Mediocre and average are terms that accurately describe the Celtics as they approach their Christmas Day matchup against the Nets, the start of a critical four-game road trip. And they can’t admit otherwise.
The 13-13 Celtics already have had too many wouldas, shouldas, and couldas this season. Five of their losses have come to Milwaukee and Philadelphia, they lost by 20 points at Detroit, they have dropped two decisions to Brooklyn, and they have been beaten handily by Houston and Chicago.
The Celtics are 4-8 on the road, hardly the imposing mark away from home of seasons past. What’s more, Bulls fans directed a vulgar chant at the Celtics after Chicago coasted to a 20-point lead late in the fourth quarter Tuesday night.
The first 26 games have been humbling for the Celtics. They attempted to find encouragement in a double-overtime home win against the Mavericks and proceeded to lose the next three games on the road, all by double digits.
They claimed a home victory against lowly Cleveland Wednesday night, but then Friday night lost, 99-94, in overtime to the visiting Bucks, who were rather average through the first three quarters. The Celtics’ inconsistency is not lost on them and the “lack of chemistry” excuse is becoming overused, according to players and coaches.
“We are what our record is,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “Simple as that. As of now, we can’t say we’re better than what we are. The games we should have won, we lost, and only a couple of games vice versa, so we gotta just keep finding a way and I think we just got to want it more than the other teams. [The Bucks] got the 50-50 balls we needed until we made our run to close the [fourth] quarter. We can’t win that way.”
Friday night’s game exemplified the Celtics’ topsy-turvy season. Boston dominated the first half, led by as many as 10 points, caused 11 Milwaukee turnovers, and yet led just 46-43. The Celtics carried an 8-point lead into the fourth quarter, and needed only a handful of positive possessions in the final 12 minutes to seal the game but lost the lead in the first 4:04.
Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry combined to miss 30 shots in the game, which was an aberration, but Paul Pierce was the lone Celtic to score more than 14 points. On a night when the club desperately needed a standout performance from Jeff Green or Courtney Lee or even Rondo, no one stepped to the forefront.
“It’s going to be a work in progress all year,” Terry said. “It’s a work in progress until we complete our goal. It’s easy to stay together. Our numbers are down. We’re depleted. We don’t have a lot of guys, but the guys we do have we can count on.”
The Celtics are expected to get guard Avery Bradley back in the next 10 days. He said he will travel with the club on the trip (after Brooklyn, Boston faces the Clippers, Warriors, and Kings) but Bradley likely won’t make his season debut until Jan. 2 back at the Garden against the Grizzlies.
Coach Doc Rivers has things set up so that Bradley will be in the shooting guard spot when he returns. His presence should boost the team’s defense.
“I don’t want to put it on one player, but when Avery comes back, we won’t be a completely different team but he’ll help us out a lot,” Rondo said. “Especially on the defensive end; he’s a physical guard and I think we need that type of effort, that type of energy that he brings to every game. It’s kind of contagious.”
“I just try to speak for myself and try to lead by example, going out and playing as hard as I can,” added Rondo. “So I can only do so much, [Paul] can only do so much, Kevin [also], so we’ve got keep searching and we’ll eventually get it. If not, we’re looking at being a .500 team.”