The Celtics have some problems, as their opening night loss
to the Miami Heat made clear. One of those problems involves having far more
quality guards than Doc Rivers can fit into his rotation, although that is the
problem the coach is least likely to complain about.
A quiet bench was due to join the listless defense and
directionless offense as culprits in Boston’s loss on Tuesday before Leandro
Barbosa started the fourth quarter and nearly changed everything. Barbosa, who
also started the second quarter but went scoreless in four minutes, hit his
first six shots and dropped 16 points to turn a 19-point deficit into a four-point deficit.
The Heat never really slowed him down and Barbosa never
actually cooled off, but the Celtics had dug themselves in too deep for a comeback
to be realistic.
“If you get into a scoring contest and Barbosa’s on the
floor, you’re going to feel pretty good about it,” Rivers said.
“That’s how he’s played. That’s how he’s used to playing. I love the way
he attacks. He’s clearly not scared of the moment. He bailed us out. We got
back in that game down the stretch and it was because Barbosa was on the
Jason Terry only got off the bench for six minutes in the
final quarter because Barbosa was playing too well for Rivers to mess with
success. Terry and Barbosa give the Celtics two former NBA Sixth Man of the
Year award winners on their bench, and the combination could be intriguing –
if Rivers did not also have to figure out how to work in Courtney Lee and,
eventually, Avery Bradley.
That may be a problem Rivers will welcome, considering all
the other things he has to worry about in the coming weeks, but it is still a
sensitive situation, especially if every player continues to play well.
If Rajon Rondo seemed a bit, um, perturbed at times, the
Celtics’ wide deficit may have had something to do with it. Merely losing is
usually not enough to set off the young point guard, though. Typically, there
is something more going on, be it involving the officials or the other team.
As it turned out, that something was neither the opponent
nor the referees, according to Rivers. The frustration may have stemmed from
Rondo’s own teammates.
“Rondo was a little frustrated because he was running
plays to get to the second or third option and no one was executing,”
Rivers said. “When you’re the point guard and the guys are in the wrong
spot all game, that gets frustrating.”
Rondo posted a stellar game statistically with 20 points, 13
assists and seven rebounds, but he never seemed fully in control of the game. Perhaps
his teammates’ unwillingness to stick to the game plan contributed to that
Jeff Green‘s second “debut” with the Celtics did
not go the way he probably imagined it all those months while rehabbing his
body from heart surgery last January. He played 25 minutes but scored only
eight points. Most disturbingly for the Celtics, though, was how Green went
back into his shell like he did in 2011, fresh off the trade that brought
him to Boston from Oklahoma City. He took only four shots and did not
facilitate the offense like he did in the preseason.
File this one under not reading too much into one game.
Green was assigned to cover LeBron James most of the time he spent on the
floor, which may have worn him out so much that his effectiveness at the
offensive end was impacted. Paul Pierce seemed to suffer that same affliction,
as he shot just 6-for-15 from the field and needed nine foul shots to reach his
team-high 23 points. Green was victimized on screens, with James using every mistake Green made into an open jumper or an alley-oop dunk. It looked exactly what one would expect if you put a player who had not played in 16 months up against the reigning Most Valuable Player. Matching up with James can have a lingering effect, even
when he is not guarding a player directly.
KING ADDS TO HIS HOARD
It has been a long time since James lived through
anything he had never experienced before. At 27 years old, he has won three league MVP awards, played in eight All-Star games and collected
All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team honors every year since 2008.
When he received his championship ring in a ceremony prior
to Tuesday’s game, though, James encountered something he truly was entirely
unfamiliar with. The failure to win a title had hung over him like a specter,
and he had a look of pure joy on his face when Heat owner Micky Arison
presented him with his elusive ring.
Within minutes, Celtics fans could go back to vehemently
rooting against James, but hopefully for a moment, they appreciated this last
bit of innocence in the greatest player in the world. We will never see that
expression from James again, because he will never again win his first
Now, back to your regularly scheduled booing.