The Boston Celtics are infuriating.
When the Celtics assembled this roster during the offseason, they envisioned it progressing into an immediate title contender, not a mediocre faction that would struggle to play .500 basketball.
Instead of contention, though, Boston has emulated the latter. For a roster of supposed championship pedigree, that's unacceptable.
But that's also the problem—the Celtics are not a championship-caliber team.
Because they're void of an identity, void of an inspiring ideal that defines them. They're void of a belief that unites them.
Troubling? Of course, but there is a silver lining—Boston can fix this.
The Celtics can still establish an identity or rather, re-establish one.
This was once a team whose success was predicated on their impenetrable defense. And, as A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com acknowledges, they remain a team who is still supposed to be characterized by their defense:
Even with all the new faces and roles this season, the Celtics were still expected to be a defensive-minded club which was supposed to carry them through the early stages of the season until everyone got on the same page.
But as far as the Celtics being a defensive team?
Even that's up for debate at this point.
Though Blakely touches upon some nice points, he's mistaken about one thing: Boston's defensive execution—or lack thereof—is not up for debate. It's clearly the team's main problem, and no debate is necessary.
Even Doc Rivers is guilty of perpetuating such ambiguity.
"This team is not a good team right now," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers whose team is now 12-12 on the season. "It's who we are right now. We're a .500 team and we play like that. We've won two games in a row for the season. Right now, we're not a good team. We're going to find, but not right now. We're going to keep searching for it."
I'm hardly one to contradict the ever-knowledgable Rivers, but simply resigning to the fact that the Celtics are "not a good team" and must keep searching for an identity isn't enough. Admitting Boston needs to re-establish its defensive roots is.
Last season, the Celtics were first in points allowed per 100 possessions with 98.2. They also held their opponents to an effective field-goal percentage of just 45.2 (second-best in the league) while 14.9 percent of their defensive sets culminated in a forced turnover (fourth-best in the league).
This season, however, it's been a different story.
Boston is allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions (12th in the league) and opponents' effective field-goal percentage has risen to 49.4 (18th in the league). They've also allowed 100 or more points in four straight games.
To some, this doesn't scream identity crisis. But we must understand that for the Celtics it is.
Defense is what carried the Celtics all the way through to the Eastern Conference Finals. Defense is what is supposed to distinguish them from the rest. Defense is what will allow them to contend for a title.
The Celtics must understand that. Right now, they don't.
Paul Pierce himself admitted defensive deficiencies have fueled Boston's downfall thus far, yet failed to acknowledge that resolving such a conflict is their ticket back to relevancy:
"Right now we have no identity," said a visibly disappointed Paul Pierce following Tuesday's loss to the Bulls, their third straight. "We're supposed to be a defensive team. But giving up 100 points every night, we're inconsistent on the court ... we're still searching, trying to find out who we want to be for this season."
Though Pierce comes close to successfully identifying the root of the Celtics' trials and tribulations, his refusal to definitively acknowledge it concerns me. Like Rivers, he preaches the concept Boston has some soul-searching to do, that it must a establish an identity.
But the Celtics don't need to search for or create a new identity; they need to regain the one it already had.
Like it or not, offense is not the Celtics' strong suit. Sure, Rajon Rondo can drop dimes like no one else, but Boston's 103.3 points per 100 possessions gives them the 19th most potent offensive attack in the league.
It was the same story, different year only last season as well. The Celtics' offense was 25th in the NBA, scoring at a rate of just 101 points per 100 possessions.
And yet, that team pushed the Miami Heat to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals. They came within one victory of an NBA Finals appearance.
What must the Celtics use to define themselves in order to return to title contention?
They were title contenders.
So this isn't a matter of the Celtics figuring out how to solve their identity crisis. They already know how to fix this, they just need to recognize it as a fact and not a theory.
Boston needs to sure up its defensive rotations. It needs to allow fewer than 42.8 points in the paint.
Simply put, it needs to embrace the art of defense in general, lest the Celtics find themselves fall out of the playoff picture while searching for resolution that has been staring them in face all along.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 19, 2012.