Possibly the only good thing about the Boston Celtics' 100-74 blowout loss to the Charlotte Bobcats Tuesday night is that the team has no time to dwell on it. With a home game Wednesday evening against the Toronto Raptors, coach Doc Rivers and his squad can just detach themselves from this bitter memory (and second-worst loss of the season) altogether.
But fans might not afford themselves the same luxury. After a 14-5 run, including the slaying of a few considerable Eastern Conference beasts, Boston decided to rest Paul Pierce against the worst team in the entire league. Bad decision on Rivers' part.
Pierce's absence exposed the rest of the roster's flaws and completely destroyed the collective momentum Boston had built during this late-season stretch.
The new acquisitions looked lost without the captain's leadership, and Kevin Garnett only played 20 minutes (shooting 2-of-10), making matters even worse.
In a game without Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, and only 20 minutes of KG, lack of offensive rhythm seems almost expected. After all, Rondo led the league in assists (11 per game) when he suffered his season-ending ACL tear. And since Rondo's absence, the “Truth” has led Boston with 6.5 assists a game.
That's right, Paul Pierce gets my Tommy Award tonight!— Tommy Heinsohn (@CSNTommy) March 13, 2013
So what did Doc Rivers expect Tuesday? A miraculous 40-assist game from his team? Well, what he got was a 15-13 assist-to-turnover ratio. 15 total assists, by the entire team, over a 48-minute span. That's only four more than Rondo's average and two more than the team's turnover number. Apologies for overemphasizing, but these numbers are alarmingly eye-opening.
Hopefully Rivers' eyes are now open to the fact that sitting Pierce at this stage of the season is unacceptable. Sure, the Celtics have had nine road contests in 11 games, and the 35-year-old has played more 30-plus-minute games than the pinched nerve in his neck appreciates. But scratching your star player and the glue to your offense seems even more damaging than forfeiting the game altogether.
For starters, Tuesday night eviscerated all flow and rhythm the Celtics have developed this calendar year. With only 19 games remaining on the schedule, and three games separating the No. 4 seed from Boston's current position in seventh, Rivers needed to keep the momentum going rather than jeopardize it.
Taking Pierce's spot in the starting lineup was Jeff Green, a player many fans and analysts have recently suggested should already be starting regularly. Judging by Twitter and B/R, such sentiments seem to have subsided after folks witnessed Green's performance against the Bobcats. He rushed possessions, forced the ball and passed out of open shots. He did everything Celtics Nation has gotten used to him not doing.
And his absence from the bench decimated Boston's depth. It was great to see new additions Jordan Crawford, Terrance Williams, D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph getting minutes, but they were not valuable minutes.
If Brian Scalabrine had been rocking a C's uniform rather than an announcer's suit, he would have subbed in. When a team shoots 40 percent from the floor, 30 percent from three and 64 percent from the line, no minutes are valuable minutes. At a certain point, all the players on the losing end start to count down to the 0:00 mark.
The second unit astonishingly possessed less rhythm than the first, exposing once and for all that a team without a true point guard can get itself into real trouble. The new guys needed Pierce out there to assimilate them into the offense, bark at them when they were in the wrong positions, keep the ball moving at a quality pace and create openings off the drive.
What was the worst part of Tuesday's loss?
Boston moved the ball around, but only for the sake of moving it around. Excessive ball movement only works if you tire out your opponent, find the open man on the swing and then take the shot. Celtics players were inexcusably passing up open shots, letting the shot clock dwindle with errant passes and then forcing up low-percentage jumpers. Lots of jumpers.
What's worse, highlights from a game as sloppy as Tuesday's might lead you to believe it was a battle of energy. Keep dreaming. Boston was completely outmatched, out-hustled and out-powered. The Bobcats grabbed 48 rebounds to the Celtics' 29, including a 16-6 advantage on the offensive glass.
After every loss, it's important to consider the positives and negatives. But in this instance, the only positive occurred when the final buzzer rang and the Celtics could leave Charlotte for good.
Pierce's absence Tuesday further emphasizes what has been made abundantly clear during this stretch—that he makes this team click. Don't expect Rivers to sit his captain out again, at least for the rest of this season.
"He's the original Celtic and we go how he goes," Garnett said recently.
And when they go without him, they apparently don't go at all.