Whatever they said to each other must have worked.
Ray Allen scored 33 points, Kevin Garnett 19 and Paul Pierce 16 en route to a gutsy, down-to-the-last shot win on Sunday over the NBA’s best team. They knew, as Pierce said afterward, "If we’re going to go anywhere, we got to be the leaders," and they delivered.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The 117-113 victory over the Cavaliers at home was plagued by many of the same deficiencies that have haunted the Celtics (48-28) since late December.
And with the postseason starting on April 18, deficiencies could cost the C’s the No. 3 seed in the East (which Atlanta currently holds by one game and would defer a meeting with Cleveland until the conference finals), or — far worse — result in the kind of seven-game opening playoff series to which this team has grown far too accustomed.
It seems, in fact, that with six games left to play in the regular season, Boston has six fixes to make.
1. Rasheed Wallace
I’d say the verdict is out on Sheed. He’s old (35). He shoots way too many 3’s (four per game at a 28 percent clip). And he runs his mouth more than Rosie O’Donnell.
My epiphany came when Wallace earned a technical foul (his 16th of the season) with just 50 ticks left in the third quarter against the Cavs, and then proceeded to yell at Doc Rivers for taking him out of the game. The coach, thank goodness, never put him back in.
Bottom line: Wallace is averaging just nine points on 41 percent shooting and somehow manages to commit three fouls per game in only 22 minutes of play. I understand there’s talent underlying all that, but perhaps Doc needs to keep the ol’ Bad Boy on the bench until he can get his head on straight.
2. Fourth-quarter meltdowns
Chalk it up to old age, laziness, whatever you want. Either way, the Celtics have been awful in the fourth quarter this season. Take Sunday afternoon, for example. Boston mounted a 98-81 advantage after three quarters before allowing LeBron James to erupt and actually take a lead inside two minutes to play.
Sure, Ray Allen drilled a clutch 3 with 47 seconds left to put the contest back out of reach, but the point stands. The fourth quarter makes and breaks teams in the postseason. The Green have lost 13 games this season by seven points or fewer — there are no second chances in April and May.
This one is a delicate balancing act.
I’ve already stated this: I think the Celtics are one-and-done if they draw the No. 4 seed in the East. It would pit them against Miami/Milwaukee in the first round, then Cleveland in the second. The third spot would give them Miami/Milwaukee, then Orlando, allowing Atlanta and Cleveland to run each other dry.
The Celtics, in other words, need to fight for position.
But there is a legitimate caveat to that: The No. 3 seed is worthless if the C’s are banged up and tired coming in. Good news is, Boston has the Knicks, Raptors, Wizards, Bulls and Bucks twice for their last six.
Take early leads, and get Pierce, KG, Ray and Rajon Rondo on the bench as much as possible afterward.
Simple: Boston is 25th in the league in giveaways with 15.1 per game. And much as he’s dramatically improved this year, Kendrick Perkins is to blame for a lot of them. Guy’s turning the ball over more than two times a game, breeding an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.46, worst on the team by far.
This isn’t the Phoenix Suns, where the turnovers come as a price for a fast-paced, high-scoring offense. Boston plays a half-court game and can’t afford to lose possessions.
Even more simple: Boston is 29th in the league in rebounding and is particularly bad on the offensive boards, grabbing just more than eight per game.
It’s why Shelden Williams deserves more time on the floor (perhaps in lieu of Wallace) — he pulls down nine rebounds per 36 minutes of play.
6. Technical Fouls
This brings us full circle, back to Wallace.
But he’s not the only culprit. Perk has 15, Garnett has six, Pierce has four. All told, in fact, Boston has committed more technical fouls than any other team in the league.
And while it’s kind of funny, it’s also not. It means free shots to the opposing team every time it happens. And as Boston knows all too well, games in the postseason are often decided by one or two points.
Six games, six fixes — for another shot at a title.
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