Celtics Show Inconsistencies in Grasping Team Concept

By Stephen Alford
Updated: November 17, 2005

BOSTON, MA.—Barometer. That is the buzz word that is being heard throughout Celtic Nation, and at this point in the early season the barometer says this: The Celtics will be able to compete with mostly every team in the League, but they will struggle. They will struggle with teams they should easily beat (Bobcats), they will lose a few buzzer beaters (Pistons at home), and they will get routed by superior teams (Spurs and Pistons at Detroit).

But the barometer also shows that the Cs will be very competitive this year and will bring an exciting brand of basketball back to Boston; one that will reflect a team concept.

They will have their moments of excitement as well, as evident when the Celtics hosted the Grizzlies last Wednesday. “My gosh that was a great comeback by us,” is what Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after Boston fought back from being in the hole 55-37, and wrestled a win from the Grizzlies courtesy of a buzzer beating shot from Ricky Davis.

The comeback victory was impressive. The last second shot by Ricky Davis was very impressive. But what really impressed me was the set play that led up to Davis’s game ending jumper.

With the score 98-97 in favor of Memphis and 13 seconds remaining in the game, Paul Pierce inbounded the ball to Delonte West. Raef LaFrentz received the ball from West about 23-feet from the basket on the visitor’s side (left side of the basket). While Pierce slowly made his way toward the baseline on the left side, Delonte weaved behind Mark Blount, who was beyond the top of the key, and settled on the right-hand side just below the arc as Blount received the ball from LaFrentz. Blount quickly rotated the ball to Delonte, who dropped a bounce pass down to Pierce just as Pierce flashed to the right-hand side about 18-feet from the basket with perennial All-Defensive Team Eddie Jones closely guarding him. Pierce took Jones baseline right as time was nearing expiration. When two additional defenders collapsed on Pierce to guard the basket, the old Paul Pierce would’ve forced a shot, or, more than likely turned the ball over, but the Paul Pierce that promised to buy into coach Rivers’s system saw the triple team coming, and kicked the ball out to an open Ricky Davis for a straight away shot from 16-feet. Bottoms! Celtics win 99-98.

“I’m so proud of Paul on that last play,” praised Doc Rivers after the game. “…The guy that makes the shot deserves a lot of credit. But the guy that makes the pass deserves more.”

Too bad moments like that are fleeting.

The Celtics barely had time to bask in the victory before the Spurs came to town with Tim Duncan’s undefeated streak against the Celtics still intact. Whenever the Celtics host the Spurs, the talk in Massachusetts media goes a little something like this:

In Duncan’s entire nine year career in the NBA, Boston has never beaten The Big Fundamental and the San Antonio Spurs…

Or this:

The luck of the Leprechaun was supposed to be with Boston in 1997. The ping-pong balls were supposed to bounce in favor of the Celtics. Rick Pitino was supposed to coach Tim Duncan, and the two were supposed to become the reincarnation of Red Aurebach and Bill Russell. Duncan and a young promising power forward named Antoine Walker, who Pitino coached during the former Employee #8’s college days at Kentucky, were supposed to become the protégés who would lead the Celtics to their 17th NBA championship, restoring dynasty in the Boston.

But as fate would have it (or was it destiny) David Robinson got hurt in the 1996-97 season. As a result of The Admiral’s injury (read: San Antonio tanked it), the Spurs lucked up in the lottery and nine years later, the Alamo City has two NBA championships.

On Friday, Duncan’s dominance was established by the end of the opening frame when he shot 6-for-8 from the field, and was only two points shy of outscoring the entire Celtics roster in the first quarter (Duncan had 12 points, Boston scored 13).

Tony Parker is another one who makes CelticNation reminisce of drafts gone by and awry. I still don’t understand how the Celtics passed on Tony Parker in the 2001 draft. Like I have written before, I can understand selecting Joe Johnson with the 10th pick, and maybe Kedrick Perkins with the 11th, but to pass on Parker in favor of Joseph Forte with the 21st pick was inexcusable. The Parker brother was finally snatched up by San Antonio with the last pick of the first round (28th overall). As a reminder to those who are reading this, Kedrick Brown and Joseph Forte are no longer in the League. Meanwhile Tony Parker continues to haunt the Green, and was breaking ankles early in the first quarter last Friday. He finished the opening quarter three points short of outscoring the Celtics his damn self, shooting 5-for-9 from the field (10 points for the quarter).

If it weren’t for Ricky Davis and Paul Pierce the Cs may have conceded to the Spurs before halftime. But Ricky D almost single handedly took a 24-13 first quarter deficit, and closed the San Antonio lead to 27-24 when Duncan checked back into the game for Nick “The Quick” Van Exel with 6:30 left in the first half. Coach Doc Rivers countered San Antonio’s move by inserting Paul Pierce into the game for Ryan Gomes. From there, The Truth went on a tear by scoring eight points and pulling Boston to within one point (45-44) at halftime.

Unfortunately, the Cs panicked, abandoned the team concept, and were outscored 56-38 in the second half, which led to a 103-82 San Antonio victory.

Team play was back when the Cs faced the Houston Rockets on Sunday. Granted it was only Tracy McGrady’s second game back after sitting out the last three games with back spasms, and Houston had just survived a 99-91 battle against the Nets in New Jersey the night before, but give the Cs credit for shutting down both McGrady and Yao Ming by holding both all-stars to 14 points. On the flip side, Paul Pierce led a balanced attack by scoring 19 points, and displayed his willingness to share the rock and trust his teammates by dishing out 10 assists against the Rockets. He also contributed seven rebounds. Ricky Davis filled the stat sheet with 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and five steals; Mark Blount had 17 points and three blocks; and Raef LaFrentz tied his career high with 32 points and went 7-for-9 from the deep end. LaFrentz also grabbed eight boards and recorded two blocks.

“Obviously Raef was the star, but I look at Paul’s numbers tonight and Ricky’s and the extra passes they made,” said C’s coach Doc Rivers after 102-82 romp over the Rockets. Rivers agreed that the Celtics victory was a result of constantly looking for the open man and feeding the hot hand. “I thought that was the key,” said Rivers. “They were so unselfish that it made it almost easy for us because we moved the ball.”

And who would’ve thought that the Cs would’ve jumped out the gate the way they did at Detroit on Tuesday. Ricky Davis scored 19 points and seven assists by halftime; Al Jefferson contributed with 10 points in nine minutes at the end of the first half; and captain Paul Pierce once again showed the maturation of his game by not forcing any shots in the first half. The Truth was content with only scoring four first half points, and with the team concept in full swing, Boston had a comfortable 10 point lead 58-48 by halftime.

However, everyone knew that Detroit would make a run. And maaaan did they ever. The run came in the third quarter, and that run quickly turned into a rout.

A Rasheed Wallace follow up slam off of Tayshaun Prince’s missed layup brought Detroit to within six points (69-63) with 3:53 remaining in the third frame causing coach Rivers to call a timeout. Paul Pierce nailed a clutch three pointer from the left and then knocked down a spin move jumper from the left to put Boston up 78-72. The Truth tried to keep Boston in the game by scoring 15 in the 3rd quarter, but former Celtic Chauncey Billups countered Pierce’s production by scoring Detroit’s last thirteen points of the third quarter pulling Detroit to within four points (81-77) by the end of the third quarter.

Boston’s fourth quarter three minute scoring drought allowed Detroit to get back in the game and Rasheed Wallace’s 17-footer gave the Pistons a lead that they would never relinquish. The Pistons shifted into overdrive an opened up on the Cs in the final frame outscoring them 31-23. Once again when a superior team threatened a comeback, the Green panicked, abandoned the team concept, and played as individuals. Costly turnovers and bad shots contributed to the 113-100 Motown victory.

The second quarter proved to be the downfall for the Celtics against the Seattle SuperSonics on Wednesday. Lack of defense in the second frame led Seattle to shoot 52% from inside the arc and knock down two out of three shots from beyond the arc. Seattle outscored the Celtics 32-17 despite the Cs shooting 53% for the quarter. Rivers rotated 10 players into the game in that second frame, but none of them were able to hold Rashard Lewis as he rattled off 11 points that quarter. In the second half, no matter how hard Boston fought to close the lead, someone from the Sonics (Ray Allen, Nick Collison, Rashard Lewis, or even Luke Ridnour) would make a play that would keep the Celts at bay.

Even with all the struggles that Seattle has been facing lately they were still able to spank Boston 113-100. “When the game started creeping away from us, we went back to ‘Then I’m going to win it for us.’ And we’re not that good. We can’t play that way,” said coach Rivers following the game. And I couldn’t agree more. They cannot play that way. It was proven against San Antonio, Detroit, Charlotte, and now Seattle. In order to make themselves eligible for post season play, the Cs are going to have to embrace the team concept for the remainder of the season.