There's only so much we can blame on the injury to Paul Pierce.
You can make the case that Pierce's absence hurt the Celtics against New York, especially when you look at the discrepancy between Carmelo Anthony and the immortal Sasha Pavlovic. The case could also be made for the Miami loss on Tuesday night as Sasha and Marquis Daniels had loads of trouble handling LeBron James in the first half and, once again, did very little offensively. The arguments are there and they're valid.
The blowout loss against the Hornets can't be blamed on a missing Pierce. It's much more than that.
It can be blamed on a lack of aggressiveness from everyone not named Greg Stiemsma. It can be blamed on terrible, horrific defense that somehow still plagues this team. It can be blamed on Kevin Garnett looking old, slow, unathletic and like a guy who wants to go to the rim, but is unable to and settles for perimeter jumpers. Everything that I said about KG (minus the perimeter jumpers part) can be labeled to Jermaine O'Neal as well. The training camp MVP, according to Doc Rivers, looked useless in the middle for the third straight game and has me on the verge of venting about the infamous trade last winter. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen had average nights, which pretty much means nothing when Pierce is out. It's been shown already that they need be, at the very least, spectacular in order to compensate for the Captain's absence.
As much as Pierce means to the Celtics, his presence wasn't going to make last night's situation any better. There was so much more wrong with that game. Maybe it was the back-to-back syndrome that has crushed this team for a few years now. Maybe it was expending all of that energy on Tuesday night trying to get back into the game against the Heat that zapped whatever they were trying to save for the Hornets. Or maybe, just maybe, this is the team that the Celtics have become and will be for the rest of the season.
We won't know the latter for a few more months, but the initial view is that they're a step behind everyone else. Nowhere is that more evident than on the defensive side of the ball. The Celtics have never had to resort to a zone defense under Doc. They've always had the communication and--more importantly--the ability to play where they were supposed to play, switch when needed to and contest every shot. I highly doubt that communication is the major issue with them now. They can't stick with guys the way they once could. KG and JO can't rotate quite as quickly. They can't get over to help like the old days. The lift is gone and so is the ability to seriously challenge shots. Ray, while a freak of nature physically, has never been an elite defender, but having an effective back line as a safety net made him look more effective.
This team isn't going 0-66 this season. They also aren't going on a 63-game winning streak the rest of the way. They can get this thing turned around and I expect them to. The schedule's been brutal to start off, but they'll be headed home for nine of their next 11 games and there's no better way to turn around a slump than taking on the Pistons at the Garden.
But this crew is old. It shows. It's clear as day. Heck, we're only three games into the season and it sticks out like a sore thumb. There are no answers for age and declining skills. The Celtics need to find a way to mask those deficiencies as well as they can. They still have a bunch of talent. It just isn't what it once was, meaning that they'll have to work extra hard to do what they once could.
Not the greatest recipe in a compressed season.