And that was two weeks ago, when Boston was a healthy 8-1.
Since then, the C’s are 2-3. They've lost to Indiana, been held to just 78 points against rival Orlando and needed overtime and a buzzer-beater to beat the lowly Knicks.
Yes, they’re still four games up on Toronto (6-8) in the ever-awful Atlantic Division, rank third in the league on defense (89.6 ppg) and first in point differential (+8.8). But though the season is just 14 games old for the Celtics, they would be on the cusp of losing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today.
All of which begs the question: What ails the Green? It's simple — they have to make five changes.
1. Stop mailing it in
Guys, I get it. You’re old. The average age of Boston’s starting five is just shy of 30 years old, and Eddie House (31) and Rasheed Wallace (35) are the two go-to players off the bench.
But being old ain’t an excuse for slothing up and down the court. Heck, the C’s are attempting just 78 shots a game in the early going, the 25th-lowest mark in the NBA. Doc Rivers must find a way to motivate these guys early in the season.
In 2008-09, the Celtics outrebounded their opponents by a plus-4.5 margin per game. This year, the divide’s just 0.3, and Boston’s actually hauling in fewer offensive boards than the competition. Even scarier? Kevin Garnett is the team’s leading rebounder at just 7.6 per game. He averages 11 for his career.
Most of this shortcoming is a function of the first. Box out, hustle now and again, and this goes away.
3. Sheed, please stop launching 3s
I’m sorry, I know this guy has quickly become a fan favorite, but what is he thinking? He has seemingly single-handedly dropped the Celts from first in the league in 3-point percentage through the first week to 12th, at 35.4 percent. Wallace’s mark is 27.2 percent.
And that’s not based on a small sample size. The 35-year-old is taking almost six treys a game in just 22 minutes of play. Extrapolate that to 36 minutes, and you’re looking at a guy who shoots almost as many 3s in a contest as some teams do as a whole.
Yes, the purpose of signing Wallace was to help spread the defense. But this is ridiculous, enough even for Rivers to get on the old man’s case.
“I got on him, and I rarely do, about the 3s,” Doc told The Boston Globe after the Nov. 18 win over Golden State, in which Sheed attempted six 3s and hit just two. “Because even though he was wide open … we had just taken two quick ones.”
4. Hit a free throw, Rajon
The Celtics’ point guard is — get this — 33 percent from the free-throw line this season, an incredible mark, especially considering he’s 54 percent from the field. And it’s clearly a head issue. In Rajon Rondo’s last eight games, he’s 5-of-21. He was 3-of-3 to start the season, for what it’s worth.
That mental slump isn’t a terribly large concern just yet. To this point, Rondo has only attempted 24 free throws, or fewer than two per contest. The concern is that teams will begin to hack the 23-year-old every time he heads to the paint. That, in fact, has already begun to happen, as New York on Sunday put him there for eight tries.
Rondo needs to get his head screwed on straight soon, because free throws can make or break teams the later season goes on.
5. Get involved, Ray
Ray Allen’s lackluster play thus far has gone completely under the radar. The guy’s shooting 30 percent from beyond the arc, almost a full 10 percentage points off his career average. He’s also rebounding less, posting fewer assists, fewer steals and fewer points.
And the trend has only accelerated. Ray’s 4-for-18 from 3-point range during the Celtics’ five-game skid and has turned the ball over more than twice a game through that stretch.
Ray’s prone to slumps. One hopes it’s just another of those, and not a far more concerning sign of his age.
Pick up the pieces in those areas, and the Celtics will be fine. Don’t, and they might find that an older team trying to pace itself could be a team pacing itself right out of home-court advantage in the playoffs.