MIAMI — If they learned nothing from the first 48 minutes of their season, the Boston Celtics know they’re going to need a little more time to become the team that intends to challenge the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The crew that showed up here last night at AmericanAirlines Arena, however, barely resembled the Celtics team that scrapped with the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last season.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo showed up. But something was clearly missing, at least until the final seconds when Rondo earned a Flagrant foul for a “clothesline” (if that’s what you’d call it) of Dwyane Wade. That was as close to the physical pounding we’re used to seeing these Celtics put on their opponents, win or lose.
Then again, these aren’t exactly the same Celtics we’re all used to. Garnett, Pierce and Rondo are just three of the five holdovers from last season’s team. The rest of that new-look locker room was getting its first real taste of the rivalry that will continue to set the pace in the East. And it showed.
Tuesday night’s 120-107 loss was a role reversal for the Celtics, one that Doc Rivers didn’t necessarily see coming.
“I thought they were the aggressor the whole game,” he said. “They got on the floor where they wanted to get, they took us out of the stuff they wanted to, you can see they played together longer than us and their continuity was good. We made plays on offense, but it wasn’t good offense. I didn’t think we had good continuity at all and that hurt us down on the other end.”
All of the advantages the Celtics had enjoyed for years against the Heat (and other members of the league’s elite) were turned against them, and that includes being the physical aggressor from start to finish and having the always-dangerous Ray Allen attacking from all angles.
That said, there was (and is) clearly a level of trust missing among these Celtics. You don’t revamp your locker room the way the Celtics did and not need a little time to adjust. Veterans Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Jason Terry and rookie Jared Sullinger will all need time to adjust to the Celtics’ style — in particular playing off of Rondo, who controls the action in ways that defy typical point guard play.
And the inability to slow down the Heat is something that certainly didn’t sit well with Pierce, who was brutally honest in his assessment of his team’s performance.
“We had defensive struggles. That’s not who we are,” he said. “We’re not going to be a team that gives up 120 points. We have to establish our identity and who we are going to be. We’re going to be a defensive team, we’re going to stop teams from scoring and we’re going to keep them out of transition. We have to be the enforcer out there, and [Tuesday night] we were pretty much on our heels.”
But even Pierce realizes that with all of the change it’s going to take time to become the team he spoke of, more time than the Celtics might imagined, but time that is no doubt needed.
“We got a lot of new guys that are trying to understand the philosophy defensively,” he said. “We had a lot of breakdowns. Our defensive is all about communicating and talking. We’ll get it together. [Tuesday night] was a good measuring stick for us. We played against a team that is the best team in the NBA … we’ve got a lot of work to do.”