As all but the most casual of Boston Celtics fans must know, the Celts are in a bit of a slump.
And by "bit," I mean "incredibly huge."
This isn't a new trend. Throughout the season the Celtics have struggled against the minnows of the league.The Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers have all walked away victorious from match-ups with the Celtics.
So why do the Celtics continue to struggle against the league's worst teams?
Here are ten theories.
Okay, this theory is a little out there.
But, perhaps, just perhaps, this is all part of Doc Rivers' strategy.
Maybe he wants the rest of the league counting the Celtics out. He wants everyone to write them off—to underestimate them.
And then when the Playoffs begin, the Celtics have the element of surprise! Their opponents stand dazed as the Celtics sweep them, displaying none of the failings that had plagued them in recent months.
Sadly, this theory is most unlikely.
I have faith in Doc Rivers. But not that much faith.
The argument is sometimes raised that the Celtics are an older team, and as such they struggle to win the second match in back-to-back games.
However, facts just don't support this argument.
Although the most recent loss against the Indiana Pacers was the second night of a back-to-back, most of the other losses to inferior teams were not.
I do think the argument has some merit, though. The team clearly plays better when it is well rested, when those aging Celtic legs are given a chance to rest.
But there's still no reason why this should become a factor more with poor teams than with better ones.
The Celtics are a veteran team—perhaps the most veteran in the league.
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal all bring with them decades of experience playing and winning in this league.
This is normally a positive. Veteran players take a longer view on things, and can appreciate each game within a broader context.
However, this also means they can devalue individual games—particularly those against inferior teams.
A player like Shaquille O'Neal knows that his legacy is assured. Whether or not he plays 100% against the starting Center for the Charlotte Bobcats is not going to change that. The only thing which could have an impact is success in the postseason.
As such, maybe, you might take a broader—laxer—view. You decide not to worry too much about these little games. You save yourself for the big show—the Playoffs, and hopefully the NBA Finals.
Celtics fans seem to be sharply divided on the importance of home-court advantage.
Either it's is the most important thing for the team right now—or it is completely meaningless.
Last season the Boston Celtics surprised many by battling their way to the NBA Finals, despite finishing the season seeded only forth in the Eastern Conference.
This season, however, Doc Rivers originally decided not to take such a risk. The Celtics were going after the number one seed in a big way.
Rivers has subsequently changed his tune, claiming that the number one seeding is no longer a primary goal for the Celtics.
Assuming this is the case, have the Celtics decided that the lesser teams do not warrant effort on their part? Is there no need to "send a message" to teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, as the Celtics know they won't be seeing them in any Finals match-up? Does this then translate into losses?
Again, this doesn't seem to play out in reality. If one looks at the game tapes, Doc Rivers tried to win all of these games. He played his starters big minutes in an attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Sometimes this worked, but many times it didn't.
The Celtics' recent run of poor play, combined with a tough closing schedule, could lead Rivers to sacrifice the rest of the season in favor of resting his players for the postseason.
As of now, though, this theory doesn't hold true.
Sure, it's not as exciting to play bad teams as it is to play good teams.
Playing ball at Madison Square Garden or the Staples Centre is something players dream about when they are just kids shooting at the hoop hanging over their parents' driveway.
Playing in front of a lackluster crowd, on the back end of a three-game road trip against the Atlanta Hawks? Not so much.
As such, it is somewhat understandable if the Celtics are a little bored when playing the cellar dwellers of the NBA. It can be argued that, after a long season, the guys in green just aren't motivated to bring their A-game against weaker teams.
However, few have ever accused players like Kevin Garnett of being unenthusiastic about the game. The guy is one of the most intense players the league has ever seen.
No man who starts each game by slamming his head against an inanimate object is bored.
Pumped? Yes. Crazy? Most definitely. But bored? No.
I have talked previously of the perceived arrogance of the Boston Celtics.
The team has long carried itself with an air of smug superiority. And this season was no different.
The only difference has been that in the second half of this season, arrogance has been at stark odds with reality.
Could it be that despite their falling stock, Celtics arrogance has remained as high as ever?
Have they been continuing to underestimate lesser teams, working on the assumption that their superior talent will win out in the end?
This is a difficult theory to prove one way or the other. All that can really be said is that the Celtics have tended to come out slow against poor teams, and then slowly grind their way to a win. Or, alternatively, they have come out strong, built up a big lead—and then watch as the lesser team chips away and eventually take over.
Is this a symptom of arrogance? Perhaps, but it could just as easily be a symptom of a number of other issues.
Okay, I don't really need to go into this one too much. The trades that sent Perkins and Robinson out—bringing Green and Krstic in—have been evaluated and reevaluated to death.
If you want a thorough analysis of how the trade has damaged the Celtics, click here.
All I will add is that even if one accepts the idea that the trade has damaged the team's chemistry, spirit and/or "ubuntu," it still doesn't explain their poor performance against lesser teams.
If the Celtics most recent loss to the Indiana Pacers was any indication, the Celtics are playing lazy. Particularly against those teams they don't respect.
This manifests itself in different ways. Players aren't hustling on the defensive end, chasing after loose rebounds, or fighting for position down low.
However, for the Celtics, the most negative side effect of their recent laziness is what they do do. And that is: shoot jump shots.
Lots of them.
Often contested, the Celtics have been throwing up an enormous amount of jump shots of late—even Rajon Rondo, not known for his silky-smooth jumper.
Rather than spend time and effort working for a better shot inside, the Celtics have time and again settled for an outside jump shot. Sure, this strategy can work if your jump shots are falling. But this hasn't been the case for the Celtics, not for some time.
Such laziness on offense has been killing them when the defense lapses, and need to be addressed for the Celtics to turn their form around.
Let's look at an example and take a random Celtics game against a team on the wrong side of playoff contention.
They come out weak, and the Celtics build a solid double digit lead going into the second quarter.
What comes next?
Based upon recent form, it is most likely that the Celtics will relax. The starters will sit (for too long) while the opposition battles its way back in the game. By the second half they are back in the game, and as often as not by the time the final buzzer sounds they've come back to win.
Forget about it!
You give the Celtics an early lead against a team they want to beat—nay, want to destroy—and they will never let up. Game seven of last year's Finals aside, the Celtics are like a dog with a bone in this situation. When it is Celtic Pride on the line against a worthy foe, they inevitably rise to the challenge.
When it is an expected lead against a disrespected opponent?
Well, the Celtics just don't care as much.
Perhaps the most likely reason for the Celtics lack of success against bad teams is not one of intention, but one of design.
The Boston Celtics are quite simply a team built to win playoff games, not regular season games.
When a team has been in as many NBA Finals as the Boston Celtics have, they realize that you need a different type of team for the playoffs: a team capable of grinding out wins in a manner that the slowed pace and more physical play of the playoffs necessitates.
The current Celtics' roster is just such a team.
The team is full of bruisers and bangers. Aged and weary—but battle hardened and wily.
For the best example of this, you need look no further than the twin O'Neals. It is clear that the Celtics are rushing back neither Shaquille O'Neal nor Jermaine O'Neal for the regular season. Why? Because both players are "playoff players." They don't have the legs or stamina for a full 82 games. But you give them a short burst of playoff energy—and they may just be able to get you over the hump.
A team looking to dominate the regular season does not sign both Jermaine and Shaquille O'Neal. But a team which has all its eggs in the playoff basket does.