Boston Celtics: 5 Main Culprits for Their Recent Struggles
It's come to that point in the Boston' Celtics' season that has become all too familiar to fans of the team over the past few years.
The Celtics are dancing around a .500 record with the All-Star break looming, and analysts and fans alike are forecasting the the end of the run of the KG era Celtics.
It's gotten so bad that some analysts are even calling for GM Danny Ainge to blow up the team.
Die-hard Celtics fans need only point to last season for some hope however. The Celtics stumbled into the break in last year's strike shortened season with just a 15-17 record, but managed to become just the fourth team ever to with their division after hitting the All-Star break with a losing record according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Will the Celtics have enough left in the tank to rise from the cellar and recover another seemingly lost season?
To answer this question it's important to take a look at what the main culprits for this year's up-and-down play are.
Here are the main causes for the newest installment in the recent saga of Boston Celtics early season slumps.
The team is ravaged by injuries, the latest and most significant being floor general Rajon Rondo's season ending ACL tear this past week.
Injuries are nothing new for this Celtics team, but this season it hasn't been the old guys like Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen that have been missing.
No one will undermine the importance of either of those two to prior Celtics squads, but losing a young guys like Avery Bradley earlier in the season, who provide a huge spark off the bench for a team that has lacked energy at times, may have been just as important during the every-day grind of an NBA season.
And then there's Rondo; the guy who's taken over this team the past few years, the guy who leads the team in minutes, and the guy who has evolved into the best player on a team with two future hall-of-famers on it.
It will be tough for the Celtics to bail themselves out of this hole without their leader at the point, even if all the worn-down veterans on the the team manage to stay healthy.
Staunch defense has been the pride of this Celtics team since the Garnett-era began. The team routinely ranked near the top of the league in several defensive categories.
A major cause for the Celtics' difficulties this season has been the defense faltering a little bit. The Celtics dropped from second in defensive efficiency to eighth this season and have struggled rebounding the ball.
It may seem strange to point to defense as the problem when they are in the top third of the league, and the offensive numbers have been dismal, but it's the bread and butter of this team.
This kind of drop off in defensive efficiency completely changes the way Doc Rivers needs to game plan, as he needs to make up for it on the offensive end.
The problem is: The Celtics have never been an offensive juggernaut, and they still struggled this season even with Rondo in the lineup. The real cause of their early troubles has been the decline in defense, not the offense.
They've been saying the same things for years now, but it looks like age may have finally caught up with this Celtics team.
At 35 years old, the numbers seem to suggest that Paul Pierce is slowing down. Anyone watching the Celtics can see it too; he doesn't seem to have the same pop in his step when he tries to get to his spot late in games.
Kevin Garnett still provides plenty of intangibles and has looked strong this season, but he can't consistently be a guy who gives you 20 and 10 every night anymore.
The Celtics have counted on Pierce and Garnett for years, and with them slowing down it will take adjustment time to find the same kind of consistency somewhere else.
The Celtics have stirred up a ridiculous amount of storylines this season which are unrelated to their play.
Granted, they've lost their main culprit, Rajon Rondo, to the sidelines for the rest of the season, but Rondo had several issues controlling his temper in the first half of the season.
Apparently two games off wasn't enough for Rondo, who again was handed a one-game suspension for failing to cooperate with the league investigating his bumping of a ref.
It would be comical how much off-the-court trouble a veteran team like this has if I wasn't a Celtics fan.
Late Game Struggles
Despite their impressive 100-98 double-OT win last weekend against the Heat, the Celtics have struggled at times this season in late-game situations.
That always reliable Paul Pierce step-back jumper to ice a game hasn't been there as much this season, as Pierce's minute totals seemed to show in games like the double-OT loss to Atlanta prior to the Heat game.
The Celtics need a late-game play beyond what Bill Simmons has affectionately coined the "Clogged Toilet" (Get Pierce in isolation and see what happens). Beyond Pierce, the Celtics don't really have a go-to guy, which seems to be the problem.
Even before Rondo went down, he wasn't a scorer, especially in crunch time. Garnett can still knock down those perimeter jumpers with the best of them, but those looks are almost always covered in the closing minutes of games, leading to tough shots.
With Allen gone and Pierce continuing to wear down, the Celtics have struggled to find those consistent crunch-time buckets that allowed them to close games out in the past.