Perhaps beating the Lakers at home and on TV this Sunday can make it all better, but the Celtics right now are far too easy to beat at the end of games. The four-game seasonal sweep completed last night by the Hawks was highlighted by the fact that the Celtics were outscored in the second half of all four games by an average of 12 points. Right now, they can't hold a lead, and they certainly can't come all the way back to win a game. Not against a team like Atlanta, which is perfectly designed to beat a team full of aging veterans. This, as the year goes by, is likely to be a more interesting problem to follow than Kevin Garnett's knee, Kendrick Perkins' ongoing battle with the fine print of the rulebook, or the inevitable -- and stupid -- attempt to make the signing of Rasheed Wallace the problem, because "like Randy Moss," he doesn't have the right "intangibles" for this team. Yes, he's just like Randy Moss, if you don't count the championships in Detroit of which he was an irreplaceable part.
(Point The First: the nice thing about arguing "intangibles" is that they are, well, not tangible. You can't identify them, or quantify them. Therefore, you don't really need to have evidence to support your argument. Scoreboard!)
(Point The Second: If Asante (Bill Hate Me) Samuel hangs onto to a gift interception, and Randy Moss thereby becomes the person who scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl that concluded a perfect Patriots season, is Moss still Satan's Spawn?)
No, it is not a good night when Jamal Crawford outscores your entire bench. It is not a good night when it ends with some idiot PA guy bellowing "Is is a rivalry now?" (Dear NBA -- please put some kind of a leash on your "game presentation." I swear, guys like that flipping maroon are going to turn me into Ryan.) And then there's Joe Johnson, who, in the words of Robert Parish, Most Definitely -- typed in basso profundo -- is going to get paid next summer. He's in that free-agent class with LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and he certainly would be a lovely parting gift for any team that loses out on one of the Grand Prizes.
Today's Assignment -- Chauncey Billups or Johnson, on whom did the Celtics give up too soon? (Answers containing the words "Ron Mercer" are not eligible.)
By the end, it wasn't really all about "athleticism." It was about making plays, which is only partly about athleticism, but which is mostly about remembering why each of you is on the floor. The Celtics looked hopeless on defense, and the offense seemed completely dedicated to getting Paul Pierce killed. With Garnett seemingly now nothing more than a gifted role player, the backcourt shot a combined 27 percent. By the end, Pierce was facing endless double-teams with no help in sight.
And now, the Lakers come to town, and I keep wondering who's going to be guarding Kobe down the stretch. Maybe I should just think about the Bruins.