The Boston Celtics have begun to lose games at home to teams they should dominate at this point in the season, and their failures against the New Jersey Nets and the Memphis Grizzlies do not bode well as they limp towards the postseason.
There are various reasons that the aura of the Celtics has diminished over the past few weeks, and one of the most obvious is the inability of Boston to secure rebounds, especially in key situations.
The Celtics used to excel in rebounding but the tides of time have left their imprint on players like Kevin Garnett.
Players brought in to help like Shelden Williams and Rasheed Wallace have been mostly ineffective.
Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins are decent players, but they are both undersized, and when paired against taller players, their physical style does not always win out.
If age has taken its toll physically on Garnett, then the same demons have visited Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, who have visibly lost a step and don't have the spring in their legs that they used to.
Allen's regression has been more evident on the defensive end, where he is no longer able to stay in front of quicker, younger guards who consistently beat him on the perimeter.
In Pierce's case, his once-reliable elbow jumper has failed him in several key situations, and you have to wonder if he is getting the same lift in his legs as he has in the past.
The above-mentioned items are all important, but the most concerning thing about the Celtics may be the loss of the intimidation factor, because the opposition doesn't hold the same fear of Boston as they once did.
The Celtics, on the strength of their confidence and aggression, would walk into an opposing arena and have the game won before the center jump.
Teams are no longer afraid of Boston, and they are willing to stand up to the Celtics in the face of their rough house tactics.
In the game against Milwaukee on Wednesday night, the contest became chippy and the Celtics committed several hard fouls against the younger Bucks, but instead of wilting, Milwaukee stood its ground.
Brandon Jennings went as far to confront Garnett face to face, which was a definite no-no in the past, and something Jennings would have paid for dearly.
Instead, the Bucks' prevailed and sent Boston to their third loss in four games and tested the merits of their worthiness as a top contender in the Eastern Conference.
It's bad enough to lose to the Bucks on the road, but the home losses to the Nets and the Grizzlies show a lack of focus at a time when a veteran team like the Celtics should be gearing up for the postseason.
They are definitely not the same team which won the NBA title in 2008, but the question is: Do they even have enough left in the tank to advance past the first round?
They still have their pride, but it won't replace the constant lapses on defense and the inability to get rebounds in critical situations, and those two may sound the death knell on the Celtics' season.
The question of whether the window has closed on Boston's chances of winning a title seems to have been answered, but the question now is: Can the Celtics avoid being embarrassed in the first round of the playoffs?
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