I came to the Garden with the best of intentions.
Not that bad, I reasoned. The Celtics had lost seven of nine and were abysmal on a recent western road trip. They were two games under .500, not even playoff-worthy if the postseason had started New Year’s Day.
But I couldn’t believe it was that bad. Not after last year, and the year before. Those Celtics teams started slowly, then played great in the spring. They were a gift. They were aging overachievers. They had the right stuff. They were respected and feared, which is a great combination.
These 2012-13 Celtics?
Not so much.
The Celtics got Avery Bradley back Wednesday night. His return from two shoulder surgeries (May and July) was supposed to be the fix the Celtics needed. The team was going to get back on track with the guys who did the job last year.
But it didn’t happen.
The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Celtics, 93-83. Bradley scored 4 points in 20 minutes. Jeff Green, a.k.a. “Gandhi,” submitted another night of peaceful resistance. The Celtics had three offensive rebounds in 48 minutes. Rajon Rondo, who was technically still in the game at the finish, peeled off and left the court, headed for the runway to the locker room, before the final buzzer sounded.
I don’t think Red would have gone for it.
All the stuff I’d been hearing was real. The Celtics don’t play defense. They are weak on the offensive glass. They lack toughness. They don’t intimidate. They are lost when Kevin Garnett is not on the court. The new guys are not getting it done. Some of the guys don’t seem to care enough.
“Whatever we’re doing wrong is not going to get fixed in a day,” coach Doc Rivers said after the game.
I went 10 rounds with Danny Ainge at courtside before the game. Danny refused to admit that he doesn’t like his team. He wouldn’t give in to the widespread notion that his team is in trouble.
“Danny, it’s pretty dark around here,’’ I started.
“It’s always that way,’’ he said. “I’ll tell you why I’m not dark. Two years ago, we went 27-27 in the last two-thirds of the season. Then we gave what I consider the best playoff effort of this era. Last year, we started 13-17. It was really gloom and doom, moreso than now.
“Maybe expectations are higher this year because of the success we had in the playoffs. But I’ve seen what Rondo and KG and Paul [Pierce] can do. I watched Jason Terry at Arizona. I know what these guys are made of. I know there’s more there. The next six weeks will tell us a lot about this team.
“Doc is not panicking. This is like a repeat of the last two years and in both years I was frustrated. I know that three-game stretch [Clippers, Warriors, Kings, all going for triple digits in beating the Celtics] was pitiful. Everybody in the locker room knows that. That’s not who they are.’’
Call me a dope, but I am in favor of a bold move by the bold GM. I would do something big to shake up this team. I would trade for Sacramento headcase DeMarcus Cousins. Sure, he’s a handful, but the Celtics could tap into his reservoir of talent. The Celtics have Garnett, the ultimate leader. The Celtics have Rivers, the ultimate players’ coach. Cousins might respond. If all else fails, the Celtics could consult John Calipari — a coach who was able to get a lot out of Cousins (would the Celtics be OK giving Cousins a $50 bill every time he shakes hands, just to make him feel like he’s back home at the University of Kentucky?).
I didn’t ask Danny about Cousins (that would be tampering), but I did ask him about making a big, bold move.
“I don’t feel a desperate need,’’ said Ainge. “But I’m always looking to improve our team.’’
Ainge was unwilling to concede that his offseason tweaking is a failure, but he admitted, “I don’t think anybody is playing as well as they’re capable of. Outside of Jared Sullinger, who is a rookie, I’d say that every guy on our team has not lived up to expectations.’’
That means you, Jeff Green. And you, Jason Terry. And you, Courtney Lee. And you, Brandon Bass.
“Fans live in the moment, and I understand that,’’ said Ainge. “But last year our starting five of Rondo, KG, Paul, Avery Bradley, and Brandon Bass was the best starting lineup in the NBA over 37 games. That was not that long ago.
“I’m not trying to sugar coat it. This is not fun. This has not been pretty. I’m not saying this will change, but there is reason for me to be optimistic. I’m telling you it’s no different from the other years.’’
I respectfully disagree. This is not like last year. This is not like 2010-11. I don’t think it’s going to get better this time. I don’t think Rivers likes this team and I don’t think Garnett and Pierce like this team. I think the Celtics are headed for a fall. Sorry.
This is another reason the hockey lockout needs to end.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.