The Celtics’ underwhelming effort in Los Angeles on Wednesday was indicative of all their troubles without a lead guard like Rajon Rondo or a willing garbage man like Jared Sullinger. The 113-99 loss to the Lakers was not quite as bad as the beating the Celtics laid on Los Angeles back in Boston, but it was a reminder that after winning eight out of nine games heading into the All-Star break, the Celtics are not so good that they can scoff at severe injuries to three key players.
Back on the East Coast, the NBA trade deadline was less than 17 hours away when the Celtics tipped off at Staples Center. Over the next 2 1/2 hours, they supplied ammunition to naysayers who believe team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge should have “blown it up” as soon as Rondo went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament almost a month ago. They were dominated in the paint by Dwight Howard, a once-in-a-generation center who is playing at less than full strength, and foul trouble cut into their already thin bench. They allowed 54 points in the paint and recorded fewer total rebounds (34) than the Lakers pulled down on the defensive glass alone (35).
Yet nothing on the score sheet captured the lopsided nature of the game as well as this: If the Lakers had not scored a single basket after Jodie Meeks‘ layup with 8:24 on the clock in the fourth, they still would have had more points than the Celtics managed in the entire game.
“We scored 99 points, and I thought our offense was awful,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re not used to giving up this many points.”
A couple of losses out West are not enough to bury the Celtics, though. To borrow Rivers’ phrase, you can write the obituary. We won’t, yet. In addition to being the second leg of a back-to-back, this was stop No. 2 on a five-city, seven-day road trip that takes the Celtics through four of the league’s toughest venues. (Sorry, Phoenix.) Keep in mind that the Celtics went 0-3 on a western road swing in late December, and things eventually came around after that.
This loss had a lot more to do with Pierce scoring three points in the second half or Courtney Lee and Jeff Green getting into foul trouble early than it did with Boston’s lack of an All-Star point guard. Garnett had 12 points, eight of which came in the first half, as he strained to slow Howard while also covering for his teammates on the back end of Boston’s defense. Such flaws become magnified under these circumstances, of course, but the last three-plus weeks illustrated that those are not insurmountable obstacles.
Ainge, who is traveling with the team on this trip, certainly watched the last two games closely while he worked the phones. But for the sake of his own sanity, he hopefully is not over-analyzing two losses. The timing of this two-game losing streak could not be worse. Perhaps these are the first signs that the Celtics’ recent run was an illusion, or perhaps they are just a blip en route to another run of eight wins in nine tries. At some point before 2:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, Ainge has to decide which is real, and if Wednesday’s loss is truly the way he wants to send two of the game’s greats out the door.