"We're going out to Indiana and we're going to get a win. We're tired of this. That's all I can tell you. ... We can taste blood, man. We're due." – Delonte West, 01/29/07
Umm, Delonte, are you sure that blood you taste isn't just because you're coughing up a lung?
A day after the Celtics declared they were "angry" about the losing streak and Delonte predicted a victory against Indiana, the current Celtics leader could barely make it off the bench as he battled the flu last night, and the C's duplicated that same lackluster performance from the Sunday's Wizards game, going down without much of a fight.
To be fair, nothing that happened against the Pacers is Delonte's fault, and I'm pretty sure he was sincere in his desire to win. If he has the same flu that's hit me and everyone I know in the past two weeks, I can sympathize. It's not fun.
In a moment of confusion, Brian Scalabrine misinterprets the meaning "block the shot" as he runs in front of a cameraman's shot of a Danny Granger dunk. (Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)
But still, there were 11 other guys who suited up and took the floor last night. Where was their anger? Where was their intense desire to win?
Don't let the 103-96 final score fool you. The C's stopped playing competitive basketball midway through the third quarter when Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal took the game over and stepped on the Celtics' collective throats.
And the C's laid there and took it. They didn't get angry. They didn't display a desire to fight through it. They hung their heads, got down on themselves and threw in the towel.
Sure, with four minutes left the C's went uber-small, as they're used to doing late in games when they're down big, and they made a game of it, amazingly cutting the deficit to four with 30 seconds left (thanks mostly to the Pacers' forgetting how to shoot free throws).
But in reality, the run at the end of the game was emblematic of everything that's wrong with the Celtics these days. Gilbert Arenas said it perfectly a week and a half ago after the C's overtime loss in Washington (coincidentally, the only game during the losing streak that the C's had a realistic chance of winning):
"They just started playing loose, taking shots, having fun. I remember those days when I was at Golden State -- down 30, you just start running and playing free and you lose by 3. I was one of those guys back then. I know how they feel. They didn't have anything to lose."
Now, you tell me, what does that say about the state of mind the Celtics are playing with right now? Once there's "nothing to lose," they start to play "free." What that tells me is that when the chips are on the line and there's something to play for, when the game is contested and close, they fold quicker than A-Rod in the playoffs. Only when they are so down and out that winning seems an impossibility do they stop plodding around and do something right. As I see it, that is the absolute worst environment in which to learn and "develop".
What good is a comeback when it's only a halfhearted gimmick? What good are the individual performances in these stretches when they can't be utilized at any other point in the game (say, when the deficit is growing from 5 to 20 in the third quarter)? How come it's only when winning is the farthest away that the players step it up?
Such comebacks are ultimately meaningless. The "effort" in these situations means nothing at all if it takes being down 20 to materialize. And that's the most depressing thing about this debacle. The C's show that they can, in stretches, play the kind of ball that could conceivably win them games. But never, never do they do it at the times when it can actually help lead to a win.
You see, when they're actually trying to win, they hit a wall and get so down that they can't crawl out of it. And only when they realize they are probably going to lose do they play well again. And they don't play well in these spots because they still want to win -- they play well because they know they're going to lose. At that point, they're "free," as Agent Zero put it. And even though they may make the box score look more competitive, that kind of mentality is exactly why they will continue to pile up the losses.
Over the last 12 games, the Celtics have been outscored by their opponents in the first quarter 6 times, in the second quarter 7 times (with 2 ties), in the third quarter 8 times, and in the fourth quarter 5 times (with 1 tie).
On average, the C's have been outscored 24 to 23.1 in the first, 23.9 to 20.6 in the second, 23.1 to 21.3 in the third, and 23.9 to 22.9 in the fourth.
What that shows is that the C's are consistently far worse in the second and third quarters than the first and fourth quarters. They're best quarter on average is the first, showing that they get off to competitive starts and then go on to lose games in the second and third quarters. They play competitive again in the fourth, but that's usually when they're playing from behind (an average 6-point deficit).
And "tanking" aside, what true Celtics fan doesn't want the C's to pull out a victory tonight? I know it's not the ‘80s anymore, but still ... can we forget about ping pong balls for one day and do anything and everything possible to take this game? Someone crank up the thermostat in the Garden.