By Matt Moore
Theory: The Celtics are in trouble despite their comeback effort against the Heat and tough opening schedule.
Proof: Paul Pierce was out. It was a road game. The calls didn't go their way. And they still managed to come back from 20 down to put the knife to the Heat's throat Tuesday night. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com says that the reports of the Celtics' demise are greatly exaggerated. And he's right. But a further examination of this team's performance through two games reveals that it's not all smoke and mirrors that show cracks in the green facade.
For starters, well, you know, they lost both games. A great comeback effort doesn't mean much if the result is still a pair of L's to playoff opponents gunning for you on national television. The Celtics dug themselves holes they couldn't get out of despite long second-half runs in two games, especially Tuesday night, and the result is an 0-2 mark to start a season they need to rack up wins early in order to rest later in.
But beyond the obvious losses, there's a serious trend coming to light that looks awful bad. The Celtics have been one of the best defensive teams in the league for the past four years. They've been about as reliable as it gets in terms of cracking down on the opponent. But they surrendered a 112.7 defensive efficiency (basically the rate they would have scored at in an average pace game) against the Heat after givig up a 112.8 mark to the Knicks. They allowed the Knics to shoot 47 percent on Sunday, and the Heat to shoot 56 percent on Tuesday. This despit stellar third and fourth quarters, respectively, in those games. The Celtics' defense has been just plain bad. Has the copetition been high? Absolutely. But the same style that worked for so long, slowing it down, grinding it out, isn't working well so far.
Then there's the offense. The C's managed to close the Heat's lead to 3 late in the fourth quarter against the Heat, but consider what they needed offensively. With Paul Pierce out, the Celtics wound up running a huge chunk of their offense throught he perimeter. The shots fell. They were 12-19 from the arc against the Heat, a ridiculous mark. Would Keyon Dooling (18 points, 4-6 shooting from 3) have had as many minute with Pierce available, even with Keyon Dooling playing minutes at the 2. The Celtics were downright Magic-ian in shooting all those threes. That was the only way they were able to hang so long. That kind of shooting obviously isn't sustainable. The argument can be made that the Heat's clip won't stay that high either, and it's a valid one. But the Heat ran a smoother offense and created easier opportunities in transition.
This isn't to say that the Celtics won't figure it out, they will. Pierce will help. Continuity will help. Understanding lineups better and getting Bandon Bass more minutes will help. But the Celtics have issues as they showed in the first three quarters against the Heat. There are problems that the Celtics need to resolve quickly.