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With Garnett back, Celtics need to end glory daze

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  January 22, 2010 01:17 PM

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If the Celtics are to be believed (let's face it, their track record isn't the greatest in the projected-return-from-injury department) then tonight is the night that Kevin Garnett returns to the Celtics lineup. And not a moment too soon.

Perhaps Boston sports fans have been distracted, pondering the Patriots' offseason or wondering if the Red Sox run prevention strategy is convenient propaganda or legitimate baseball philosophy while counting down the days to spring training. Either way, no one has seemed to notice that the local basketball team is unraveling faster than a roll of toilet paper lobbed across the front yard of a high school senior's home.

Garnett's injury was the worst thing that happened to the Celtics this season, and not for the reason you think. It gave the Celtics built-in cover and an easy-made excuse to shrug off poor play and not heed the warnings of coach Doc Rivers. Instead of rallying around each other and raising their games in Garnett's absence, it seemed like the Celtics players hit the collective pause button on the season, content to pick up the program when Garnett came back.

With Garnett's imminent (or so we've been told) return, the time for excuse-making is over.

The question is what exactly is KG coming back to? At the moment it does not look like a championship contender, rather a team in disarray that has swapped Ubuntu for backbiting and bickering. They have lost three straight and four of five and are 4-8 in their last 12 games.

This is not an ideal spot for Garnett to jump back in after having missed the last 10 games with a hyperextended right knee. He is viewed as an instant savior -- just add KG and stir -- his mere presence a panacea.  

Even with Garnett ostensibly back it's hard to feel satisfied with the current state of the Celtics. There is cause for some concern on Causeway Street.

The Celtics are currently closer to the No. 4 spot in the East (Orlando is a game back of Boston and the Hawks are a half-game back of Boston) than they are to the No. 1 spot, held by the Cavaliers, who at 33-11 are four games up on the second-seeded Celtics.

Tonight's game at the Garden is the midway mark of the season for the Celtics, their 41st contest, and only the biggest homer would say that the Celtics (27-13) look championship-driven at the halfway point. Right now, they look like they're driving Rivers crazy, with uninspired play, an inability to hold leads in the second half, defensive breakdowns, ill-timed turnovers and maturity issues with young players like Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis.

All were factors in their last two fall-from-ahead defeats to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday and to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, games in which the Celtics held double-digit leads and couldn't pull away.

Rondo said after the loss to Detroit that the Celtics are playing against themselves. Rivers said when his team gets a lead that players go to "individual ball" and are trying to get numbers. Even Rasheed Wallace, who was preaching patience over panic on Monday, expressed some dismay after losing in his Detroit homecoming, saying the Celtics aren't a team that can turn it on and turn it off right now, which is exactly what they've been trying do in Garnett's absence.

"Sometimes we think just because we're the Celtics and we go into a team's building that they're going to back down," Wallace said after the game.

Listen to these comments and you get the impression the Celtics have a chemistry deficiency without Garnett. He is the Elmer's Glue that holds the Green together. But that shouldn't be the case on a team that has veterans like Pierce, the team's captain, Ray Allen and Wallace.

They should be able to hold the fort while waiting for their all-star power forward to get healthy.

What we already knew has become painfully apparent in Garnett's absence -- this Celtics team isn't going to win a championship without him. That's not a newsflash, but it is troubling to see how the Celtics came apart at the seams in his absence, especially when considering that a healthy Garnett is anything but a certainty for this season.

Garnett has played in 29 games this season, averaging 15 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. With him in the lineup the Celtics are 22-7. Without him they're a sub-.500 team at 5-6.

In November, Garnett, 33, became the youngest player in NBA history to surpass 40,000 minutes played. That's like a car going over 100,000 miles. No matter how great of shape the car is in or how well you take care of it, after that mileage milestone the likelihood of a breakdown is greater.

So, the Celtics have to take advantage of Garnett's gifts while they can. That means those around him have to step up and start playing better.

With Garnett (hopefully) back beating his chest, banging his head against the basket support and barking out defensive instructions on defense, the Celtics don't have any more excuses.
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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