It really begins and ends with Kevin Garnett.
He is no longer the player he was and that is where the story starts… and it ends.
Talk of Garnett’s returning to the level of play that he used to know, seems to be more of a hollow sound the further along we get in Kevin’s recovery from off season knee surgery.
In this contest, Garnett scored 7 points on 2 of 9 shooting with 7 rebounds, a steal and a block in just 26 minutes. Defensively, KG appeared to be a step behind David West much of the night. Garnett will still get a lot done on that end of the floor, but he will be doing it a slightly different way.
West blocked a Garnett lay up with 37 seconds left to seal a Hornet win.
And there are a series of other issues that are keeping this still highly talented team from playing near to its capabilities.
Ray Allen did not play last night, due to back spasms, or the Celtics say. With a number of Ray Allen trade rumors out there, one wonders if they weren’t being cautious, due a trade possibility on the near horizon. They begin their All Star break now. The trading deadline is February 18th.
There is that inconsistency thing again. Third quarters continue to be bad news.
(Another) Third Quarter Collapse
Against the New Orleans Hornets, a now 28-25 team with issues of its own, the Celtics fell apart in the third quarter yet again. It is a habit they can not seem to break. After holding the Hornets to just 14 second quarter points, Boston scored only 12 third quarter points and lost a 12 point half time lead.
The once mighty Celtics were outscored 29 to 12 in the third to go into the final quarter down 72-67.
Early in the 4th period the Celtics closed to within one point twice on two consecutive Marquis Daniels shots.
The Celtics closed to with 3 at 81-78 on a Rasheed Wallace three point shot with 7:05 left in the game. The Cs would go scoreless for the next 3:30. Darren Collison would score 11 straight Hornet points in the period and the Celtics would make another belated attempt to close the gap in the waning seconds. The story is far too familiar and the results were the same. Another loss.
In a sloppily played game, players seemed to have their minds on the All Star break that begins after this game. There were 45 total turnovers, 23 by New Orleans and 22 by Boston.
More than a few times, the turnovers would be back-to-back on the same play.
Paul Pierce, who is also recovering from knee and ankle problems, led Boston with 15 points. Pierce added 8 turnovers to his 4 assists, and 3 rebounds. Pierce had 13 points at the half. But Pierce’s defense was uninspired for much of the evening, perhaps due to his lingering health issues.
Marquis Daniels had his best offensive game of the year with a season high 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block.
Celtics Bench a Bright Spot
In addition to Marquis Daniels well needed output, Rasheed Wallace scored 13 points and Glen Davis had 9 first half points on 4 of 6 shooting.
The Celtics bench got the Celtics its half time lead. Their defense tightened up and Wallace was working in the low post more, while Davis was hitting his shots (4 for 6) in the first half, but took only one second half shot.
Tony Allen, starting for Ray Allen, shot 6 of 9 for 13 points with 3 steals, 3 rebounds, one assist, and two turnovers.
The Celtics had one offensive rebound in the first half and they were out rebounded 46-37 in the game.
Rondo’s 4 assists were tied for his second lowest of the season and hadn’t been that low since November 14. He had 7 points in just 24 plus minutes, but added 3 steals and 3 rebounds.
Celtics Making Weaker Teams Strong
In another performance of erratic defense, ordinary Hornet players had extraordinary games. Yes, the Hornets only scored 93 points, but the high turnover rate helped keep the score down
New Orleans was without its leader, star point guard Chris Paul. But it hardly mattered as rookie substitute, Darren Collison, played nearly as well except for his 10 turnovers, a Hornets franchise record.
Collison carved up the Celtics defense with 27 points and 9 assists. Collison is, no doubt, an up and coming NBA talent. But isn’t Rajon Rondo supposed to be an All Defensive Team member and one of the top man-on-man defenders in the league?
Once by Rondo, or Eddie House, or Marquis Daniels, Collison scored multiple lay ups and short jumpers before late responding Celtic bigs would arrive.
Peja Stojakovic added 20 points, including 4 of 8 from the three point line against a soft Celtic defense. Peja has come alive in his last four games for a scoring average of 22.5. He shook off late closing Paul Pierce, undersized Tony Allen, and Marquis Daniels all night. His big explosion was in that devastating third quarter, when he scored 11 points.
In only his 10th game of the season, Morris Peterson had a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
So the Celtics continue their losing ways against better teams.
Can they turn things around? That is always a possibility. But there are no signs of how they are going to do that at this point.
This team has no real identity and strangely, they now seem to be lacking confidence and grit on the court. Those had been hallmarks of the team.
But the most important piece is Kevin Garnett. How Garnett goes, so goes the team.