OAKLAND, Calif. – Rajon Rondo’s absence from Saturday’s clash with the Golden State Warriors was a debilitating blow for the Celtics considering they had been struggling mightily with him. Yet, their 101-83 loss had more to do with the Celtics who were active than the one all-star who wasn’t.
It was another night of porous shooting, mental mistakes mixed with a series of defensive breakdowns that allowed the hot-shooting Warriors to take countless open shots from the perimeter.
It seemed that the Celtics didn’t watch Stephen Curry pull up for 30-footers dating as far back during Davidson’s NCAA Tournament run, because he was allowed to do so on three occasions. They didn’t scout that Klay Thompson’s most comfortable spot on the floor is the baseline corner 3-pointer, because they allowed him to take that shot with no resistance.
And they definitely didn’t understand that David Lee can shoot from the perimeter, because he was allowed 3 feet of space each time he gathered the ball at the key. This Celtics’ loss was an example of lack of preparation or perhaps lethargy more than missing Rondo.
The Warriors were, well, the Warriors. They shot 3-pointers the moment a Celtic turned his head. They fed the ball to Lee in the early going just to soften up the perimeter instead of the other way around. They played their up-tempo unorthodox game that has been their style for years, and the Celtics looked completely stunned at that development.
“They made shots, they made a lot of shots that were contested and but they made a lot of shots that were uncontested too and that’s what bothered me early on,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We talked about their strategy going into the game. In transition, I know four times in the first half, we just didn’t account for an open guy in transition defense, and that’s what they want and we gave it to them.”
Offensively, the Celtics couldn’t compete because they missed several open shots that would have made the game more competitive. Without Rondo, who was a late scratch with a bruised right hip, the Celtics were relegated to going one-on-one, and the results were ghastly.
The trio of Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Jeff Green were a combined 12-for-50 from the field, with Pierce missing 16 shots in 20 attempts. The Celtics tried to make a run, scoring the last 8 points of the third quarter to slice the deficit to 76-67 but Jarrett Jack came off the bench to relieve Curry and scored 6 points during an 11-4 run to seal another win for the impressive Warriors.
The Celtics dropped to 5-10 on the road and are still seeking the consistency and chemistry they are searching for when they began this road trip on Christmas Day.
“We’ve got to be better,” said Pierce, who is 12-for-43 shooting in the past three games. “The last two games we’re very disappointing for us, just the way we’ve been losing, no one wants to get blown out two straight games. Right now we’re searching for answers, still trying to figure us out. The good thing about it is, we stick together, don’t point the finger and we’ll figure it out.”
The first half was exactly Rivers feared without Rondo to orchestrate the offense. The Celtics went to one-on-one play, which can be effective when shots are falling but they were missing in bunches.
Pierce misfired on his first eight shots and didn’t score until the 2:57 mark of the second quarter. By then the Celtics were trailing 52-37 and Pierce looked lethargic in trying to get off his shot against the aggressive Golden State defense.
Boston had the ball trailing 52-39 with an opportunity to enter the half with momentum but allowed yet another Lee perimeter shot and then rookie Harrison Barnes canned a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 57-39 lead. The deficit was 17 at the break as the Celtics shot just 22.2 percent (6-for-27) in the second period and were in the process of being blown out for the second consecutive game.
Golden State took the lead for good with a 9-0 first-quarter run as Barnes set the tone by scorching Pierce offensively. And the Warriors used Curry and Lee to work the pick-and-roll early and the Celtics couldn’t defend Lee on the perimeter.
Lee carried the Warriors in the first half (16 points) and Curry in the second (15 points) as the Celtics were relegated to playing garbage time – once again – as the Golden State crowd chanted “Boston (stinks).”
It was the Celtics’ 11th loss of the season by double digits and this soul-searching trip is suddenly turning into another road nightmare.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve always been a defensive team that’s been fueled by the defense that’s turned over to some offense,” said forward Kevin Garnett, who attempted a season-low six shots. “And right now we’re not that. Somehow through practice, through repetitions we’ve got to change that.”
Garnett said the Celtics are entering a critical stage in determining their season’s fate.
“We gotta keep working at this,” he said. “This is when you start to see who’s with you. This is when you see who really wants it, who really wants to get down and work and grind for it and we’re about to find that out.”
When asked if he believes the Celtics have the potential to be a great club, he said: “We have no choice, man. If we wanna be great, we gotta stop talking about it and actually do it.”