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Three-Pointer: Celtics show age before beauty

02.07.11 at 11:42 pm ET
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Ray Allen more than anyone is defying his age with the Celtics this season. (AP)

Even before the Celtics lost for the seventh time this season on the second night of back-to-back games, Rajon Rondo provided the perfect answer as to why.

“We’re old,” said Rondo, who at 24 is the youngest player on the roster outside of the last two guys on the bench, Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody.

The Celtics are indeed old, averaging 31.1 years of age. The good news is that with age comes experience. That’s 902 playoff games and 47 All-Star selections of experience. Generally, that means a lot of victories — just ask the 1997-98 Bulls, who at an average age of 31.6 were the oldest team in NBA history to capture a title, winning 62 games in the regular season and 15 of 21 playoff contests.

But with age also comes aching bodies. Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal have a combined 14 feet and 550 pounds of bodies — logging a total of 66,669 minutes in their careers — that have translated into 47 missed games already this season. Their consistent absences from the lineup means when other injuries occur (i.e., Delonte West, Marquis Daniels and Semih Erden), Doc Rivers’ bench looks like Norman Dale’s in “Hoosiers” when he was forced to play Ollie.

Remarkably, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are defying their ages of 35, 34 and 33, respectively, as the only players on the Celtics’ roster to start 40 of the team’s 51 games. Still, that doesn’t mean their old legs aren’t tired on the second night of back-to-back games.

“I think we have 13 losses, and I know seven of them have come on back-to-backs,” the Celtics coach told reporters after the C’s fell to 38-13 with a 94-89 loss to the Bobcats (click here for the complete recap). “And it’s the same script in five of them, where we win a decent game the day before, we come out, we kind of goof around and then all of a sudden you try to win it in the fourth. Well, then you don’t have anything left.”

It’s been referenced before, but the Celtics are 1-6 on the road when they played the night prior. Monday’s game in Charlotte didn’t count, considering their victory over the Magic on Sunday came in the afternoon. Still, the C’s are 5-7 overall on the second night of back-to-back games — and 0-4 in such instances since Jan. 3. That’s cause for concern, especially considering their lead over the Heat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference has fallen to just one game.

“We have different dilemmas each year, and I guess this year it’s the back-to-back, so we’ve got to figure out something, especially in the second half coming up soon,” said Garnett. “What’s the solution? I don’t know, but tonight we didn’t get it done.”

Thankfully, for the Celtics’ sake, they don’t play another back-to-back until March 13-14, and even that’s against the Bucks and Nets. But they do play on consecutive nights five more times this season.  While there’s no such thing as a back-to-back in the NBA postseason, how the Celtics perform on those five occasions could not only mean the difference between a Game 7 in Boston vs. one in Miami, Chicago or Los Angeles, but it could mean a Game 7 in all three.

You know it’s bad when Tommy Heinsohn says, “I think the age factor started to show in this game, and I’m starting to get worried.” Considering four Celtics made the All-Star Game when those guys could desperately use that six-day break, it’s lucky Rivers is the Eastern Conference coach in that game.

WHEN WILL AGE CATCH UP TO RAY ALLEN?

The one guy who seems unfazed by games on consecutive nights is Allen. In the Celtics’ 12 back-to-back games, he has averaged 16.3 points on 50.7 percent shooting from the field. That’s not a far cry from his 17.3 points per game average and 50.6 percent field-goal percentage for the season.

What’s most remarkable, though, is that Allen is shooting 45.7 percent from 3-point range this year, the best mark of his career — by a long shot. He shot 43.4 percent as a member of the Bucks in the 2001-02 season. He was then one year removed from winning the NBA’s 3-Point Shootout at the 2001 All-Star Game, and this season he’ll have another shot at a Shootout title, against Pierce. The other players to win multiple Shootout titles all did it in consecutive seasons. Allen has a chance to do it 10 years apart.

As for the little issue called the all-time NBA 3-point record, Allen drew within two 3-pointers of eclipsing Reggie Miller for the crown when he sunk his second trey of the night in the third quarter. It appeared for a moment that Allen might have a game-tying attempt against the Bobcats that would also have pulled him even with Miller at 2,560 career 3-pointers.

But Allen seemed to almost want to break the record at home against the Lakers on Thursday. He took 11 shots between 15 and 19 feet on Monday night and only three beyond the arc. He’s only attempted fewer than four 3-pointers 14 times this season, and that includes the last three games.

WHERE’S THE BENCH?

Because of injuries to Shaq, Daniels and Erden, Rivers had just five options off the bench. He used only four of them, as Bradley made the trek from Maine that afternoon. Still, the Celtics coach isn’t making any excuses for his reserves getting outscored by Charlotte, 44-15.

“We didn’t have a lot of guys off the bench, obviously, and we knew that going into the game,” Rivers said. “We didn’t get a lot out of our bench today, either, but I don’t worry about that stuff. I told our guys, ‘I don’t care if we have six guys. The fans are still going to come. The other team is still going to play. And we’re supposed to win the game.’ So, we’re not going to use that as an excuse.”

Davis played his worst game in a long time, which makes you wonder how bad the bruised head he suffered against the Magic really was. Nate Robinson was non-existent (2 points, 0 assists in 11 minutes). Von Wafer shot 20 percent.

The only guy off the pine who gave them anything was Harangody, and you wonder why he didn’t get more time — since he scored three points and made a steal in only seven minutes of action. Instead, Doc went with Kendrick Perkins for a season-high 35 minutes.

In fact, Pierce, Allen and Rondo all played 35-plus minutes in Charlotte. And if that keeps happening, the C’s might have tired legs on more than just the back-to-back nights.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Doc Rivers, Rajon Rondo
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