Celtic Bandwagon Drives Through Peaks And Valleys

By Stephen Alford
Updated: January 27, 2006

BOSTON, MA.—The Celtics have given fans a roller coaster ride in the month of January that has been filled with peaks and valleys. Low points for CelticNation have included everything from costly turnovers to poor decisions in the fourth quarter to missed free throws at the most crucial times to referees ruling against The Green. They’ve barely beaten teams they should’ve routed, they’ve won a couple of games against better teams when they were predicted to lose, and they’ve lost some close ones to teams that were comparable. One thing is for sure though: As the bandwagon drove through the high and lowlands, The Green have provided an exciting brand of basketball that may change in the second half of the season. So as the Celtic bandwagon moves toward February, let’s relive the January coaster ride and look back at some of the hills and dales.

How about the109-106 home victory over Charlotte on the January 4th? Boston went from high to low when a 16-point lead in the third quarter was erased and replaced with a tie score by the end of the third frame courtesy of former Celtic Jumaine Jones’ nine third quarter points. The high came back though when an Oriene Green drive with just under a minute to play in regulation broke a 102 tie and essentially won the game for Boston.

From a statistical point of view, a high point was watching the Celtics shoot 57.1% from the field against the Hornets and Paul Pierce scoring 32 points and dishing out 10 assists, but a low point was the 24 turnovers committed by the Celtics compared to only five by the young Hornets. The 24 miscues was the only reason why the game was close. Mark Blount and Paul Pierce led the team with five miscues each, Delonte West had four, and Marcus Banks came off the bench to contribute three turnovers in only nine minutes of action.

We have not seen much of Marcus Banks since then.

Then there was the 98-94 road victory against Atlanta on January 10th. The high came when Ricky Davis earned three the hard way with 1:40 remaining in the game and gave Boston its first lead (94-92) since the opening frame when they led the Hawks by a score of 13-12. Captain Paul Pierce added some unwanted excitement to that game (the low) when he gave the Hawks an opportunity to tie the score by being called for a traveling violation with 35 seconds remaining in the game. Fortunately for the Cs, during the Hawk’s ensuing and final possession, Mark Blount drew an offensive foul on Al Harrington preserving the Celtics victory (and preserving the high).

Pierce led the team with 27 points and six assists but he also had six of The Green’s total 15 turnovers and was 4-for-7 from the charity stripe.

The Cs took their fans on another ride in Philadelphia that didn’t end so well. After blowing the high by giving up a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter against the 76ers on January 13th, the Celtics lost to their old rivals in three overtimes by a score of 124-125 (down in the valley low). Pierce and Blount led the Cs with seven turnovers apiece, but none was more memorable than Blount’s when the Celts had a chance to win the game during the closing seconds of the third overtime. Blount had just rebounded a three-point attempt by Philly’s Kyle Korver and appeared to be looking for someone to outlet the ball to. However, there was a breakdown in communication when teammates never told Blount that Chris Webber was sneaking up behind him. Webber came away with the steal that ultimately sealed the victory.

But the blame cannot rest entirely on Blount. The difference in the game may have been when Pierce converted only one of two shots from the free throw line with 6:48 remaining in regulation (92-87) and then repeated the feat with 6:20 left on the clock (93-87). The wagon continued downhill when, during Philly’s next possession, Pierce fouled Andre Iguodala from beyond the charity stripe, and Iguodala added salt to the Celtic wound by converting all three free throws (93-90) (low point). If it weren’t for Delonte West’s 14-footer Philly could’ve won the game in regulation. Instead the wagon continued to go from highland to lowland until it eventually went in the valley and stayed for the night at the end of the third overtime.

Pierce finished the night 8-for-13 from the charity stripe.

Then there were the times that the referees drove the Celtics bandwagon to the dales… and both times were against the same team.

The first time came in the form of a 102-103 road loss to the Wizards on January 7th. During that game, the Truth missed two out of three crucial free throws with 30 seconds left in the game. Had he converted all three from the line, Boston could’ve pulled within two. Instead his lone free throw made the score 94-98 and Pierce began to lead the wagon further down the peak.

But give Pierce and the rest of the Celtics credit for clawing their way back from a 10-point deficit with 6:48 to play (80-90), culminated by Delonte West’s 16-footer with nine seconds left in the game. The score was 102-101 in favor of the Celtics when the wagon reached its peak. The ref then blew his whistle on Pierce and sent Gilbert Arenas to the line and the wagon crashing to the bottom. Arenas is the one who initiated all of the contact. Not Pierce. But the ref didn’t see it that way and Arenas drained both free throws giving Washington a 102-103 victory over the Bean.

And then history repeated itself 2 ½ weeks later in a 87-89 home loss to the same Wizards on the 25th.

Pierce did some amazing things on the court en route to 25 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. He scored all of the Celtics’ points when they went on a 6-0 run that was capped off with a spectacular yoke down the lane that brought the crowd to its feet, giving Boston an 87-85 lead with just over a minute left in the game (so high you can’t get over it). But his slump from the line in the fourth continued when he missed both free throws that could’ve gave Boston the lead with 38 seconds remaining (87-87).

The fault doesn’t end with the Truth though. Boston came up with the ball when Brendan Haywood fumbled the carom out of bounds, but instead of driving to the basket and putting the pressure on the referee like Arenas had done before (and eventually did again), Ricky Davis settled for a mid-range jumper that came up short. From there, it was déjà vu all over again.

Arenas drove to the basket and another phantom foul was called on the Celtics, this time Ricky Davis was whistled for swiping at Arenas from behind as Gilbert drove by Ricky D. I think it’s important to note that had the ref not called the phantom foul on Ricky D, he sure would’ve blown the whistle on Kendrick Perkins for hacking Arenas on the drive. Arenas sank both free throws to give Boston a crushing defeat at home (87-89) and sending CelticNation to another low point. Although he only had two turnovers in 42 minutes of action, Pierce finished that game against the Wizards 5-for-13 from the charity stripe (so low you can’t get under it).

They’ve held their own against a superior team in a 102-104 home loss against the Dallas Mavericks, a game that was decided on a buzzer beater by Jerry Stackhouse on January 9th.

Pierce had just nailed his 32nd point of the night from beyond the arc, tying the score at 102 with 6.5 remaining in the game and sending the sellout crowd at the Garden to a high. But 6.5 seconds was just enough time for Jerry Stackhouse to receive a pass on the right baseline, get Ricky Davis slightly off balance, and nail a jumper as Davis recovered and attempted to bother the shot. The wagon soared to the bottom that quick.

Once again, you cannot blame one play as the reason for the loss. Perimeter defense is what really did the Celtics in that night as Jason Terry managed to hit seven three-pointers and finished the game with 30 points.

A lack of guarding the perimeter was also evident when Rasheed Wallace’s 18 third quarter points contributed to the 84-94 loss to the Pistons at Auburn Hills on January 16th. Pierce did all he could do to win that game, scoring 21 points (8-for-16 from the field, 5-for-7 from the free throw line), grabbing seven rebounds (three offensive rebounds), dishing out seven assists, getting two steals, and coming up with a block. On the flip side, Ricky D had a very rare doughnut, shooting 0-for-8 from the field in 44 minutes.

They were able to end last Friday’s game on a high note when they pulled out an exciting 99-96 victory at home against the Nets. Pierce escaped becoming the goat of the game when he fouled Jason Kidd as Kidd faked Pierce in the air and drew the contact for a foul on a three-point attempt. Amazingly enough, Kidd drained the three-pointer to pull New Jersey to within one point (97-96), but he couldn’t make the free throw that would’ve tied the game. Boston prevailed and Pierce led the Celtics with 25 points and 12 rebounds, but was only 8-for-13 from the free throw line. When they faced the Nets the following day at the Meadowlands, they did not come out with a sense of urgency. As a result, they were blown out of the gym by a score of 103-83.

So what can the Celtic brass do about this roller coaster ride as we head into the second half of the 2005-06 NBA season? How about trade Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed, and two conditional second-round draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi, Dwayne Jones, and a future first-round draft pick? Well, that’s exactly what Celtic head honcho Danny Ainge did last night.

Now the question is: Has Ainge driven the bandwagon to a high point or a low point?

I guarantee you this: it’ll be a low point when the Celtics host the Sacramento Kings featuring the newly acquired Ron Artest Friday night. Pierce won’t have Ricky D to help with the scoring load, Doc won’t have the option of substituting Mark Blount into the game, and the Celtics may not receive approval from the League in time to utilize the skill of Wally World Szczerbiak. Yup, it’ll be valleys and dales all night.