The 2012-13 NBA season has been none too kind to the Boston Celtics so far. The C's were supposed to be younger, deeper and more dynamic after an offseason that saw them sign the likes of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, draft Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, and retain Kevin Garnett and a healthy Jeff Green.
The results? An 11-9 record and the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference through the first 20 games. The scoring is up, from 24th to 14th in offensive efficiency, but the defense, long the Celts' staple, has declined, from third in efficiency in 2011-12 to 11th this time around, per NBA.com's stats tool.
The C's are certainly no strangers to slow starts. They were 4-9 out of the gate last season and were under .500 as late as February 28th.
Still, the early returns are nothing if not disappointing. In what's turned out to be a wide-open race for one of the top two spots in the East (aside from that which the Miami Heat will eventually occupy), the Celtics have already fallen behind the New York Knicks, the Atlanta Hawks and (to a lesser extent) the Brooklyn Nets.
Boston's circumstances should improve once Avery Bradley returns from injury and the veterans start to smell the playoffs approaching. To this point, though, the Celts' underwhelming performance can be all too easily captured by these five clips.
Perhaps it's too much to expect the Celtics of 2012-13 to be the same defensive juggernaut of yesteryear. Even with Jesus Shuttlesworth off to South Beach, so many of Boston's principals, including Paul Pierce, are well past their respective primes.
Pierce, in particular, has had his issues on the defensive end. According to NBA.com, the C's actually surrender more points per 100 possessions with Pierce on the court than they do without him.
But you don't need fancy stats to see that Pierce isn't staying in front of opposing wings like he used to. Just look at how the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer got crossed up by a 31-year-old Joe Johnson in the C's 95-83 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets on November 28th.
Fans in Boston can only hope Pierce found The Truth on the parquet floor at the TD Garden whilst crawling on his hands and knees.
Not that they'd ever let on to it in public. At least, Kevin Garnett wouldn't.
The Big Ticket looked more like former teammate Glen Davis (a.k.a. Big Baby) on opening night of the 2012-13 season. Allen went out of his way to greet his long-time compatriots prior to checking in for the Heat and was received rather cordially by nearly everyone on Boston's bench.
Except KG, who ignored Ray's slap on the shoulder entirely. Clearly, Garnett was still beset by the idea of a guy with whom he won a ring and played in two NBA Finals now suiting up for the hated Heat.
Though, judging by the disparity in the standings—Miami is second in the East with a record of 13-5—KG probably isn't the only one in Beantown who still harbors hard feelings over Allen's departure.
With Ray Allen gone and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett well over the hill, the onus has since fallen on Rajon Rondo to step up as the leader of the Celtics. His age (26) and his talent (three All-Star selections, the league leader in assists) pointed to a player in his prime who'd be up to the task.
Problem is, Rondo hasn't quite filled that void, at least not responsibly. That much was made perfectly clear on November 28th, when he went after Nets forward Kris Humphries in the closing moments of the first half.
The foul that precipitated Rajon's outburst didn't appear to be particularly disrespectful, and Humphries, to his credit, didn't lash out at the little guy. The scrum resulted in a two-game suspension for Rondo, during which he went to Mexico and from which he apparently learned nothing.
Not to suggest that sanctions from on high should necessarily dictate Rondo's behavior. Rather, the fact that he (i.e. Boston's most important player) felt the need to act out came off as reckless and, in a way, was an indictment of the C's role players.
As if inciting a brawl was necessary at all. The dust-up itself wreaked of a desperate attempt by Rondo to assert a sort of faux, "tough guy" machismo.
The sort that C's squads of old wouldn't have had to manufacture, but that this one feels the need to on account of a lack of toughness of which Doc Rivers is acutely aware.
That toughness has been all too evident on the defensive end, where, as mentioned earlier, the Celtics have tumbled from elite to merely middle-of-the-pack.
For instance, take Boston's most recent visit to the Palace of Auburn Hills on November 18th. The C's didn't just lose to the Detroit Pistons, who entered the game with but one win on their resume; they were annihilated in the Motor City, 103-83. The Pistons shot 54.2 percent from the field, outrebounded Boston 39-30, destroyed them in the paint by a margin of 44-30 and racked up 20 points in transition.
Two of which came from Corey Maggette, who, at 33, would hardly be mistaken for a spring chick.
It's one thing for Boston's old legs to get beat down the floor for an easy buckets. It's another, as in this case, for Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green to be in position to make a play but for neither to present much of a challenge. Notice how KG, long lauded as a defensive enforcer, steps toward the baseline and away from the play.
And not to avoid foul trouble, either, since Garnett wasn't whistled once in that game. So much for anchoring the D, I s'pose...
But forget about KG's old legs getting beat by another veteran's for a moment. Barring a miraculous turnaround in Detroit, the Pistons won't be anywhere near the playoffs come April.
Rather, the Celtics must concern themselves with the New Yorks, the Brooklyns, the Miamis, the Chicagos and, of course, the Philadelphias of the NBA in their quest to keep their championship window open for just a moment longer.
So far, not so good—the C's are a combined 2-5 against the Knicks, the Heat, the Bulls and the 76ers in 2012-13. They finally managed to overcome the Sixers at home on December 8th, but only after falling in a 95-94 overtime thriller at Philly the night before.
The game-winner was illustrative of the sort of play that has flustered the C's this season—an athletic wing attacking from the perimeter. In this case, it was Evan Turner, who drove by Courtney Lee, pulled up for a jumper in the lane and drove the dagger through Boston's basketball heart.
Maybe Avery Bradley stops that play. Maybe he doesn't.
Either way, the Celtics have plenty of work to do to get back into the championship conversation and, luckily for them, plenty of time in which to do it.