Irish Coffee: Celtics lack killer instinct
|11.02.10 at 11:05 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
We know they love Halloween, but does this Celtics team have a killer instinct?
I raised this concern when the C’s let a pair of double-digit leads vaporize at both second-half quarters in the opening-night win over the Miami Heat.
And Dime Magazine’s Austin Burton raised it again just three games into the 2010-11 NBA season — suggesting Boston has played to its competition through the first three games.
The Celtics did it last season, when they were just average down the stretch before bouncing back to find their rhythm in the playoffs and get with a few possessions of winning another NBA championship. But for a veteran team – led by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and the playoff-experienced Rajon Rondo -- that has been through the wars and knows the importance of staying focused and consistent, it’s a red flag.
The Celtics had the killer instinct in 2007-08, when they won 66 regular-season games and the NBA title. A whopping 21 of those victories came by margins of 20 points or more.
They simply didn’t let many games slip away, as they did in Game 2 against Cleveland — dissolving a double-digit lead in the second half against one of the worst teams in the league.
The 2007-08 C’s started 20-2, winning by an average of 16 points and losing only to a pair of teams that reached the second round of the playoffs that season (the Orlando Magic and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers).
Meanwhile, this year’s edition of the Celtics has led all three of its games by double digits late in the third quarter, only to be playing meaningful minutes down to the buzzer.
Against the Heat, an 83-70 lead with four minutes to play dwindled to an 83-80 advantage in the final minute. Against the Cavs, the C’s turned a 66-55 third-quarter advantage into a 95-87 loss. And against the Knicks, Boston owned a 101-90 lead with two minutes left, only to be clinging to a 103-101 advantage in the final minute.
To further the issue, Burton points to tonight’s game as a potential defining moment for this season’s Celtics, especially considering they haven’t played since Friday night.
The Celtics will get another test of their focus on Tuesday, when they visit the Pistons on the road. A fierce playoff rival for the C’s as recently as 2008, Detroit was in the Lottery last year and aren’t expected to do much this year. Ben Gordon’s and Co. are 0-3 right now, but two of those losses were down-to-the-wire games against playoff teams in Oklahoma City and Chicago. If the Celtics overlook Detroit – perhaps eyeing an upcoming stretch that has them home for the Bucks and Bulls before playing at OKC, Dallas and Miami – Gordon and Rodney Stuckey and the Pistons’ talented scorers will hand Doc Rivers another unexpected L.
Losses piling up are certainly a concern, but as the Celtics showed last year: For this team, what happens in the regular season stays in the regular season. The more concerning number — other than a potentially lower playoff seed — could be the mounting meaningful minutes.
The more games the Celtics are able to demonstrate a killer instinct — turning second-half, double-digit leads into certifiable blowouts down the stretch — the fewer minutes Rivers has to trot out his aged starters.
“I love sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter when you’ve got a blowout,” Ray Allen said in the preseason. “That means everybody as a team gets the opportunity to play. Everybody works hard throughout the week, so when you know guys get a chance to play that’s when you know you’ve got it.”
Which only stresses the killer instinct question: Do this season’s Celtics have IT?
MAGIC DON’T MATCH UP
What the Celtics do have — according to Orlando Sentinel‘s George Diaz — is a considerable matchup advantage against the Magic. In fact, the columnist essentially threw in the towel against the C’s and Heat just a few games into the season. Here’s a glimpse:
The Magic don’t have any players who can break down a defense by going one-on-one, unless Vince Carter steps into a Hot Tub Time Machine and it’s 1997 all over again.
Without one, they won’t have a prayer of beating the Celtics or the Heat in a playoff series.
It may sound like one man’s opinion, but it’s not. Even Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy owned up to that discrepancy after getting blown out by the Heat on Friday.
“Against a good defensive team we have trouble a little bit,” Van Gundy told the Sentinel. “We don’t have — and this isn’t to put down anybody in our locker room — but we don’t have the great one-on-one players. We don’t have Dwyane Wade and James and Pierce and Kobe Bryant.”
That’s got to be fairly eye-opening for any Orlando fan. I had my doubts about the Magic from the start, relaying recently a conversation I overheard at the Garden:
“How come you don’t believe in the Magic?” one guy said to another.
To which the other guy replied, “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?”
AINGE EYEING FREDETTE?
We may just have gotten an early glimpse of who the Celtics will be looking at in the 2011 NBA Draft: Jimmer Fredette. In an article about the Brigham Young University standout making the AP preseason All-American team, newspaper, Fredette admitted that it was Danny Ainge who convinced him to stay for his senior season.
“When I worked out with the Celtics, I was able to talk to him and see what his take was on the draft process,” Fredette told the BYU media outlet. “He said the senior year of college at BYU is unlike anything that you’ll ever experience, it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Draft Express has Fredette as the 21st pick in its early 2011 mock draft, so he could be there for Ainge, who has had a string of solid second-round picks in Luke Harangody (2010), Bill Walker (2008), Glen Davis (2007) and Leon Powe (2006).
Fredette is 936 points shy of Ainge’s career scoring record at BYU (2,467). Considering Fredette scored 751 last season, that mark is probably still safe.
Celtics president Rich Gotham spoke at Becker College yesterday, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette was there. Nothing earth-shattering came from the talk, but it’s always nice for fans to hear this:
“The Celtics are not in business to make profits to reward shareholders. We’re in the business of winning. We have a very clear mission statement. When you play basketball in Boston … your goal is to win championships.”
Celtics assistant coach Lawrence Frank also made an appearance yesterday, speaking at a coaches clinic hosted by Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker. Apparently, Frank discussed the C’s defensive philosophy.
One guy Ainge targeted in the draft from the onset was Rondo. The New York Post’s Peter Vescey reported that Ainge “had arranged for the Suns to choose Rondo at No. 21 and relieve owner Robert Sarver of Brian Grant‘s $2.1 million contract in the process, as well as give Phoenix a first-round choice the following year.”
Vecsey had previously reported that then-Suns coach Mike D’Antoni had “provoked the trade after Rondo’s selection, saying he never would play for him because he can’t shoot.”
Meanwhile, Basketball Prospectus had an interesting take on Rondo’s career-high 24 assists on Friday against the Knicks and current coach D’Antoni. They suggested it could’ve been a result of hometown scorekeeping:
The home scorers at the TD Garden did appear to expand their definition of an assist during the final period to pad Rondo’s total. He was credited twice for assists on plays where teammates created opportunities with multiple dribbles before shooting.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)