Opinion: Ambiguous Celtics need to choose a path


The Boston Celtics have let the NBA pass them by.

There is no need to recap last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, because it’s the same old story.  Out rebounded, out hustled, out scored.  Their record speaks for itself.  As an iconic Boston sports personality would say, their record is what it says they are.

Times change, tactics change, perspectives change.  The NBA, like all other sports, evolve as athletes become bigger, stronger, faster. The Celtics are the old guard, like the royal line of Joseph of Arimathia  – King Pellinore – the frail old descendants protecting the old ways and the trophies like they were the Holy Grail.

Boston Celtics starters have spent many fourth quarters on the bench, being blown out by more athletic teams. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics starters have spent many fourth quarters on the bench, being blown out by more athletic teams. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Kevin Garnett said as much after that aberration gift of a win on Christmas Day against the Nets.  “We went back to traditional basketball” said Garnett “We played firm. That’s what we’ve got to be,”

Not coincidentally, the Nets fired their coach the next day.

Also the next day the Celtics departed for California with their heads full of optimism and hearts full of love for the game – but on old legs, with antiquated game plans against athletically superior teams, and predictably got blown out of three arenas in four nights.

It is far too early to throw in the towel on this season because this three game road swing through California has shown the Celtics what they need to be competitive.

Part of it is what Garnett referred to.  But if you are going to play “Traditional” basketball, you need to have thumpers in the game, and the Celtics do not have any thumpers…

…so on to Plan B:  Athleticism.

The Celtics are a plodding, predictable team.  So much so that they are near the top of the league in turnovers per game, get out rebounded on a nightly basis and when their pick and roll is well defended they get blown out because they have nothing else to fall back on.

Is that to mean that the Celtics can’t win with what they have?  Obviously not, since they have been hovering around .500 all season, but hanging around basketball’s version of the Mendoza Line won’t get you anything but looking forward to next year.

Last night’s 118-96 loss to the lowly Kings in Sacramento has to be the season’s low point thus far.  A team in chaos with suspect talent and personality, their best player is a narcissistic enigma that may or may not be coachable, and has just returned from a team imposed suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.

But they are athletic, and ran circles around the plodding Celtics.  If Sacramento got to play teams like Boston every game, they’d be undefeated due simply to their athleticism.

The good news is that the Celtics have options – a couple of them in Portland, Maine where they are toiling in the NBA’s Developmental League as members of the Celtics’ farm system, and whether they choose to use them or trade them for other considerations, they have to do something.

Rajon Rondo leads the NBA in assists by a wide margin.  That’s a great place to start building.  Paul Pierce has plenty left in his tank, but what is his game?  He has so many different roles to fill that it’s spreading him thin.  Garnett?  High Effort, low drag.  He is neither athletic nor a bruiser.  He’s just tall.  After that, it’s just questions.

If the Celtics want to be a big, plodding methodical team, they need those types of players.  If they want to be a fast, vibrant atletic team that can jump into orbit, then they need those types of players.  Right now, all the have is ambiguity, which means mediocrity and no reasonable means of escaping it.

Doc Rivers says he’s searching for this team’s identity, and the King Pellinore reference is it.  If the Celtics are content to carry the banner of the old guard, the Holy Grail, that’s fine.  They just can’t have some crusty old Knight of the Round Table defending it – not when every team that they play have superior athletes salivating at the chance to mug them for it.

Time for change, because the times have passed the Celtics by.