The Boston Celtics have a 2-2 record, but they are playing like they should be 0-4.
Since the disappointing opening night loss to the Miami Heat, the Celtics have been struggling to find their new identity. The trio of Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett is intact, but everything else is inconsistent.
While it's still too early for Celtics fans to hit the panic button, there are a few early problems that could mean trouble if they aren't resolved.
The Washington Wizards came back from reasonably large deficits on back-to-back games with the Celtics.
At the two teams' first meeting in Washington, the Celtics let the Wizards come back in the fourth quarter during a 16-4 run. It put Washington ahead 86-84 with a little under three minutes remaining. Boston was able to hold them off for a 89-86 win, but the game should never have been that close.
At the teams' second meeting in Boston, the Celtics had a 71-60 lead with just more than 10 minutes to play. The Wizards rallied behind reserve Chris Singleton to tie up the game and send it into overtime. It's important to note the Wizards starters John Wall and Nene sat out with injuries during both games.
The Celtics need to be more consistent. They make it harder for themselves by failing to maintain double-digit leads. If they give the opposing team even a little bit of hope, it could turn a potential win into a frustrating loss.
Boston has to break this bad habit early. If not, when they play tougher teams, they might not be so lucky to come out with a win.
The Celtics bench was hyped up the entire offseason. On paper, they look very impressive, but they haven't made much of a splash yet this regular season.
There are two former Sixth Men of the Year—Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry. Until Wednesday's rematch against the Wizards, Barbosa was one of the only sparks off the bench. During the season opener against the Heat, Barbosa had an impressive late push in the fourth quarter. He scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc.
On the other hand, Jason Terry was pretty quiet until Wednesday's game when he finished with 16 points.
Chris Wilcox rescued the C's from a potentially embarrassing loss by having a huge impact during his two short shifts. In just 3:41, he had six points, two rebounds and a block. Plus, his hard work got him to the free throw line for five attempts.
Although the bench is finally starting to show some promise, their early season struggles are still troubling. In fact, Boston's bench was outscored for the first three games. Boston is counting on a productive second unit to take pressure off the starters and essentially become the team's backbone.
Without consistent production from the bench, the C's will continue to struggle against whoever they play.
Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are carrying a majority of the load for the Boston Celtics. While the Big Three are the foundation of the team, the supporting cast needs to balance the stars if they want to be consistent.
Right now, the Celtics can't survive a subpar game from one of the new Big Three. The team needs to be able to win with the stars off the floor, and it looks like the bench still can't hold their own.
Until the secondary unit finds their rhythm, the Big Three is going to have to shoulder a greater load than usual. However, that doesn't mean Doc Rivers will play them for more minutes. They will just have to exert even more effort than they already do. In the Celtics win over the Washington Wizards last Saturday, the trio combined for more than half the team's points and rebounds.
Rondo, Pierce and Garnett are the only three players left from the 2008 championship team, and they have the greatest understanding of Rivers' system. The reloaded bench was supposed to bolster the trio, but they have ended up carrying the bench instead.
This has to be a temporary arrangement. If the bench continues to lean on the Big Three, something has to give eventually.
Doc Rivers preaches defense to his Boston Celtics. So why was their defense almost nonexistent against their biggest rival, the Miami Heat?
In the season opener, the Heat shot 54.4 percent and scored 120 points. In the third quarter alone, the Heat connected on 13-of-19 field goals to stretch their lead to 17 and prevent Boston from coming back. Ultimately, Miami won the game 120-107.
The Heat averaged 125 points per 100 possessions on opening night. That's the second-worst defensive efficiency by the Celtics since the start of the Big Three era. Boston's trademark defense was replaced by mistake after mistake.
Since opening night, the Celtics have cleaned up their defense. However, Rivers said the Celtics' main focus is to beat Miami. The Heat are standing directly in Boston's way of another championship. The Celtics have to play smarter defense to stop LeBron James and company.
The Celtics don't seem to have a true identity yet this season. After the departure of Ray Allen and the addition of new players, the players are struggling to find their roles on the team.
Boston's newly acquired veterans are a bit more difficult to work with than younger players. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee are used to playing basketball a certain way, and neither is especially known for his defense.
The new additions must learn Doc Rivers' system and learn it quickly. The Celtics preach the importance of starting off strong but a 2-2 start isn't the least bit impressive, especially when the wins were against a Wizards team missing its two best players.
Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett are the only players left from the 2008 championship team, so they stand as pillars for the rest of the team right now. The trio will continue to dominate, with Rondo and Garnett both registering double-doubles already. However, the rest of the team shouldn't rely on the Big Three as they move forward.
Terry, Lee, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and Brandon Bass all have important roles on the Celtics. They are there to boost the Big Three and balance out the work using their various strengths. The players need to gain an understanding of their roles, then consistently play them to the best of their ability.