Celtics Must Improve Effort, Motivation Now to Avoid Similar Fate of Last Season

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Celtics Must Improve Effort, Motivation Now to Avoid Similar Fate of Last Season These aren't your grand-daddy's Celtics.

They're not last year's model, either.

Sure, there are similarities. Great defense. Solid offense. Poor rebounding. And most would point to Boston's woes in the second half of games, as I bemoaned in an earlier column.

Two near-losses to Miami, completely unnecessary overtime wins over Milwaukee, Chicago and Memphis and a loss to Cleveland are all testaments to the Celtics' uncanny ability to blow leads.

In that way, they’re not unlike the 2009-2010 club. Problems in the third and fourth quarters left the Green with a 50-win season before eventually catching up to them in the harshest way possible — Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

But make no mistake about it: The cause of those second-half meltdowns is different, and Boston's blowout win Monday night over Atlanta explains how.

Rewind to last season. The Hawks made that Celtics team look foolish — four wins in four meetings by an average margin of 8.5 points. "Boston's just too old to keep up with uber-athletic Atlanta," the NBA analysts said. "The Celtics better hope they don't meet them in the playoffs."

Monday night? The game, played in Atlanta, was over after the first 12 minutes: 99-76 was the final, as Boston stomped on the Hawks in just about every major statistical category. And all this, mind you, came on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. Last season, a loss under those circumstances was more certain than a George Zimmer guarantee that "You'll like the way you look."

Why, then, if Boston can manhandle Atlanta in 2010-11, are they repeating their cliff-jumping second-half antics of a year ago?

Lack of effort.

It's that simple. Whereas Boston's losses last season to lesser opponents could be chalked up to injury and a lack of depth, this team is stacked. Kevin Garnett's knee is back to 2007 condition; Rajon Rondo finally has a legitimate set of point guards behind him; Jermaine O'Neal's been hampered, but Shaquille O'Neal and Semih Erden give the post much-needed size; and reliable reserves rest behind Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Age and injury, with that depth chart, are no longer excuses.

The fact is, the Celtics are getting up for the big games and taking a seat for the "easy" ones. Cap'n Pierce said as much.

"I know we're a better team than those two teams, I know we are," he said after Sunday's matinée loss to the Raptors. "It's just mentally coming out and having the right mindset. I don't think we have the right mindset coming into these games against opponents that we're supposed to beat."

KG echoed that sentiment.

"We can't just show up. We've got to play some D," the defensive captain said. "These teams we're playing against are very high-caliber offense teams. We know what they are. On paper they might not be whatever but as far as talent — this league has a lot of talent and you've got to respect that."

Right now, the Celtics aren't respecting that. They get charged up only for tough opponents. The rest of the time, they're the cynical, bored high school teacher who tells you to go play with the Bunsen burner while he takes a nap at his desk.

And the Celtics can't say, as they did in 2009-10, that they're resting a veteran roster (the starters are all playing more minutes than they did last season). Nor can they argue, again as in 2009-10, that they're short-handed (most coaches in the NBA would kill for Boston's second unit).

If they wanna win 50 games again, the C’s can keep doing what they're doing. It worked out for them, to an extent, a year ago. But if they'd instead like to clinch home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs, they have to figure out how to get motivated to beat the teams they're "supposed to beat."

Maybe Doc Rivers puts up a photo in the locker room of Phil Jackson meditating; or a video montage of Kobe Bryant wearing sunglasses at night more often than Corey Hart. Whatever the motivation mechanism is, it's gotta get the Celts to come out firing the way they did against Atlanta.

Wednesday night against the Nets would be a good time to start building that mentality.

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