West coast swings have rarely been kind for the Boston Celtics, even when they've been playing at full strength.
Now that their captain's out of action, it's easy to make excuses for their recent play.
The Celtics have dropped two of their three games since Paul Pierce was sidelined with a knee infection, with the losses coming against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. In both games, Boston held leads that they would end up vanquishing.
It would be easy to say that Pierce's absence left the late-game offensive situations in limbo. The Truth has been the go-to closer for the Celtics for more than a decade, and his ability to create his own shot off the dribble makes him deadly in the final minutes of a close game.
It would be easy to say that his absence has hurt the C's on the defensive end. Pierce always has his hands in the action and forces his opponents to change how they play offensively. He also isn't afraid to get his nose dirty and go to the floor for loose balls.
It would even be easy to say that the absence of Pierce has hurt the team due to a lack of leadership. Now in his 12th season in a Celtics uniform, Pierce knows more about the team and his teammates than anyone else on the roster. He is the captain and the true leader of the team.
It would be easy to blame the last two games on Pierce's absence and all of the things that accompany it.
But that's not truly the case.
In the last two games, the Celtics have had great chances late on the offensive end to either tie or win the game. At the end of Sunday night's game against the Clippers, Rajon Rondo got to the rim easily and was fouled, but missed two free throws with less than two seconds remaining that would have given Boston the lead. Against the Warriors, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett settled for three-pointers and fadeaway jumpers for a good portion of the second half instead of cutting through the Swiss cheese defense of Golden State.
The Celtics had the opportunities to close out the game with the ball in the hands of their other stars. They didn't execute. That's not Paul Pierce's fault.
It's not Pierce's fault that Rondo played lackluster defense against both Baron Davis and Monta Ellis late in the games. While both players deserve credit for what they did, Rondo was far from aggressive on the defensive end. Davis is still a stud and wasn't played as tight as he needed to be. Ellis, on the other hand, played both Rondo and Ray Allen like fiddles the entire game while dropping 37 points on the best defensive team in the NBA.
And don't blame Pierce for the team's lack of composure in the two losses. It's not his fault that Eddie House and Kendrick Perkins did a couple of dumb things to get called for technical fouls during the fourth quarter of back-to-back games. It's also not his fault that the Celtics have committed 37 combined turnovers in the last two games.
The Celtics are a veteran team that isn't lacking leadership. While their play has been less than stellar during these losses, they're still one of the top teams in the NBA and know what they need to do to turn it around.
In the end, it's the simple things in a basketball game that matter.
Now that's the truth.
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