaled their shooting percentage back from an already dismal 39 percent to a flat out putrid 35.5 percent. The Celtics also out-rebounded the Clippers during that period, 11-10, which was the only quarter where the C's held the advantage on the boards. 

Okay, so it was a great quarter, but now we come to the issue: Where was that effort for the other three quarters? Why did the Clippers hold a lead after first and second frames? Why, after securing a 10-point advantage (71-61) with 10:52 to play, did the C's allow the Clips to waltz back into the game? Why didn't anyone step up against the suddenly unstoppable Craig Smith? That wonderful and welcome energy Garnett so proudly displayed as the C's garnered some much needed stops down the stretch wasn't in play through much of the first three quarters, but that facet of Garnett's game shouldn't be limited to just one stretch of one quarter, just like the team's overall performance can't afford to peak during one 12-minute stretch and skirt downwards or remain just average for the rest of the game. 

One productive third quarter might be enough to vanquish a 20-24 Clippers team, but will one quarter of aggressive play be enough to trounce a 29-14 Atlanta squad that's already defeated the C's three times this season? Or will it be enough to handle a 29-16 Magic team, that, while inconsistent at times this year, has already defeated the Celtics once in Boston? Or better yet, will one quarter be enough to tackle a very impressive 33-11 Lakers team that's manhandling much of the Western Conference?

No, I'm afraid not.

The stats are nice and might be impressive, but they actually mean little if we're not seeing that killer instinct that a championship-contending team needs to go along with them. Seeing this team basically toy with our level of confidence in it will grow old fast if we're not seeing signs that it's heading in the right direction. Watching this group play with passion and poise and assertiveness one minute might remind us of the championship days, but it all comes crashing down when they blow their chance at breaking the game open with a sloppy turnover or by allowing an offensive rebound and putback by the other team. It's like when you're on the couch and you reach for your soda can, and you can already taste it, yet when you grab hold of it, you find there's nothing left inside. It's such an exasperating feeling, but that's the reality this team is putting us through right now.

I wanted a punch-in-the-gut type of performance against the Clippers last night. Hit 'em hard early, then kick them while they're down. Unfortunately, the Celtics could barely make LA's knees buckle and had to settle for escaping with a win. Which breeds nothing but uncertainty heading into this weekend. 

Celtics Schedule

Next 5 Games

@ Orlando Thu 01/28 8:00 PM EST
@ Atlanta Fri 01/29 7:30 PM EST
Los Angeles Lakers Sun 01/31 3:30 PM EST
@ Washington Mon 02/01 7:00 PM EST
Miami Wed 02/03 8:00 PM EST

Last 5 Games

Los Angeles Clippers Mon 01/25 W 95 - 89
Portland Fri 01/22 W 98 - 95
@ Detroit Wed 01/20 L 86 - 92
Dallas Mon 01/18 L 90 - 99
Chicago Thu 01/14 L 83 - 96