Alexa

Celtics on fire but still have flaws

Somewhere Dickey Simpkins is lighting a cigar. It looks like the Chicago Bulls' record of 72 wins is safe for another season.
That seemed clear Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics' record fell to 20-3 with their first home loss of the season, 87-85 to the Detroit Pistons after a thrilling finish.
What that first so-called Big Game for the Celtics' New Big Three showed is that the Eastern Conference remains an open question.
Not because the Celtics lost in the last second, but for the way they fumbled away the last few minutes.
It hardly suggests the Celtics are in any trouble because their trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce is formidable, the coaching staff continues to push them in the right direction and they have the look of 60-game winner. And perhaps if Tony Allen doesn't fall for Chauncey Billups' pump fake and foul him with a tenth of a second left, there's overtime, the Celtics win and it's all viewed as more Boston domination.
But a closer look at the ending sequences showed some flaws in the Celtics' makeup that have been obscured by the brilliant play of Garnett and a relatively soft schedule lacking road games in the Western Conference and multiple back-to-backs.
The Pistons are not a great rebounding team, and the Celtics had an overall rebounding edge. But in key sequences down the stretch the Pistons took advantage of their size advantage up front with Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince and picked up second and third chances.
Also, it seems that Pierce remains an issue, much as it is in New Jersey, where coach Lawrence Frank continues to go to Vince Carter late in games even though Carter has a poor record in such situations. The sense you get watching the Celtics is they fear losing Pierce if he doesn't get his shots.
Ray Allen was having a terrific shooting game and had just hit a tough three-pointer. Kevin Garnett was abusing Rasheed Wallace all over the court. Yet, coming out of a timeout with 5.1 seconds left, the Celtics went to Pierce even though he was 5-for-15 at the time and Garnett and Ray Allen were a combined 18-for-28.
Pierce missed, which anyone can. But he should not have been the first option and even the TV commentators noted it.
The game shined a light on some other potential Celtics issues, such as the inexperience and uncertainty of point guard Rajon Rondo, especially late in games, the absence of a true finisher and the overall lack of size, with Kendrick Perkins no real match for quality big men.
About 20 years ago it was Detroit trying to go through Boston to get out of the East. One question about these Celtics, the story of the 2007-08 season thus far, is the lack of championship experience, with no one but Posey having been in the NBA Finals.
There's plenty of time to learn how to react in those situations, though the Celtics failed the first test.