Now, it is obvious that the Boston Celtics are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. It is obvious that they have an elite core of talented players. It is also obvious that they are not able to hang with the big boys in the NBA.
The elite teams beat teams they are supposed to beat and teams that are supposed to give them a run for their money. They find ways to break out of slumps and learn to make up for other players' shortcomings.
They play through injuries and continue to win when everyone is expecting them to have a bad stretch. The Boston Celtics are no longer one of these teams.
Since the start of the New Year, the Celtics have gone 9-10, and things are looking grim. If you extend that back three games before the start of 2010, they are a stagnant 9-13.
They have lost games to Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit (teams that elite teams should be beating) along with three losses to Atlanta, two to Orlando, and one to the Los Angeles Lakers (teams that elite teams should be able to keep up with).
The young players are not helping the older players the way that they should. On every elite team there is a good mix of veterans and young players, and it is the job of the younger players to play up to a certain level so the veterans don't have to run themselves down early in the season. This is something that is absolutely not happening on the Boston Celtics.
Last year, Ray Allen was playing at a much higher level than he is now, and having Tony Allen behind him was enough backup to keep the Celtics winning. This year, Ray Allen is operating at a level that is not productive enough to have mediocre backup Tony Allen keep the team afloat.
Ray Allen's production seems to have only dropped two points per game, but his FG percentage is down to 45 percent, and his percentage from beyond the arc has fallen to 34, the worst of his career. Tony Allen's production has neither improved nor gotten worse.
The biggest problem currently facing the Celtics is that of Kevin Garnett. They did the right thing in bringing in Rasheed Wallace in the offseason to give Garnett more bench time to log fewer minutes on the aging forward's legs and knees.
Unfortunately, Garnett's decline is setting in more rapidly than anyone could have guessed. He is no longer as durable as he was on the Minnesota Timberwolves, and his knees are nowhere near what they used to be. As any basketball player knows, once your knees are gone, they are gone.
The Celtics have had their worst stretch since the big three was put together in Boston, and things are not looking up for the next few weeks.
They have an upcoming five-game road trip, interrupted by the All-Star Break, which includes a back-to-back games against the Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, followed by a game against the increasingly impressive Denver Nuggets.
Finally, after a home game against the New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavs come to town looking for a rematch of their Opening Day loss.
If February turns out to look like January did for the Celtics, then look out. The slide could go further than any of us could have imagined.