I have come to the conclusion that Perk is right. Most of the problems with the Celtics are mental. I don't think it's age or fatigue because they can still turn it on in the 3rd or 4th quarters when they want to, like they did against the Bucks. They haven't put out consistent effort from game to game. I don't the reason for it. Maybe as has been said, they were a bit bored with the regular season. Maybe they are trying to sucker teams into taking them lightly in the playoffs. Or, maybe it is age that is making them unable to concentrate for 48 minutes. Whatever it is, let's hope they find a cure for it soon as the playoffs are less than a week away now and there isn't a lot of time to get it right.
Could the Celtics have been coasting and saving their efforts for the playoffs? That's also a possibility. They are veterans. They know the kind of effort that it takes to win. We haven't been seeing that kind of effort in the regular season and maybe they are just biding their time so that Banner 18 will be that much sweeter.
The playoff seedings are still up in the air. A matchup with the Bucks could be an interesting one with the chippiness that has been developing between these two teams. I think I'd rather the Bucks than the Heat, who are playing their best ball of the season lately and are entering the playoffs on a roll. Key games to keep an eye on are the Hawks/Bucks and Heat/Sixers games tonight. The seeding may go right down to the final night of the season when the Celtics play the Bucks and Cleveland plays the Hawks. The Celtics still sit a game behind the Hawks for the 3rd spot and as of right now, the Heat and Bucks are tied for the 5th spot with the Bucks holding the tie breaker. So every one of these games has playoff implications. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
One of the factors will be teams sitting their stars and not really trying as they rest up for the playoffs. The Cavs will probably play with a skeleton crew on Wednesday vs the Hawks to rest up their top players and to get a dig in at the Celtics by giving the Hawks an easy win. We know the Bucks are going to be playing hard. I'd like for the Celtics to rest their aging stars as well. But it is also important to get a rhythm going into the playoffs, something they have not yet done.
I'd love for the Lakers to face the Spurs in the first round. As of right now, they will be facing Oklahoma City, who may give them a tough series, but I think the Spurs could knock them out. The Spurs, Blazers and OKC are tied for the 6/7/8 seeds with the Blazers holding the tie breaker over the other two and the Spurs holding the tie breaker over OKC. Tonight, the Spurs play the Wolves, which should be a win even resting their stars. The Thunder plays Portland without Brandon Roy and that could go either way as both teams are going to play hard for that higher seed. That race will probably go down to the last night as well when Oklahoma City plays Memphis and the Spurs play Dallas. The Spurs have the tougher matchup in that one and may end up in the 8th spot. I'd love nothing more than to see the Fakers knocked out in the first round.
Tomorrow's game vs Chicago will be an interesting one. The Bulls are playing hard to stay in the 8th spot. They are a game ahead of Toronto for that final spot and with the injuries that Toronto is dealing with, I think the Bulls will stay there. Doc has said that he plans to rest the big 3 in these last few games. I think I'd rather have the whole team play unless there is an injury that needs rested. This team needs to build momentum and get their chemistry right more than they need players sitting out.
The key to the playoffs for the Celtics will be defense. The Celtics have got to get their defensive focus back. They won't outscore many teams even when their offense is clicking on all cylinders. And there will be nights when the shots don't fall and they are going to need to be able to get stops. If the defense returns, so will Banner 18.
The Globe recently ran an article about the Celtics looking to the 94-95 Rockets for inspiration. They finished the regular season 47-35 and entered the playoffs as the 6th seed. They were counted out by just about everyone yet they beat Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Orlando en route to winning another title. I look to the 1969 Celtics team for even more inspiration. This team entered the playoffs with the last seed and were too old to win, especially against a Lakers team that was considered a lock to win the championship. Yet, that team also prevailed and won the championship. Let's hope this team can find the heart they need, along with the inspiration, to play their best ball in the playoffs and prove everyone wrong.
I leave you with a great video to remind you of the centerpiece of that 1969 team, the great Bill Russell.