Depleted by injuries, the Celtics now boast a supporting cast that runs as deep as a puddle. They've managed to go 16-8 since Rajon Rondo went down with an ACL injury, but there's still some serious doubt as to whether they can contend.
For some time, the prevailing theme was that they could. Driven by the resentment that came with losing a slew of key components, the Celtics would win. It wouldn't always be pretty, but they would win.
And they have, but upon reaching the playoffs it won't stay that way. Not with the road they're headed down.
Boston is presently placed seventh in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks. Merely 3.5 games separate the Celtics and the fourth-place Brooklyn Nets. The potential to move up is there.
But will they?
It's going to be tough.
Seven of Boston's final 15 games come against teams above .500. Eight total will be played on the road, where the Celtics are 12-21.
This is Doc Rivers' crew, though. They can weather any storm. Garnett and Pierce can carry them where they need to go.
A few years ago, the latter would have been true, but both now over 35, Garnett and Pierce need help. And they're not getting it.
Boston's bench ranks 15th in the league in points per game (33.4), a vexing total.
With Rondo and Jared Sullinger down (and Leandro Barbosa down/gone), Rivers has relied heavily on his role players. He can't play Garnett and Pierce 40 minutes a night anymore, and so, he has 10 active players averaging at least 10 minutes. Still, the Celtics are in the middle of the pack.
Blame doesn't fall solely on the second unit either. It's the supporting cast in general.
In a near victory over the Miami Heat, Jeff Green totaled 43 points. Where would the Celtics have been without those 43 points?
Inane as it seems to ask, it has to be posed.
Boston totaled 103 points with just three total players scoring in double figures, one of which was Pierce. With Garnett on the sidelines, you would like to believe that someone would have stepped up. Aside from Green, no one did.
How about the Celtics' loss to the New Orleans Hornets? Four players hit double figures, but no one outside of those four tallied more than five.
If you're an explosive team like the Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder, lined with players in their prime, then a reliable supporting cast isn't necessary. When you're the Celtics, and you're built around an aging core like the San Antonio Spurs, you don't have that luxury.
I liken the Celtics to the Spurs because both have coaches in Rivers and Gregg Popovich that preach accountability, and both house players whose minutes must be monitored.
The biggest difference?
San Antonio's bench ranks seventh in points scored per game (39.1). Since Tony Parker went down, the Spurs' supporting cast has stepped up even more, averaging 42.9 points in March, fifth most in the league.
The Celtics need that kind of assurance, especially now. But they don't have it.
Boston allows 102.1 points per 100 possessions overall, fourth best in the NBA. When Garnett is on the floor, that number drops to 99.7, which would rank second in the league. Upon stepping off, it skyrockets to 106.7, the equivalent of 16th in the Association.
While those are marks indicative of Garnett's value to the Celtics' defense, it's also proof that they're relying on him far too much.
Remember, he's 36. Doc isn't going to let his minutes climb above 30 too often. What Boston needs is a team that can hold its own defensively when he's out.
The same goes on offense, where the Celtics' 102.5 points per 100 possessions ranks 24th. With Pierce in the lineup, that number climbs to 104. Without him, it plummets to 99.6, equating to worst in the league.
Come playoff time, a heavy dependence on Garnett and Pierce is going to cripple them. Not in the sense that Garnett and Pierce won't make a difference, but rather, because they make such a significant difference.
How far with the Celtics go in the playoffs?
Injuries have forced the Celtics to navigate through life with a thinner foundation, but they'll be the first to tell you that's not an excuse. In any absence, other players must rise to the occasion.
No one has done that for Boston. Not in place of Rondo or Sullinger, and certainly not for Garnett or Pierce once they take a seat. Not consistently at least.
Are we bearing witness to a poorly constructed faction?
Not at all. They've found ways to win.
Their ability to remain successful in the face of adversity can predominantly be attributed to Garnett and Pierce, though. For now, that will get suffice.
In the postseason? Not so much.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.