- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The Boston Celtics headed their separate ways after Wednesday's 93-85 loss to the New Orleans Hornets and, given their performance to close out the pre-All-Star Game portion of the 2009-10 season, it wouldn't be a surprise if the locker room looked a little different when the team reconvenes in Sacramento on Tuesday.
Hours before the Celtics fumbled away yet another double-digit, second-half lead, allowing the Chris Paul-less Hornets to rally from a 12-point deficit, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told sports radio WEEI (850 AM) that he thought the team needed at least a minor move to shake things up.
After Wednesday's performance, maybe it's time to consider a bombshell.
The Celtics had promised coach Doc Rivers that things would change after enduring an embarrassing third-quarter shellacking in a 96-89 loss to the Orlando Magic at TD Garden on Sunday; the Magic outscored Boston 36-11 in the third, erasing an 11-point deficit, and emerged with the win.
Rivers told his team Monday that it was time to stop talking about fixing problems and actually start doing that on the court. Yet on Wednesday, nothing changed.
Worse yet, Gang Green actually appeared to regress in some ways. Paul Pierce, playing through a left midfoot sprain, looked sluggish and painfully out of sync. He scored a team-high 15 points (incriminating enough at that low total) on 4-of-11 shooting and committed a season-high eight turnovers (his previous high was five) in 34 minutes. Pierce finished with a gruesome minus-17 in the plus/minus category.
Kevin Garnett, who missed time earlier this season with a hyperextended right knee, was likewise off, laboring through 26 minutes, with 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting plus 7 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. Rajon Rondo also put up one of his biggest clunkers of the season, registering 7 points and 4 assists and a team-worst minus-18, while being thoroughly outplayed by New Orleans rookie Darren Collison (Paul's fill-in).
Your move, Mr. Ainge.
Whether it's a small move or a jaw-dropper, it's time to stir the pot before it's too late. Some fresh blood might be enough to mask the health concerns facing the entire Big Three; Ray Allen joined the walking wounded by missing Wednesday's game with back spasms, making Kendrick Perkins the only Celtics player yet to miss a game this season.
But even Perkins admitted a five-day mental health vacation could do the team some good.
"I think everybody needs to go back and regroup," said Perkins. "It is a much-needed break, for sure. We just need to go get our [mindset] right. We have to learn to put 48 minutes together. We need to find a way to get over it. Right now, it's just a needed break."
Asked if he thought the team's struggles would end after the break, Perkins said, "These last few games have been our first time with a full team, so it's hard to say. We just have to learn to put guys in the right spot and put it all together. I think we'll be OK."
Fifty games into the season and Perkins thinks this team will be OK. That's not exactly the type of talk to inspire Ainge to keep the team intact.
For his part, Rivers, who took a hard stance against growing complacency Monday, didn't seem overly concerned about his team's effort Wednesday.
"In the first half, we gave great effort and had a good lead going into halftime," he said. "The third quarter, we came out with a lot of jump shots and dribbling, which led to a lot of turnovers. Then we missed seven free throws straight. It's tough to win games when you turn the ball over and miss free throws."
Championship teams don't miss seven free throws and turn the ball over 22 times. Considering how bad they played, and considering they didn't have Ray Allen, it's natural for the Celtics to think that things will get better on their own. But there's no sign that time alone will heal these wounds.
The Celtics knew they were racing against the clock when they assembled the Big Three two years ago. Now, more than ever, they're racing it again.
Boston's play the past six-plus weeks (9-13 since a Christmas Day victory over Orlando) has seemingly left Ainge little choice but to do something, and the Celtics' performance the last two games ensures he'll be busy over this weekend's All-Star break.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
The Celtics' continued poor play may force Danny Ainge to make a move.