Aging Celtics No Longer A Championship Factor in NBA

Published on: 7th April, 2010

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New York – Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It was only two years ago that the Boston Celtics were NBA champions, led by the superstar troika of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce but now, in 2010, with the playoffs looming in the near distance, they are a team fraying at the edges physically and psychologically.  

After last night’s loss to the lowly New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 104-101, these Celtics bear no resemblance to their championship season during which the aforementioned stars all sacrificed some part of their individual games for the benefit of the bigger mission – winning a championship. Now, their locker room has become a fractured environment in which players no longer subjugate their talents for the team, not when contracts are expiring and aging players are in need of one more big payday.

“Usually, games like tonight’s are guaranteed wins,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “Right now, they’re not. I really think it’s as simple as a lack of focus. And it’s on the defensive end right now.”

The Celtics have now lost four of their last five games, heading down the stretch of a long season when they should be getting their collective engine running on all cylinders as the playoffs approach. Rejean Rondo, their point guard, is understanding what’s going on.

“In the locker room, you can feel it,” he said. “You don’t feel like it’s the same continuity and camaraderie as it was the first year. The first year, it was a crazy spirit in the locker room. But now it doesn’t feel the same. It’s not the same right now. We’ve got to find a way to get that back somehow, some way. It’s a different team this year. That’s our problem. A couple of years ago, we didn’t have the same team. We had the same main guys, but it’s still a team effort, from the first guy to the 15th guy.”

Damning observations from the point guard, but it didn’t end there last night, after the Celtics allowed the 28-year old NBA Development League retread, Earl Barron look like, well, a younger Kevin Garnett, Barron had a monster game with 17 points and 18 rebounds, this from a player whose NBA career averages are 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 84 games.

“We aren’t what we used to be on or off the court,” said Allen. “We’ve gotten a little older and some of us have kids now and families to spend our time with. As players, we don’t hang out together after home games like we used to but we still love each other as brothers. We just have to find a way to rebound the ball better and play defense together. If we do, we’ll be fine.” 

Sounds like a little indictment of the Celtics bigs, Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, but on closer inspection of their respective seasons, Perkins is actually putting up career-high numbers in points and rebounds this season. It’s obvious the Celtics’ lack of inside production on the offensive and defensive sides of the court is predicated on the declining performance of the aging superstar, KG. 

Two years ago, Garnett averaged nearly 19 points and 9 rebounds per game while supplying defensive intimidation and shot-changing capability inside, blocking 1.9 shots per game. The 34-year old Garnett is no longer the impact player of past years. His scoring output this season, 14.4 ppg., is a career-low and his rebounding, 7.4 per game, continues his precipitous drop from the ranks of NBA stardom.

Worse, Garnett, his legs much older than his chronological age, no longer can leap as in the past, leading to only .80 blocks per game, the first time in his career he has fallen below the number one in that statistical category. 

Garnett recognizes the problems ahead for himself and his team.

“We don’t buckle down on rebounds and defense and it hurts us,” he said. “We have to do a better job of respecting our opponents. If we could rebound better and keep teams out of transition, we’ll be okay. We’ve been very inconsistent on the defensive end. It’s concerning because you just don’t turn it on for the playoffs.”

After starting the season 23-5, Boston has barely been a .500 team, going 25-24 since Christmas. Most disturbing is that their defense, which has been their backbone for the last three seasons, has never been worse. The Celtics have allowed their opponents to score 114.4 points per 100 possessions over the last four games. Only once in the last three seasons have they been worse defensively over a four-game stretch, and that was last March, when Garnett was out with a knee injury. 

“Teams definitely aren’t intimidated by us,” Paul Pierce said. “They come at us, and we’ve got to understand that. We’re not a team that’s going to walk on the court and teams back down from us.”

“You just don’t turn it on in the playoffs,” Pierce said. “You’ve got to start building some momentum right now.”

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