Well, the Pistons have finished off the Magic in 5 games. They won on the road and they did it without Chauncey Billups. That should concern the Celtics in that they haven't been able to get it done on the road in 5 tries at full strength. Another thing that is concerning is that the Pistons are now sitting back and resting while the Celtics are going to have to go at least 6 games and possibly 7 if the Celtics can find some heart somewhere. This is assuming that the Celtics can come back and win 2 more games. I used to think that the Celtics were a lock for the Eastern Conference finals but the way they have been playing I don't know any more.
My thoughts on what went wrong in game 4. First, the players deserve blame because they didn't play defense. They weren't aggressive. They forgot all about the defensive rotations that made them so effective all season. Second, the players forgot about playing the team offense. Every one was trying to do it all by themselves. Pierce pulling up for quick 3's killed the offensive momentum. They completely forgot how to move the ball against an aggressive defense to find the open man and they have completely abandoned the idea of taking the ball to the basket. You go to the basket and you either get a high percentage shot or get fouled but yet, the Celtics have not been doing that. They have been settling for outside shots.
Much of rebounding is effort and desire. Players have to be aggressive in going after rebounds. They can't just wait for rebounds to come to them. This is how Rajon Rondo or Leon Powe can out rebound the bigger players around them. They simply want them more. Rebounding is crucial to winning games. There is an old adage that "Offense sells tickets, Defense wins games, rebounding wins championships." The reason for this is that when a team wants it more and plays harder they will be getting the rebounds. It's all about effort. The Celtics have been out rebounded on the road almost every time. This speaks to their effort. It just hasn't been there. Second and third chance baskets will kill a team and the Celtics have been allowing it to happen.
And, aside from the players, Doc's substitutions and game management have been head scratching at best. Doc did a good job in the regular season, but in the playoffs when coaching now becomes so much more important and from game to game it becomes a chess match between coaches, Doc hasn't gotten it done. Starting Big Baby in the 4th when he hadn't played at all in the game and playing him for over 5 minutes when he clearly struggled from the first minute was puzzling. Why did Leon play only 6 minutes when he has given the team a lift and has played well throughout the playoffs so far? Why is Sam getting so many ineffective minutes? Rondo was playing great in game 4 and yet he sat way too long. Eddie House is clearly a better shooter than Cassell and he was the one who got us here and he did a very good job of running the team so why is he not getting any minutes? When Sam is in, the ball movement stops and it becomes Sam's shooting gallery. Why had Doc gone so far away from the rotations that won this team 66 games and got them here? I say play Eddie House. I had a good laugh at this photo on Red's Army today and I had to share it here. Makes the point quite well.
Yesterday's Globe had a quote that caught my attention:
Coach Doc Rivers said his team needed to play better "under stress" during the final stretch of games. Pierce and Garnett begged to differ.
"I wouldn't say we're lacking poise," Garnett said. "In a situation like ours, we are trying to do everything that Doc wants us to do. He makes all the calls. He gives us direction. For the most part, we pretty much try to do what he wants."
Said Pierce, "I don't know what he means. I'm stressed every game. Stressed to get a win."
KG saying that the team is doing just what Doc wants is a pretty big indictment on Doc's coaching since they have been failing pretty miserably in the past two games. This looks like Doc putting the blame on the players and the players turning around and putting it right back on Doc. They don't need discord right now. They need Ubuntu. Let's hope they find it quickly. Tonight is a must win for them.
This team has been terrible in the 4th quarter of games. In the fourth quarter of their last 5 road games the Celtics have scored 19, 18, 17, 21, and 12 points respectively. 12 points in the fourth quarter of a game that is a 1 possession game going into the quarter? That is inexcusable. KG being 0-2 in that quarter? That is even worse. How could KG not get more than 2 shots? How can they not score more than 12 points? The Cavs have LeBron to take over in the 4th quarter. The '86 Celtics had Bird who would take over in crunch time. But, the Celtics don't seem to have anyone who is willing to step up in the 4th quarter and take over the game. KG becomes invisible. Pierce resorts to quick 3 point hero shots. Ray Allen has been invisible this whole series other than a spurt in the 3rd quarter of game 4. This team's mental toughness has been questioned. Now is the time for them to step up and close this series out in 6 games and show that they have mental toughness or every one will have a long summer to think about why they didn't.
To state the obvious: These Boston Celtics are not a championship team. It's a huge surprise after their dominance of the regular season, but under the defensive pressure of the playoffs their three stars have lost all feeling for how to play off one another. They are a numb offensive team that doesn't feed off strengths or mismatches, that doesn't develop a go-to scorer during the game and doesn't exhibit poise when mandatory. Over the closing minutes of tight games the Celtics look as if they have no idea where to go with the ball or which of them should take over. This is why no overhauled team has ever won a title in its first year together: It takes years for a championship team to learn to play together and barring some kind of heavenly revelation the No. 1 seed isn't going to achieve that unity this postseason.
I still think this is a championship caliber team. You don't win 66 games at home and then dominate teams on your home court the way the Celtics have without being a championship caliber team. Are they playing like one now? Absolutely not. But I think the problems are fixable with a bit more effort from each player to play the way they did to get them here and with a little better coaching from Doc.
All that being said, the Celtics aren't alone in their struggles on the road in this round. Only the Pistons have won a game on the road in this round. The Spurs, Hornets, Lakers and Jazz haven't been able to do it either. But, they all won a road game in the first round while the Celtics weren't able to get it done then either. I am just hoping they can get it together at home and that it was the road that threw them off. After watching their lack of heart and lack of effort in games 3 and 4, I just don't know any more. The Celtics almost lost game 1 and now the Cavs are coming in with confidence. They have been here before and won games 5 and 6 against the Pistons last season and with that behind them, they know they can do it again, especially the way the Celtics have been playing. I am plenty nervous going into this game.
I had to chuckle over LeBron's mom coming to his aide in game 4. I remember one time when my son was fouled hard in a game and I was down there ready to take the kid on and he was lucky cooler heads around me held me back. It is a mother's instinct to proctect your kids, plain and simple. There have been several times where I would give players an earful in a game. Thankfully, my son never told me to sit my a** down. I raised him better than that.
Tonight's game is huge. It is a must win because the way the Celtics have been playing on the road, they can't afford to give up home court advantage. I just hope the good Celtics show up tonight because if they don't, we will be left with a lot of questions about this team and a long time to wonder about them.