Celtics don't seem to have plan
MIAMI -- When Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggests that he doesn't think his team is capable of flipping a postseason switch again this season, it's because he doesn't think people quite understand what his team did a year ago.
Battered by in-season injuries, the Celtics' only hope last season was to shut down their stars and cross their fingers that they'd be healthy enough by the time games mattered to make a run. So long before April even arrived, Rivers and his staff sat down and mapped out a plan of attack.
The Celtics would practice on game days or hold extended shootarounds. They did their work when the television cameras weren't around and under the cloak of darkness at their practice facility in Waltham. Then they'd go through the motions on game nights, which led to a 27-27 record over the final 54 games of the regular season and Boston earning the No. 4 seed in the East.
This season there's none of that. And on the heels of Sunday's 100-77 throttling by the Miami Heat -- Boston's second loss to a top Eastern Conference foe in four days and a defeat that will likely force the Celtics to settle for the No. 3 seed -- Rivers admitted he can't be as confident in his team's ability to go deep in the playoffs because there is no master plan.
At least not yet. Now, there are only questions.
Why does Rajon Rondo not seem fully engaged at times? Why isn't Ray Allen more involved in the offense? Why does this team only play in spurts? Where has Glen Davis' confidence gone? When will Shaquille O'Neal play again? When is Jeff Green and the bench going to provide consistent production? And what happened to ubuntu?
Stop blaming the Kendrick Perkins trade. That's the easy scapegoat for Boston's troubles. But there's way too much talent in the Celtics' locker room to justify their recent play.
And there's no undo button now, so why continue to lament what's in the past? The Celtics have a week to figure this thing out and their roster isn't changing. They have no choice but to make this work.
Rivers admitted he's uncertain how he'll approach Boston's final two games of the regular season, but with a back-to-back in Washington looming Monday -- the sort of game that's been the Celtics' kryptonite all season -- and with Miami now in control of its own destiny, it might be time for a miniature shutdown that would allow Boston to essentially utilize the next six days as practice sessions aimed at erasing the mountain of slippage.
In a season in which he hasn't gotten enough credit for simply getting his team where it is, Rivers must dip into his coach's toolbox and figure out a plan that will allow Boston to thrive in the postseason.
"I've got to figure it out. And then I've got to get them to stay with it," Rivers said. "We play for seven minutes to start the game and turn it on, then say, 'This is the Celtics!' Then, bam, it's gone. To me, it's gone because a couple of things didn't happen our way, we get frustrated and we can't play right. That's a concern."
Frustration bubbled over in the Celtics' locker room Sunday. After Thursday's head-shaking loss in Chicago, Boston players expressed concern about straightening out their problems. But with a win the next night against the Wizards, Boston renewed its pledge to come out with more focus against the Heat, hell-bent on securing the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage through the second round of the postseason.
Boston did come out with a renewed sense of urgency Sunday, it simply didn't last long. The Celtics got to the charity stripe early, hit their first three shots and forced the Heat to scramble for a timeout, trailing 11-2 less than three minutes into the game.
The Heat outscored Boston 98-66 the rest of the way, not only shooting a South Beach-kind-of-muggy 50.7 percent from the floor, but turning 15 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points. It's hard to win a game when half the opposing team's shots go in, and half of the other half are being turned into second-chance buckets.
"You expect a little more urgency, especially in the last week of the season," captain Paul Pierce admitted. "But we understand what it is. The hustle game is killing us. We're not rebounding the ball. It's very disturbing when I look up and we're down 15 rebounds to a team [that's] really not known for [its] rebounding.
"I think we've just got to get our heads right. Everybody's got to look at themselves individually and ask themselves what can they do to make this team better."
Pierce was one of those players who got rest over game reps last season, allowing his hodgepodge of maladies to heal in order to get through the postseason. (Without that rest, there's no guarantee that the likes of Pierce or Kevin Garnett could have gutted through the rest of the season.)
Pierce didn't point fingers Sunday, but acknowledged it's up to the Celtics players to right the ship. He remains unwaveringly optimistic that it can happen.
"I'm confident," Pierce said. "I think a couple little things are bothering me. Just having a competitive spirit. Sometimes I don't think it's always there and, me, I'm a competitive person. I think my game really thrives off competing, night in and night out, and when it doesn't come from everybody, it's really disturbing. If we can change that part about us as a unit, I give ourselves a great chance."
Whatever the Celtics are doing now isn't working. That's painfully obvious from the fact the team is 9-10 over the past month. And it's not just the losses, it's the way Boston has lost, particularly in being absolutely throttled in the second half against both Chicago and Miami in recent days -- two teams it fully expects to have to navigate past in order to get back to the NBA Finals.
Pierce rejected the idea of a team meeting or a pep talk, saying it was simply on the players to fix this by getting back to what made Boston so successful at the start of the season.
"There's only so many 'hoo-rah' speeches you can give," Pierce said. "It has to come from everybody, each individual. Everybody has to look in the mirror, and I said this before: Everybody has to look at themselves individually and see what they've got to do to help this ballclub win -- just bring a competitive spirit, play your role -- but we have to do something."
Rivers might not be as confident as last year, but that doesn't mean he's not confident. There's still time to whip together a plan.
"Last year we had a plan. We knew exactly what we were doing," Rivers said. "You should have seen it. Practicing, then not playing Kevin. Or telling guys you're only playing 10 minutes tonight. We charted it out for them, 20 games left in the season. This is a totally different thing.
"Honestly, we've got to keep working on it and it's my job to figure it out."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.