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Bob Ryan

Disorganized from start, they need to regroup

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 21, 2009

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Seventy wins? How about beating a good team?

The Celtics do not have one signature win in this early season, and don’t even think of counting that Opening Night gift in Cleveland, whose own coach said he wished he could have had three more weeks of practice.

“I just think our team’s playing awful overall,’’ said Doc Rivers after the Celtics lost by an 83-78 score to the Orlando Magic last night. It was the third consecutive Friday the Celtics have played a quality foe at home and in those games they are 0-3. It’s a thoroughly disorganized bunch right now, and the only positive thing to say about the situation is that it’s not yet Thanksgiving.

Doc says his team will get it, sooner or later. Right now they are tough to watch.

This was one of those Sisyphus affairs in which, after getting off to a horrendous start (29-13 in arrears after one), they kept creeping back without ever taking the lead. They were actually tied at 78-all with 2:54 to go following an altitudinous Rasheed Wallace left baseline pop off a Paul Pierce penetration feed. But they never scored again, and, frankly, never had anything resembling a good possession.

The Magic, meanwhile, had all the offense they needed in Vince Carter.

One way of looking at this game would be to say that Carter made all the big plays. On three separate fourth-quarter occasions he came out of a timeout with the Celtics in apparent possession of some momentum.

1. Ray Allen drives for 2, making it 66-63, Magic, with 10:07 left. Time Out, Orlando. Carter makes a tough, deep turnaround over Marquis Daniels.

2. A Paul Pierce drive makes it 75-74, Magic, with 4:49 left. Time Out, Orlando. Carter beats both Allen and a helping-out Wallace with a banked, old-fashioned 3-point play.

3. The aforementioned Wallace hoop ties the score at 78 with 2:53 remaining. It’s the game’s first deadlock since 2-2. Carter hits a one-on-one turnaround.

Whaddya gonna do?

“Vince Carter is an established scorer,’’ said Pierce. “He’s one of the best scorers in the history of the game.’’

This, of course, is exactly what the Magic had in mind when they traded for Carter.

“Against great defenses down the stretch it is sometimes hard to free people up,’’ said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. “You gotta have a guy, a Paul Pierce, a Vince Carter, a Dwyane Wade, a LeBron James, someone who can get a shot against a good defense. Vince can get off a good quality shot all the time. At least you will have a chance, even if the defense is good.’’

Let the record show that the defense in all three of his big post-timeout baskets was good to very good. So give the man credit.

It just was not a very happy night from a Boston point of view. There was the bad start. There was a nightmarish 2-for-19 on 3-pointers, most of them legitimate and makeable, as opposed to piggy and stupid. And there was also a minor coaching controversy, with Rivers deciding to play Eddie House, rather than Rajon Rondo, for all but the final 1:41 of the fourth quarter.

“Well, we made a run, so the decision wasn’t a hard one,’’ Doc reasoned. “You know, you go with the best unit that’s playing, and that unit clearly had it going.’’

If you think back, Doc hasn’t been happy with his team almost from the get-go. It’s evident that beating a depleted Charlotte by 33, and holding them under 60, might have been a very misleading thing in the long run. Soon thereafter, Doc was complaining that his team was winning the wrong way. And now they’re having a hard time winning at all. In case you didn’t notice, they beat Golden State Wednesday with one 15-2 third-quarter, Rondo-fueled run (think Pat Riley and his “skirmishes’’ theory). The rest of that game was a give-two, get-two contest in which the Celtics were held to a draw by the Warriors.

Pierce cited the bad start as the key to last night’s defeat. “It’s about being physically and mentally ready at the start of the game,’’ Pierce concluded. “Our defense picked up after the first quarter.’’

The coach wasn’t really buying it. The situation did improve, if only because Orlando had shot 65 percent in the first quarter, including 5 for 7 on threes. Though the Celtics had it down to 3 (43-40) at the half, Doc never felt good about what he was seeing.

“It’s our execution,’’ he said. “The list is too long. We are making it up at both ends of the floor. We’re not trusting what we do. We are not functioning well as a group, five guys on the floor. We are functioning well with two or three guys at one time, or four . . . We don’t deserve to win games like this. We don’t. We don’t deserve to win right now, the way we’re playing.’’

They had better figure something out fast, because big schedule trouble lies ahead. They have a gimme (you hope) in New York tomorrow afternoon, and then there will be winnable home games (you hope) next week against Philadelphia and Toronto. And then the fun starts. Beginning Nov. 29, they will play seven of eight on the road. The month of December is a real bear, in fact, with 10 of 14 games away from home. Playing this way, things could get very ugly.

You know things are bad when winning isn’t even the sole priority.

Take away any one of those huge Vince Carter baskets, and the Celtics could have stolen this one. They’d have had the W in the standings, but they still would have gotten an “F’’ from the coach.

“I was talking to the coaches in the third quarter,’’ Rivers said. “I said, ‘We might go on to win this, and I’m still not going to be happy,’ - and I was wrong.’’

But Doc was right about the Big Picture. He didn’t like what he was seeing three weeks ago, and he really hates what he’s seeing now.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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