I'm still not exactly sure I understand what happened to the Celtics last night against the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder. Seriously, I've had trouble making sense of it ever since it ended. The game just felt weird to me. I don't know if there's a better way to put it. What I am sure of, however, is that I find myself not agreeing with the sentiment that these Celtics are repeating the 2009-2010 season all over again. I personally have not thought, at any point through the team's first 12 games, that "this feels just like last season". I don't buy it, and, perhaps more importantly, I don't necessarily think it's a fair comparison to make.
As I've stated before, I still regard last season as an outlier. An exception, if you will. The injuries played a huge part in this - particularly to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce - as, for significant stretches throughout the season, the team was unable to put the lineups it wanted to on the floor. And when those lineups were on the floor, they most likely weren't healthy. And when I say "weren't healthy", I don't mean banged up and bruised. I mean, some of the guys (Pierce in particular) probably shouldn't have been playing. Here's what Doc Rivers had to say on that during training camp (after the jump).
"But that is on us. What we did last season was out of necessity. It wasn't planned. But when we had all the injuries, we had to make a tough call. Guys were in rehab. We were resting guys in the middle of the season. We were dropping games to teams you know you can beat. That is difficult for a coach to sit there and take. I am really, really hoping we don't have to do any of that this year. Because it's no fun. It's no fun at all."
Going off of that, Garnett was clearly still in the process of returning to form for basically the entire season, and this season has essentially proven that. It's like night and day when you compare what we've seen out of him this season to what we saw out of him last season. Him not being totally comfortable physically had to play a role in many of the mishaps (playing down to lesser teams, blowing big leads, etc.) that took place last year. I don't think this can be overstated. Not only were we not seeing the athleticism, but we also weren't seeing the aggressiveness, or the intensity. The primal screams and chest bumps were at a minimum. And when you talk about a player who basically serves as his team's life force not being 100 percent at any point in the season, you're basically chipping away at that life force, so how could the team not struggle at times? It's like watching Home Improvement with a reserved Tim Allen. His personality makes the show, and if you strip him of part of that, the show's just not going to be as funny.
I don't think Rasheed Wallace's presence helped the Celtics' regular season cause too much, either. Let's be honest, Rasheed hates the regular season the way Tommy Heinsohn hates NBA officiating. He has no patience for it. He has no tolerance for it. And making matters worse is the fact that Rasheed's personality is large enough to actually influence his teammates. His personality's practically as large as Garnett's, except he operates under the complete opposite frame of mind. And since Garnett couldn't be Mr. Intensity because of his knee, it wouldn't shock me in the least if Rasheed's personality took the team hostage at times.
Making matters worse is the fact the C's appeared to battle chemistry issues at times as well. Garnett alluded to as much in a postgame interview with Doris Burke on an ESPN telecast late in the regular season. My guess: The team struggled with Rajon Rondo's continued emergence. A passing of the torch was trying to happen, only the torch kept getting dropped every few games.
Now, add all of that up and what do you get? A pretty dysfunctional regular season.
Let's pretend last season never happened. Just for a minute. Take last season completely out of your mind. How do we feel about last night's loss? Are we still disappointed and a little irked? Sure. Are we still critical of the team's performance? Of course. But are we flat out condemning the team? I don't think so. Every team suffers bad losses in every season. The 2007-2008 championship team couldn't handle the Washington Wizards, and the 2008-2009 team lost the third game of the season to the Indiana Pacers. Last season wasn't the first season in which this core group of Celtics blew double-digit leads and lost to inferior opponents, and it certainly won't be the last.
Are there still going to be some hangover effects after last season? Of course. In some ways you can't blame the guys when you consider they ended up minutes away from an NBA Championship. Maybe that's what we saw against the Cleveland Cavaliers back on October 27, and again against the Thunder last night. But I'm not ready to deem this last season all over again. No way. Didn't the Celtics just annihilate the John Wall-less Wizards, 114-83? Wouldn't last season's team have let the Wizards crawl back into it?
I chalk last night's loss up to one of those strange regular season losses that happens every once in a while. Between the random injuries (seriously, when's the last time you saw an NBA player wind up with a golf ball-sized lump on the back of his head?), the Thunder's shot-making prowess (they entered the game last in the league in three-point field goal percentage and buried six of their first seven. If I wore a hat, I'd tip it to them), and that anemic fourth quarter (neither team could buy a basket), I'm ready to just scratch my head and move on. Bring on Toronto.