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Celtics: no defense, no problem

By Dave Ostrowsky

Section: Arts

January 28, 2005

Its a frigid January night outside on the streets of Boston. The worshipped New England Patriots have not played a meaningful game in over two weeks. The focus this one night in Beantown is on the Celtics finishing up their marathon week filled with games against five mediocre opponents.

The visitors tonight are the rejuvenated Orlando Magic team, also stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. The Celtics win this one by an 18 point margin, despite giving up 101 points and allowing the Magic to have five scorers in double digits and score 35 points in the final quarter. This game, although relatively insignificant in the standings, is a microcosm of the Celtics season.

No, the Celtics do not come away with 18 point victories every night. But, yes the Celtics do allow over 100 points a game quite frequently. 24 times, as a matter of fact.
An even more discouraging statistic for those Bostonians north of 50, who yearn for the defensive glory days of Bill Russell and John Havilchek, is that the Celtics rank 28th in the league in points allowed per contest. Ouch. For those sports fans who remember the days when a team had to have an impressive season to get a ticket to the postseason, how does the phrase Celtics are in contention for first place in the Atlantic Division sound?

Oh, and did I mention that as a result the Celtics would then receive the third seed in the Eastern Conference? If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Celtics could very well be playing against the Magic at home in the first round of the playoffs.

Lets face it;

the Celtics are at best a mediocre team. They have a talented duo of veteran scorers in Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis, a field general at the point with Hall of Fame-bound Gary Payton, and a weak front court presence with banged up big men such as Mark Blount and Raef LaFrentz.

Yeah, they have a couple of talented rookies and a solid bench, but they are the anti-Mariano Rivera of the NBA when it to comes to closing out tight games in the 4th quarter. They get out-rebounded, out-hustled and commit far too many turnovers on a nightly basis.

Call it the learning curve for the rookies, or frustrated veterans such as Pierce not buying into Coach Rivers system, but either way this team has tremendous issues, particularly on the defensive side of the floor. Although they are in the middle of the pack of the NBA in opposition field goal percentage (17th) they have allowed such teams as Golden State, the L.A. Clippers and the Utah Jazz to put up point totals of 110, 127, and 106 respectively. Numbers that high have to make Celtic legend Red Auerbach tremble while eating his beloved Chinese food.

In response to an earlier loss on the road to the Toronto Raptors, Coach Doc Rivers said, We were in terrible rebounding position, terrible transition defense. I dont think any of our guys thought the other guys were gonna shoot it that quickly.

Rivers also attributes much of the teams struggle on the defensive end to poor shot selection. If you take a bad shot and youre in bad position, youre gonna give up points on the other end. A bad shot to me especially against running teams is very close to a turnover, because youre out of position and you dont have floor depth balance and you cant get back on defense, Rivers said.

Backup point guard Marcus Banks knows what his role is in improving the teams defense. Im just trying to stay in front of my guy and put a little pressure and make things difficult on the point guard on the other team.

The Atlantic Division is to the Eastern Conference as Matt Damon is to Oceans Twelve a terrible member that is part of an overall weak unit. The Southeast division is the only respectful division, minus the woeful Atlanta Hawks.

Well give the Charlotte Bobcats a mulligan, because they are an expansion team. The Central Division can boast the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers, both of whom have been playing well as of late. The two other squads duking it out for the Atlantic Division crown are the 76ers and Knicks.

The Knicks are not exactly defensive wizards themselves, as they allow 98.1 points per game and teams shoot at a .465 clip against them. Philadelphias defense is even worse, as they allow 99.4 points per game. Not only are the Celtics behind these I-95 teams in scoring defensive categories, but there are only a handful of teams who have poorer rebounding statistics than the Celtics.

In response to questions about how to improve the teams defense, swing man Walter McCarty said, I think we just have to go all the way out and make them put it on the floor and get close to our man and somehow discourage them from taking that shot.
We have to get better at transition defense where theyre getting too many easy baskets on the fast break or transition break, transition offense. We have to get back on defense and be more alert, forward Jiri Welsch said.

The fact of the matter is that with many games left on their schedule against Atlantic Division foes and being in the midst of a stretch where 16 of the last 26 games before the All-Star break are being played in the cozy Fleet Center, the Celtics have a reasonable chance to win their division and (gulp) host a team in the first round of the playoffs.

We feel like we can beat anyone in the East. One thing we have to get better at is our toughness;

thats one thing you cant practice, thats one thing you cant drill, Paul Pierce said.

The Eastern Conference as a whole is so weak defensively that the only two teams that allow more points then the Celtics are the Wizards and the Magic.

When you lose a game, any game, Im pretty much out of it for the first two hours after the game. Then I bounce back because I do realize who we are. Then I look at the division, and I say golly, I mean were right there. But everyone is, you cant get out of it, because everyones so bad right now, Rivers said.

Lets please the Basketball Gods for just a second and pretend that the Celtics are in the Western Conference. A 17-20 record would find the Green just behind the L.A. Clippers in the standings, three slots away from the playoffs. This may in fact be better for the franchise (lottery pick, pleasing Danny Ainge), but more importantly it would serve the Celtics justice. The Celtics are not a playoff team and have no business winning the worst division in the history of the NBA as Pierce calls it, and playing with the bad boys of the Eastern Conference come springtime.

With the current system, the Celtics are fighting with the struggling 76ers and Knicks for that not so elusive first place finish in the Atlantic Division. I say, never mind worst division in league history how about worst scam in league history?

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