Cause For Concern In Beantown??

By Stephen Alford
Updated: February 10, 2009

Boston Celtics

BOSTON — Is there cause for concern in Boston?

The goal for the Cs this year is to get home court advantage throughout the playoffs, a feat they were able to accomplish last year when they won their 17th NBA title.

In order to accomplish such a goal, the Cs would have to possess the best record in the League by season’s end. But that goal may now be in jeopardy after the Green suffered two heartbreaking losses: the 110-109 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday and the 105-99 loss to the San Antonio Spurs last Sunday.

“I don’t think as a team we’ve hit a panic button or nothing like that but it just shows that we definitely have some room for improvement,” said Kevin Garnett after the loss to San Antonio.

“Coming down the stretch, execution can be one of the things we stress…We are a defensive minded team and that’s our bread and butter. And I think when we’re excellent it’s because we’re getting stops and I can see against those two teams, the Spurs and the Lakers, we didn’t really put together a rhythm or a series of stops that we’re happy with and we got to do that.”

With a 42-11 record, the Celtics are still sitting on top of the Atlantic Division. However, the Celts are now one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place in the Eastern Conference, and now have the third best record in the League, behind the Cavs and the Lakers.

Anyone who knows anything about basketball cannot deny that the Cs are still one of the best teams in the League. With a 21-6 record against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, the Celtics have to be one of the favorites to be crowned this year’s champion.

However, the Cs are 4-4 against the five teams who I think have a legitimate shot of winning a NBA Championship (Cavaliers, Lakers, Spurs, Magic, Hornets).

And the Cs can count their lucky Leprechauns that they have been relatively healthy all year. Boston has been fortunate this year, as none of the Big Three were forced to miss games against significant teams this year.

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have appeared in every game so far, and Kevin Garnett has only missed two games. However, the victories against the Magic on December 1 and the Hornets on December 12 came when both teams were suffering injuries to their starters.

After the 94-82 victory over the Hornets, a game that center Tyson Chandler did not play in because of a stiff neck, coach Byron Scott said “If we had one more guy tonight that would have been able to step up, then we would have had a better opportunity. We missed (Chandler) big time tonight.”

In the 107-88 victory against Orlando, the Magic were without their starting backcourt Jameer Nelson and Mickael Pietrus. Nelson, who was selected by the coaches to this year’s All-Star Game before going down with a dislocated shoulder, was sidelined with a hip flexor at the time.

Pietrus sat out with a torn ligament in his right thumb. “Yeah, they smacked us tonight,” Orlando guard Anthony Johnson said after the game. “But with two healthy squads I feel very good.”

Still, the Celtics possess the two best winning streaks this year with 19 and 12. The flip side of that is both of those streaks were ended by the Lakers: the Christmas Day 92-83 loss and the overtime loss last Friday.

Furthermore, the Lakers were able to escape Boston with a victory over a healthy Boston squad without the services of their starting center Andrew Bynum, who sat out with an injured right knee.

“Well, it tells me that we’re really good, because we’ve not played with our A-game, as Tiger Woods would say,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers following the loss to San Antonio.

“And we still had a chance to win both (San Antonio and Los Angeles). Both games we had the lead. And gave it up. Gave up points, which is not like us. In a sick way I guess I’d rather be down and not be able to score than up and give up baskets, because we’re a defensive team. You know what I’m saying. But we clearly have to improve. Our bench has to be more consistent.”

“When you play the top teams in the League it comes down to the little things,” said Cs captain Paul Pierce. “And I just thought last couple of games at home it was one or 2 point games. It’s the little things; defensive transition late in the game; covering for one another.”

“One possession…It’s like the playoffs…one play can kill you. Every possession counts and we got to understand that when we play against the top tier teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers.”

The Cs are now 1-4 against Cleveland, Los Angeles and San Antonio. With the two losses against the Lakers and the Spurs and a win against the Knicks sandwiched in between, the healthy and well rested Cs should be able to handle the Hornets, now that All-Star/Olympian/MVP candidate Chris Paul is out until after the All-Star break with a strained right groin.

However, be on the lookout for some turbulent times when the Cs continue their West Coast road trip against the likes of Dallas (without the services of Jason Terry, who fractured his left hand), Utah (whose starting five have not played on the court together all year and are currently without Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko), Phoenix and then Denver, who are 32-15 since acquiring former Celtic Chauncey Billups.