How the Boston Celtics Can Shake out of Their Funk
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Yes, that four game winning streak was nice.
For the first time all season, Celtic fans had something positive to reference when they thought of the Celtics. The streak featured dramatic wins over teams with better records. There was great defense as well as unexpected contributions from players who usually play reserve bench roles.
That's over now.
After last night's unfortunate home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics once again find themselves surrounded by some legitimate questions about their current and future team.
A 12-0 run in the final 4:25 of last night's game got Cleveland a road win against the Celtics. This was the type of loss that Celtic fans have thankfully not had to endure in recent years, but this is not the Celtics of the past few years.
It's also not the NBA of the past few years. Inconsistency is the rule, not the exception in this league right now. Injuries have limited many teams. The Celtics are no exception and yet, last week's win streak happened in spite of injuries to key members of the Celtics.
That streak came to a grinding halt on Sunday night and in the aftermath, Celtic fans once again find themselves asking what or when exactly will the 2011-2012 Celtics morph into something resembling the consistent winning teams of the past four seasons?
It's going to take time, That's one of those things that no one, player, coach, management or fans wants to hear. That doesn't mean it's not true, though.
In this strange season with no time to warm up, very little time to practice and an unforgiving schedule, the Boston Celtics are a team that has an unfortunate mix of inexperienced young players and aging veterans.
The veterans are injury prone as a result of age. Some, such as Jermaine O'Neal, have been injury prone for years. It's impossible to know for sure what players did or did not maintain their peak physical conditioning in the absence of structured training camps and practices, but it's not a stretch to suggest that some players may still be playing a form of conditioning catch-up that they're not used to partaking in.
The other thing for Celtic fans to keep in mind is that the team really isn't that much worse off than a lot of the league is right now. The team is only two losses behind the Los Angeles Lakers. That's a Laker team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum all on the roster.
The best teams in the east squared off against each other on Sunday and while both Miami and Chicago are very good teams, the game was sloppy and for the most part a back-and-forth affair that had as many breathtaking plays by stars like LeBron James and Derrick Rose as it had head scratching ones. Both players who represent the last two NBA MVP's missed pairs of free throws that were critical to their teams with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game.
Meanwhile, the Celtics and their fans must continue to be patient since the Celtics have yet to field a team of both healthy and consistent players. Pierce started the season hurt, he came back from injury and was rusty, Then, as he began to shake off that rust, both Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen were hit with injuries.
The best way for the Celtics to shake out of the rut of inconsistency is to simply gut this out. Keep playing tough defense, win ugly if they have to and then hope that no one makes the All-Star team. That would give the whole team almost a week off.
The Boston Celtics, in spite of all the turmoil, injuries and inconsistency, are one game under .500 but they're also only seven games behind the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
That's not to say that the Celtics or their fans should be expecting Boston to catch the Bulls and claim the top seed in the playoffs, but it does illustrate that the Eastern Conference is mostly up for grabs.
That record also places the Celtics in position for the seventh seed in the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics are a team that probably has played their worst basketball.
They're not the Knicks, who are stuck in a rut in which they are playing a style of basketball that is so poorly suited to their coach and personnel that there's only so much hope for a dramatic turnaround without truly dramatic moves.
Rajon Rondo is one of the league's better all-around players. Paul Pierce is still one of the better scorers. Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus are both solid bench players. Ray Allen can still shoot and Kevin Garnett's offense has dropped off but he's still a very tough defender. Add in the emerging young guards such as Avery Bradley and E'Twaun Moore, and there are some valid reasons for optimism.
The team won't be going on any 10-game winning streaks, but they are going to get better. They're going to get healthier and they probably have their best basketball in front of them, as opposed to in their rear view mirror.
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