There is no NBA title to be won in Boston. Not right now.
Though the Boston Celtics entered the 2012-13 crusade under lofty assumptions, they've crumbled under the weight of those very expectations.
Halfway through the season, the Celtics hold the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff, a failure in itself. That they're now under .500 yet again only adds to the validity behind their nonexistent title window.
Yes, on certain sheets of paper, Boston reads like a contender. On others (the ones that matter most) they appear to be toeing the lines of implosion—which they are.
At present, the Celtics have lost four in a row, only one of which has come against a playoff-bound team. They're ranked 27th in offensive efficiency and have just four players averaging 10 or more points a game. And their 39.1 rebounds per game are the second-lowest in the league.
Beyond the stat lines, though, Boston simply isn't playing like a team, nor are they playing with any sort of confidence or will.
After the team's loss to the lowly Detroit Pistons it got to the point where head coach Doc Rivers openly questioned (via Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com) the commitment and subsequent cosmetic makeup of his team:
I think this team wants everything easy. They want the easy way out. They want to win easy. And I told them the only way you’re going to win easy is you're going to have to play hard. The harder you play, the easier the games become. We’re taking the wrong approach. I've got to either find the right combination, the right guys, or we’re going to get some guys out of here. It’s the bottom line. Because this group right now, they are not playing right. It’s in them to play right. But right now they haven't been -- either because I’m not getting to them, or they are not getting to each other. But at the end of the day, either we've got to do that, or we've got to make changes.
Nothing Rivers offered seemed to resonate with his team, as the Celtics followed up their woeful effort in Detroit with a docile one against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Immediately following that loss, riding the coattails of his coach, Paul Pierce also criticized (via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe) his team's mental toughness:
“I think that’s the one thing this team lacks, that mental toughness, man. When we lose our confidence, I’ve never been on teams like that. We got to stay together, we got to play with confidence.
Confidence is something that continues to elude the Celtics, though.
If Rajon Rondo isn't criticizing his leadership, Kevin Garnett his questioning ability to make an impact. Toss in the scathing commentary provided by Pierce and Rivers, and it's clear Jason Terry's tattoo has been less than inspiring.
If this team lacks the killer instinct necessary to put supposedly inferior opponents like the Cavaliers and Pistons away, how are they supposed to even begin to keep pace with the Miami Heat? Or any Western Conference foe?
They can't. And they won't.
The absence of a will to win that Rivers and Pierce reference to is not something that can be cloaked any longer. For half the season, we've believed the Celtics would get it together like they did last season; we've believed them to be on the verge of a revival.
But they're not.
Even if their six game winning stood as a genuine testament to the potential of this team, their extensive bouts with lethargy and inertia stand to cripple any postseason aspirations they had coming in.
They're 9-14 against teams over .500 and have lost three or more consecutive games on three separate occasions. They're scoring more points with Rondo off the floor, are among the most matador-like of defenses whenever Garnett is riding the pine, their leading scorer is 35-year-old Pierce and their most potent supporting cast member is a dissonant Terry.
See the problem?
Championship caliber teams can be built upon experience—just look at the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks—but that experience must come with depth and an unyielding devotion, neither of which Boston seems to have.
The Celtics are overly reliant on their veterans and their young guns (with the exception of perhaps Jared Sullinger) aren't playing up to snuff. Not even Rondo has been able to impact the offense or defensive side of the ball with his young legs. And only worse can be said of players like Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.
As is, are the Celtics title contenders?
Thus, in the Celtics we have an emotionally and physically stagnant team that doesn't have the manpower necessary to change. Not to the point of title contention.
"I’ve told our guys this 100 times: [the solution] is in the locker room but it’s not on the floor, Rivers (via Washburn) had said. "We have to get it on the floor and we have to be a consistent team.”
The only problem is, as currently constructed, whatever solution is in the locker room isn't potent or able enough to render the Celtics anything other than a powerhouse that never was.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 22, 2013.