Celtics Toughness in Question After 8th Round TKO

There is good news and bad news. The good news is I don’t think I will be stuck wearing this playoff beard as long as I once thought. The bad news, however, is the Celtics got punched in the mouth last night and now look to be running a deficit in the “toughness” account.

Losing is one thing. After all, picking up playoff wins at Staples Arena is about as easy as picking up a hot MILF at a Staples Office Center. So I am not going to bemoan the loss or the fact that the final margin was a very healthy thirteen points. But what is discouraging is the way the Celts lost as they got mauled and finished off by the end of the eighth round.

The Celtics simply got outworked and outplayed as the Lakes dominated the glass, got three-quarters of the loose balls and played excellent defense. For all we heard about the Big Bad Celtics, it was the Lakers who flashed the grit and power last night. And it wasn’t like Gasol, Artest, and Bynum were content to just hold their own. Instead, they exposed weaknesses in Boston’s front line and scored a decisive victory in the paint. As such, I think it’s now clear that the Celts are not in the ring with the same fighter that they pushed around two years ago.

Now I expect the Celtics to respond with a bigger and better effort Sunday but the real question I have this morning is the following: are the Lakers better at being the Celtics than the Celtics are? In other words, are the Lakers really the ones who can throw the punch? At this point, given what we saw last night, I think the answer to this question is a jump ball and the fact that it’s now an open-ended question does not bode well for the Celts. Because in order to win this series, the Celts had to be the tougher team by a wide margin and at this point, I am not sure that is in the cards.

So is it time to throw in the towel? I wouldn’t go that far. First off, I want to see what happens with Ray Allen in the game. His foul trouble was devastating as the Celts just couldn’t get enough offense on the floor while he sat. If his presence doesn’t make a difference in game two, then the Celts are clearly in trouble. Second, I want to see whether last night was just an anomaly for KG, who had a miserable game, particularly on defense where he got worked over by Gasol. And three, I want to see if the Celts, with their backs to the wall, can stiffen their perimeter defense. Too many times last night the Lakers had success with dribble penetration and if that can be stopped in game two, we might see a different outcome.

There are some adjustments I would make in game two – more Sheed and more high screens for PP – but really, it will come down whether Boston can bring a bigger effort and whether that will even make a difference. Because the big question right now is whether the Celtics are really the tougher team?  If they can’t answer that question in game two with a “resounding yes,” then it looks like my beard will soon become eligible for retirement.

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