Is youth the problem on this team? Are the problems we are having unique to this Celtics team? Here are some quotes that could have come from the Herald or the Globe following any of our recent losses...
"We played a strong first half again,' he (the coach) said, "And then we folded our tents again. We missed key baskets. We never made an important shot. When we get everyone involved, we play well. When we don't... I'm not very happy with this."
How do you explain a ... basketball team, that shoots 73 percent in the first half and leads by 13 points - and scores 37 points the rest of the night? How do you explain twenty-nine turnovers and only three offensive rebounds in one evening and just one basket in seven minutes during the final quarter? How do you explain a 108-101 loss to a (team) who had three starters hurt and a reserve guard missing?
And then they come out for the third quarter and it all vanishes in a vapor trail. Balls are thrown out of bounds. The rebounding dries up. The 24-second clock ticks down to the dregs and (one of the players) is still pounding the ball at the top of the key, waiting for somebody - anybody - to move. Three minutes pass without a basket. Seven minutes. And an 81-73 lead becomes a 90-84 hole.
But they just aren't doing it. We have people who are not contributing consistently. Oh, a game here and there they'll do it, but there is not the dedication to concentration that you have to have. There are not a lot of things. There has not been a willingness to work hard for 48 minutes. There are not enough people who want to do the uncomfortable little things that win games - like banging the boards, moving without the ball, playing knuckles down defense.
But these quotes aren't talking about this team. They are about a Celtics team, however. These quotes were taken from The Short Season by John Powers and describe the 1977-1978 Celtics team coached by Tommy Heinsohn.
This team wasn't a young team but had 7 All Stars on it including Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, John Havlicek, Dave Bing, Sidney Wicks, Cedric Maxwell, Don Cheney, and others. They were coached by a Hall of Fame Coach who had won 2 titles with the Celtics as a coach, one the previous year. Many of these players had been on the championship team the year before and yet, this team won only 32 games and missed the playoffs. When the team's record was 11 and 23, Tommy Heinsohn was replaced as coach by Satch Sanders. So, it isn't just youth that can make a team underachieve. Even with a Hall of Fame coach and a veteran team, they can face the same problems.
This team also had injuries to key players. After the coach was replaced they only won 21 more the rest of the season. The following year didn't improve much either in spite of another coaching change and an ownership change. In fact, they lost even more, finishing with only 29 wins. At the end of that season, they replaced the coach again and a rookie by the name of Larry Bird joined the team and they went from last place to first place the next year. Just one player and a new coach turned things around for a last place team.
I guess I am relaying this because it should give us hope. As I was reading this book, I was struck by the quotes about this veteran team that could describe our young team today. A coaching change and a dominant young player in the draft changed the fortunes of that 29 win team. A team that was full of All Stars and veterans had many of the same problems that our young team is having today. A strong half followed by a let down. Too many turnovers. Dry spells offensively. For our team it has been injuries that affected the chemistry of the team and the inexperience of those left that have led to a long losing streak. The addition of just one player could change the fortunes of this team. They have potential but just haven't put it together. It could be Pierce coming back. It could be a healthy Tony Allen next season. It could be Oden or Durant or Noah or even a veteran that we trade for. It could just be a coaching change that does it. With the addition of one player and a new coach the sky could be the limit for this team.