The Boston Celtics tipped off their first West Coast trip of the season on Christmas Day in
The Celtics have just four players receiving consistent minutes off the bench (Tony Allen, Eddie House, Glen Davis, Leon Powe), with none scoring in double figures (Allen leads with 8 ppg), just one 20-point game (Allen, 23 in Detroit on November 9), and one double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds by Powe in Minnesota on November 21) among them this season. Granted, a starting lineup that’s good for almost 75 a night does ease the pressure on a team’s bench, but it’s certainly helpful to know that if called upon, in the case of injury, fatigue or ineffectiveness in the starting lineup, someone on the second unit can fill a star’s shoes on a given night. No one on the bench inspires that sort of confidence, and combined with Ray Allen’s inconsistent play of late, the Celtics are looking at some potentially crippling issues.
In the season’s most anticipated regular season game, Boston’s Finals rematch against the Lakers on Christmas Day, despite a solid defensive showing that held the Lakers to 92 points, fourteen below their season average, and 70 points from the C’s starters (matching the Lakers’ starters), poor shooting from Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo (combined 8-for-25), an anemic second half (38 points, just 16 in the 4th quarter), and an extremely disappointing 6-for-20, 13-point performance from the bench, “led” by six points from Tony Allen, doomed the Celtics’ winning streak. The Lakers’ superior depth was obvious, as they were fresher than the Celtics down the stretch, dominating the fourth quarter to secure the 92-83 win.
The following night in
After the impressive 108-63 blowout win in Sacramento, in which Ray Allen made seven of his eight shot attempts en route to 19 points, seven bench players combined for 44 points, and the Kings failed to score more 17 points in any quarter, the Celtics went to Portland and ran into the same stumbling blocks that they’d struggled with all week. In what’s becoming a trend, despite holding the shorthanded Blazers more than seven points below their season average, Boston ran into problems as Allen (12 points, 2-for11 shooting) and the bench (41 minutes, 9 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 3-for-11 shooting) failed to deliver, and Boston managed just 41 second half points (vs. Portland’s 51), as they fell to Blazers, 91-86. Also worth noting here is that not only did the Blazers take advantage of the Celtics’ usual shortcomings, but the Blazers starting big men, LaMarcus Aldridge (20 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks) and Greg Oden (13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals) were clearly superior to Kevin Garnett (17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists) and Kendrick Perkins (7 points, 6 rebounds), who sadly couldn’t look to the bench for any help, as Glen Davis and Leon Powe could only manage 2 points and 1 rebound in 23 combined minutes.
With the emergence of Rajon Rondo as an All-Star-caliber point guard and the continued development of Kendrick Perkins into arguably a top-ten center, the Celtics’ starting lineup is as loaded as any in the NBA. And fortunately for the Celtics, they’ve been dominant though the season’s first thirty games. However, this starting lineup is being asked to shoulder an ever-increasing share of the load each night. Though the C’s depend on a trio of veteran stars, KG (turns 33 in May), Paul Pierce (31) and Ray Allen (33), that are not getting any younger, the main concern here shouldn’t be about minutes. That each of the Celtics’ stars is averaging at least 32.8 minutes per game is irrelevant. It’s asinine to contend that professional athletes with the conditioning and durability of Allen, Garnett and Pierce will be adversely affected in May or June because of 3-4 additional minutes a night in December. Irrespective of age, if the Celtics’ starting five is fatigued come playoff time, a scenario that’s look more and more likely, inconsistent play from Ray Allen and the second unit’s lack of consistency and firepower will be to blame.