The Boston Celtics appear to have lost their identity, plain and simple.
It is a common side effect of a team that goes through massive offseason change. There are just four remaining Celtics who were on the active roster at the end of last season.
With that much turnover, a lot can get lost in the shuffle. Through seven games, the 4-3 Celtics have struggled to get into a good rhythm.
A team in rhythm can easily find its identity. It is a fingerprint left on every game and in the mind of every opponent. Teams do not regard the Celtics the way they have in the past because they have shown a lapse in their identity.
The good thing about losing one's identity is that it can be found.
The Celtics need to find that thing that made them the Boston Celtics throughout the second half of the 2011-12 season.
That thing they lost will be what gets them back on track.
The teams the Boston Celtics have faced this season are a combined 22-24—not a difficult schedule.
However, they are allowing these teams to score an average of 98.9 points per game. That is 9.6 more points per game than the 2011-12 team allowed over the entire season.
Defense has been an identity of the Boston Celtics since the 2007-08 season, Kevin Garnett's first with the team. Since that season, they haven't finished lower than No. 6 in points allowed.
Currently, the team sits at No. 20.
For the Celtics to get back on track, it will start on the defensive side of the ball. This team has never been offensively efficient enough to win with a subpar defensive effort. Through seven games, that is just what the Celtics have put forth.
To re-establish a defensive identity, it shouldn't take more than effort. A large percentage of defensive prowess is simply effort. The Celtics are talented enough and have a good enough scheme to be an elite defensive team.
Defensive effort is not all about out-hustling your opponent. On the contrary, the majority of what makes a good defense is mental effort. As the Celtics learn to play together, that mental effort will kick in and the defense will improve.
That will give Boston back some of the identity it has been sorely missing.
A lot of the change the Boston Celtics went through during the offseason was focused on getting Rajon Rondo players to run with in transition.
Athletes like Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and even Chris Wilcox are in Boston to help with the fast break. This was a great idea originally. The Celtics' offense was becoming antiquated and needed a jolt. Not to mention they were wasting a lot of what makes Rondo so great—his transition passing.
However, with that slight shift in philosophy, the Celtics identity in certain situations has gone missing.
In Monday's game against the Chicago Bulls, the team showed glimpses of getting that situational identity back. On two crucial possessions coming in the midst of furious Bulls' runs, the Celtics ran set plays to get Jason Terry open jumpers.
This was the identity the Celtics sacrificed when Ray Allen departed. It is also something they have refrained from doing thus far in 2012-13.
Part of getting back one's identity is admitting mistakes.
In the rush to get a faster team together, the Celtics have overlooked one of their most efficient offensive ideologies—and they might just get it back with Terry sprinting and cutting hard off screens.
There is little doubt in my mind that had the Boston Celtics beaten the Miami Heat on opening night, they'd be playing much better basketball.
The Heat helped steal the Celtics' identity both at the end of 2011-12 and in the 2012-13 opener. The C's were so bogged down on that first game, that when they fell, their identity went out the window.
A major reason it has taken this team so long to find any semblance of rhythm is that loss to the Heat. After spending all offseason and all training camp talking about their sole focus being on South Beach, Boston forgot there was a season to play after that game.
The Celtics identity has always been based on taking games one at a time. All of the leaders on this team have always preached that, throughout the regular season and playoffs.
They have started to show some emergence from the cloud of the Miami game, but still have a lot to prove moving forward.
In 2011-12, Boston Celtics' 7-footers Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma averaged a combined 27.3 minutes per game.
This season, most of those minutes have been going to smaller players like Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger. Doc Rivers has attempted using smaller players to back up Kevin Garnett, but this has not been particularly successful.
Boston's identity since the forming of the Big Three has always involved multiple 7-footers. This goes along with the moves to make this team more Rajon Rondo friendly.
Chris Wilcox is a legitimate big man, both in size and ability, to back up Garnett. He has proved himself over the past two games and is starting to warrant additional playing time.
Big men in the middle actually help Rondo in the half court, and with Wilcox' ability to run the floor, he is the perfect asset for the Celtics.
Players like Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, P.J. Brown, and even Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal have meant so much to this franchise's identity. Moving in another direction may be the answer in the future, but for right now, the Celtics have a very valuable option waiting in the wings.
Paul Pierce is currently off to one of the worst shooting starts of his lengthy career. He is connecting on just 38 percent from the field, an unprecedented low rate for him.
With their best scorer struggling to put the ball in the basket consistently, part of the Celtics' identity leaves the team. Pierce's scoring has been the offensive identity in Boston for over a decade.
2012-13 shouldn't be much different.
A player as talented as Pierce should right this himself, but to help him re-establish a lost identity, there may be a quicker way.
In three games this season, Pierce has connected on 31 percent or less of his field-goal attempts. In those contests combined, Pierce has attempted just 14-of-36 shots from inside the key.
While he is getting to the line just as regularly, an increase in interior shots from Pierce could help him get back into a rhythm.
The Celtics still need Pierce to score, and that will remain part of their identity.