By MyFM's Jake Archer - The Boston Celtics are in a rut. This past weekend was supposed to be entertaining and fun both on and off the court as they faced two of the East's toughest teams and retired the number of a Celtics legend, Paul Pierce. Instead, the games stunk and the ceremony had a small tinge of awkwardness to it. Now the C's are getting questioned across the country and I'd say this is the low point of the season, with the exception of Gordon Hayward's awful injury.
Boston came into Friday night having won six of their last eight and they were returning home. Despite the wins, they had played some pretty sloppy basketball of late and they needed to crank it back up a notch if they hoped to continue to stay on top of the conference standings. Instead, they rolled into the matchup with the Indiana Pacers with absolutely no sense of urgency. The Pacers jumped on them out of the gate as they led 30-16 after one quarter and 59-38 at the half.
The Celtics finally decided to play in the third quarter and they dug out of what was once a 26-point hole to take the lead late in the fourth on an Al Horford three. Indian's Victor Oladipo would grab a basket to take the lead back and Kyrie Irving went to the free throw line to drill two shots and pull the lead once more in Boston's favor. After that, the Pacers took over and ran away with the 97-91 victory down the stretch. Despite fighting back, the Celtics just couldn't shoot the ball well enough and seemed lost at times. They were booed by the home fans early and the excuse of playing in an overtime game the night before was not going to be heard. Sure, Indiana had a game postponed on Wednesday night to give them two days off and keep them well-rested, but you can't blame the schedule as a professional.
Indiana hadn't beat Boston since March of 2016 and they were happy to finally get that win. Oladipo led the way for them with 35 points, ten rebounds, two assists and five steals. He has really flourished in his first year with the Pacers and has shown why he is deserving of an All Star nod. Other key contributors were center Myles Turner, and forwards Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic. Boston had Irving, Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier all in double figures.
After a day off on Saturday, the Celtics were set for a big time matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. It would be the nationally televised matinee and if there was a game that you knew the Celtics had to get up for, it was this one. Celtics fans, and really NBA fans, had been talking all year about how the C's were for real and ready to knock off the Cavs in the East. This was gut-check time. The Cavs had a bunch of new players playing in their first game with the team and they were in flux. At home, on Paul Pierce jersey retirement day, I was honestly looking for a blowout.
We got the blowout. It just was on the wrong end. The Cavaliers came in a served the Celtics a healthy dose of humble pie as they pretty much embarrassed them and ruined what should have been an awesome Sunday in Boston. Early on, it looked like this was going to play out in a fun fashion as the Garden crowd was hyped up and the playoff atmosphere was in full effect. Ticket prices had been astronomical (I know because I'd been looking at them for months and wasn't willing to spend $400 bucks on nosebleeds) and the whole thing was just a big time event. Former Celtics and current Clippers coach Doc Rivers was watching courtside along Celtics legend Kevin Garnett and former Celtic and current Pelican Rajon Rondo. Pierce was being honored at every turn. The stars were out, but the Celtics couldn't show up themselves.
In the first quarter, with the arena jumping, Kyrie and company stayed with the Cavs. There was even a moment when Irving crossed up James one-on-one and drilled a step-back jumper in his face. I was excited for a fun afternoon of basketball as Boston took a 32-31 lead into the second quarter. From there on out though, things got ugly. LeBron shook off an apparent knee injury where he had acted like he got shot because that's what he does, to put on one of those patented "I'm going to rip your heart out" shows. James dropped 24 while pulling down eight rebounds and tallying ten assists, one steal and one block. He sat on the bench for much of the second half and was shown time and time again just basically laughing in Boston's face. It was disgusting, to say the least.
But you know what? That is why you don't schedule some feel good ceremony on the day that you are going against the best player on the planet, and you certainly don't schedule it for after the game as the Celtics did. It just got awkward as most people tuned out and I'm sure many in the stands wanted to leave but couldn't. I honestly just stared at my phone for most of the second half because there was no saving anything. Brad Stevens seemed to punish his starters a bit by keeping them on the bench late as well. What a debacle.
The effort just wasn't there from any of the C's yesterday (besides Terry Rozier who just refuses to go quietly and put up 21, 9 and 5) and I honestly think you could've replaced them with Pierce, KG and Rondo in street clothes and gotten some better play. So now, Boston has lost two in a row and sits at 48-18 which has them a half game back of Toronto in the East. They are only five and a half games ahead of Cleveland as well. The really alarming part is that they have now fallen behind by more than 20 points in three of their last four games. That's an awful trend which needs to be changed immediatley.
Cleveland also looks so much more cohesive and got good contributions from newcomers George Hill and Jordan Clarkson. If they start to make a run, watch out. The pundits have now flipped back to saying that the Cavs are the best, which of course is ridiculous because just before this game they were teetering on the edge of doom. This definetley served as a warning shot to Boston however, and they'll need to up their game and get back on track to host the Clippers on Valentine's Day.
This has run a bit long, which I knew it would when trying to cover two pretty infuriating games, but I have to touch on Paul Pierce. The ceremony was awesome despite the loss and seeing the man they call "The Truth" get 34 up into the rafters was really special. Being in my 20's, I grew up with him as my favorite basketball player. He still is. Pierce goes alongside David Ortiz and Tom Brady for me in terms of importance and he deserved every minute of celebration yesterday. There is really so much you could say about him and so many great memories I have from him. I could probably write a whole other article, but I'll just stick with saying that he is a legend and I'm very happy he's been immortalized in Celtics lore.