Three weeks into this abbreviated NBA season and it feels like it's going to be a long year in Boston. The Boston Celtics are 4-8 through their first 12 games and have lost five in a row, their longest losing streak of the Big Three era as well as since former first-round pick Gerald Green was stinking it up on Causeway Street. But even though the season is still young and this winless skein isn't too terribly long just yet, it feels a lot worse. And there are a few reasons why.
The Celtics are old. This is patently obvious, but it still remains one the chief reasons why they are struggling so thoroughly in the early stages of the season. Aside from Rajon Rondo, every single member of the C's starting five is at least 33 years old. And Kevin Garnett, once the stalwart of the Celts frontcourt, looks about twice that number.
After posting a double-double in Monday night's home loss to Oklahoma City (12 points, 12 rebounds), Garnett is averaging 13.8 points and eight rebounds per game. These are decent numbers but they are down not only from his career averages (19.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG) but last season's as well. Garnett has showed signs of slowing down the past couple of years, as his numbers attest. But it just feels different so far this year. He's slow, a little passive and a liability on the glass, something that would have been classified as unheard of even a year ago.
Age robs plenty of players of their skills seemingly overnight all the time. It looks like it's happening right now to KG, who appears to be calcifying before our very eyes.
And then there's the case of the captain, Paul Pierce, who missed the season's first three games due to a heel injury suffered during the team's rushed training camp and still doesn't seem to be where he needs to be with his conditioning or health.
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Pierce broke out somewhat against the Thunder, scoring a season-high 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He's clearly on the right track despite starting his season shooting just 34.4 percent from the floor, but his late arrival to the proceedings hasn't helped at all.
As far as the rest of the roster goes, barely having a preseason seems to have severely impacted the team's ability to score. The Celtics offense has been mediocre at best, woeful at worst. They are shooting just 45.5 percent from the floor as a team and scoring less than 90 points per game. Last week against Indiana, they managed just 24 first-half points. And even when the flow is there, guys are missing open shots with frequency, which may be a sign of poor conditioning and not having their legs.
Newcomers like Brandon Bass, Mickael Pietrus and Chris Wilcox have shown flashes, but there isn't a lot of consistency. Rondo and the ageless Ray Allen seem to be the only two Celtics who have not suffered from the lack of a real training camp, with Allen scoring 17.5 points per game and connecting on 58 percent of his three-pointers, and Rondo averaging a double-double (14.7 PPG, 10.1 APG)
Going forward, it would seem that in order to right the ship the Celtics must simply get in shape, continue to play good defense (their 92.1 points allowed per game is good for eighth in the league) and get to know each other better through playing games as opposed to having a regular amount of practice time.
The team's mean age, lack of rebounding—particularly on the offensive boards—and absence of any toughness in the middle are not going to get better unless president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decides to gut the roster and trade one of the Big Three (and knowing Ainge, whose whopper trade of Kendrick Perkins last season is the main reason why the C's are still headed south, he may not be so adverse to such a scenario).
The chances of that happening seem slim, though. The C's came into this season thinking they had one more year to sneak through that contending team window. And while making a serious playoff run would appear to be a long shot, it hasn't even been a month yet; there's still plenty of time for this team, which has shown flashes of being on the cusp of straightening things out, to get on track despite the shortened schedule.
Come the 20-25-game mark of the season slate, we should know a lot more about what kind of team this really is and what kind of team it's really going to be.