The Celtics have started the 2011-12 season slowly with a 7-9 record.
Monday night’s utter domination of the Magic was their first quality win of the year as a majority of their victories thus far have come against weaker competition.
Their seven wins have come against teams with a combined record of 26-50 (.342 winning percentage) and they have victimized the Wizards (2-15) three times this month. If you remove the Magic from the equation, the winning percentage of their vanquished opponents drops to just .250.
Boston’s losses have come against the Knicks, Heat, Hornets, Pacers, Mavericks, Bulls, Thunder and Suns. Those clubs are a combined 78-56 (.582 winning percentage).
The troubling fact is that it hasn’t been a lone issue that has plagued the Celtics through their first 16 games. Their heralded defense is getting better, but they were ranked 14th in points allowed per 100 possessions before Monday’s effort skyrocketed them to sixth in the league (99.1). They are certainly improving as they ranked in the bottom third of the league at 104.5 through eight games.
Opposing teams are shooting 42.8% against the Celtics, which is tied for seventh in the league, but that number was a full point higher before they held Orlando to 24.6% on Monday night, during which the Magic scored a franchise-low 56 points.
The Celtics have dealt with injuries to Paul Pierce, who missed the first three games of the season, Ray Allen (sat out twice illness, ankle) and Rajon Rondo (two games since spraining his wrist on Jan. 18), but until Monday night they hadn’t produced a single inspiring performance.
Built on tough team defense and ball movement, the Celtics are exactly the type of veteran team that should have been able to handle a rough three-game stretch to begin the season and a few injuries here-and-there.
It’s way too early to start worrying about playoff positioning, but there has already been talk about the potential demise of the Celtics. Last week, before their two victories in back-to-back games, the rumor mill began churning out trade rumors involving Pierce and Danny Ainge had to answer questions about whether or not he was willing to break apart the team’s core.
Always brutally honest, Stan Van Gundy isn’t buying into the fall of the Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett era.
“You’ve got Hall of Famers you’re playing against. Sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famers you’re playing against, so anytime people talk about the Celtics struggling I just sort of laugh to myself,” Van Gundy said Monday night before the Celtics thoroughly manhandled his team. “This is an outstanding team with a lot of weapons and there are going to be one of the best defensive teams in the league year-in and year-out. They’ve got three Hall of Famers and a perennial All-Star.”
A number of opposing coaches and players, including former Celtics Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis, have mentioned that Boston will eventually reel off a bunch of wins in a row and get themselves back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Van Gundy agreed, adding that their struggles have to be taken into context.
“If you have a slow stretch in the middle of the season your record still looks pretty good and people don’t panic. When it’s early in the year, they look and see a record they don’t like and people panic,” he said.
“If you’re going to have all these sports talk shows, you’ve got to talk about something and for whatever reason it’s a lot more fun to talk about negative stuff, so people really get into that and now ‘the Celtics are too old and these guys can’t play at all.’ I’m not buying it, but that’s the story and then you’re going to have to revise it when they win nine out of ten or something and then I guess they got younger as it went on. It’s all a crock.”
Over the first few weeks of the season, Celtics were kept afloat by their offense. They scored less than 94 points just once in their first six games, but since then they have struggled on that side of the ball.
They score 100.4 points per 100 possessions, good enough for just 24th in the league. The absence of Rondo lately hasn’t helped, but they still have players like Pierce through which they can run their offense.
The effort on the offensive end against Orlando on Monday night wasn’t excellent, but it was good given that they were without Rondo, Allen and Mickael Pietrus. They scored 87 points on 42.3% shooting, but assisted on 21 of their 33 made field goals and took relatively good care of the basketball. Things should run even smoother if Rondo returns for their next game as expected.
“We hope so,” Paul Pierce said when asked after the game if the Celtics could use their win over the Magic as a springboard.
“Hopefully it’ll feed over to the guys that are out when they come back. There are no more excuses once we get healthy, get the guys back, but this is the type of game that we are capable of.”