- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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AP Photo/Steve Yeater
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett watch the final moments of Sunday's loss in Sacramento.Demolished during a three-game trek through California, the Boston Celtics returned home this morning to a heightened level of panic from their fanbase. With that in mind, I recruited ESPN Boston colleague Greg Payne and dusted off our panic meters to play a little game of 2-on-2:
1. On a scale of 1-10, what's your concern level for this team amidst this three-game losing streak?
Payne: 6½. I'm an eternal optimist, but realism needs to set in at some point. It's not like the Celtics are 18-12 and have lost three straight by at least 18 points. They're 14-16, have no real identity or characteristic they can hang their hat on, and the only thing they've been consistent at is being inconsistent. Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Courtney Lee have all underperformed this season, and it seems like the inconsistency among some of the key role players morphs into frustration at times for the likes of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. Having said all of that (optimism time!), this team hasn't been complete all season, and while Avery Bradley's return won't be the equivalent of some action movie hero stepping in to single-handedly save the day and put the world on his back, he should help in two key areas: Defense and effort. On top of that, firm roles should finally be established for everyone. Barring injuries, there won't be any more lineup juggling for coach Doc Rivers. Bradley still starts, Jason Terry and Lee will come off the bench, and there will be no more "lack of a defined role" excuses for anybody.
Forsberg: This is why I hate letting you go first, Payne, I totally had 6½ as well, knocking it down from 7, which seemed a bit too high. There's a line of thinking that says a loss is a loss, it really doesn't matter by how many points. That said, Boston's play at the end of the Californian road trip was particularly discouraging. Clearly there's a little bit of snowball effect going on here and when things go bad at the moment, there's no recovering for this team. But the continued lack of urgency is what's most concerning. You keep waiting for the Celtics to get angry and punch back and that never happened at the end of this trip. Obviously fans are discouraged and most would probably put their panic at 11 (after all that's, one louder than 10). But it's still way too early to ponder any irrational personnel moves. Teams go through rough stretches. It's the absence of a sustained quality stretch this season that makes this tougher to swallow at the moment.
2. What's the biggest change that needs to be made -- outside of the impending return of Avery Bradley -- to get Boston back on track?
Payne: The Celtics need to play with a greater sense of urgency. There's no real fight in the C's right now, nor do they play with any sort of desperation. I completely agree with Rivers, who said after Sunday's loss to the Kings that guys in the locker room don't understand how difficult it is to win games. Unfortunately, issues that could be effort-related aren't necessarily fixed with a quick tweak of the lineup. Guys need to want to play harder on a nightly basis. Rivers can preach it all he wants, but until guys actual seek out and embrace a more determined mindset, things are unlikely to change. I know we wanted to avoid Bradley on this one, but it's worth noting: Playing hard can be infectious, and Bradley will give you the effort you want to see every single night. The most important part about that is guys who don't necessarily have that same mindset will see Bradley's effort and be forced to say, "How can I not do the same?" We've heard a lot about the trickle-down effect Bradley could have on the defense, but, when he's paired with Garnett in the starting lineup, the effort of those two together should motivate everyone else to play a little bit harder.
Forsberg: Defense, defense, defense. Now, there's no doubt that Bradley will aid that cause, but Boston's recipe for success hinges on its defense and this team absolutely has to figure out a way to get back to playing a more familiar brand of basketball at that end of the floor. The Celtics offered nothing in the ways of resistance over the last three games. Not only are teams attacking the basket without fear of being deterred, but they are knocking down perimeter shots at an alarming rate. Boston has often thrived forcing opponents to settle for the same contested 2's that they are hoisting up too often at the other end of the floor. What we need to remember is that everything in basketball is connected. If the Celtics start playing better defense, it fuels their offense in transition and everything becomes a little easier. But until this team can generate multiple stops, they are stuck in this loop of falling behind and pressing while playing catch up. It's on the starters to set the tone better out of the gates and it's on the reserves to be more consistent in sustaining it when they take the baton. Ultimately it comes down to what you said, Payne -- effort. This team needs to talk less about wanting to turn things around and actually do that with inspired play on the court.
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