"Chaos." That was the word Rajon Rondo used on Friday night after a soul-crushing loss to the 76ers to describe the Celtics whenever Kevin Garnett is off the court. Some 24 hours later, the C's were celebrating their most impressive performance of the season, a 96-92 win in Milwaukee, highlighted by a fourth quarter tour de force from the much-maligned Jeff Green.
Barely two weeks into the season, all the attention has been on the Lakers for obvious reasons, but their ancient rivals have been almost as disappointing. If not for a pair of games against the Wizards -- games they almost gave away -- the Celtics' problems would have looked a lot worse. The defense has been suspect, the offense has been inconsistent and Green and Courtney Lee in particular have struggled noticeably.
This was not a good week for Green, who was benched on Wednesday after blowing a defensive assignment and was called out by both Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge during separate radio interviews. He left the Garden on Friday visibly frustrated and was on his way to another somnambulant performance on Saturday before suddenly morphing into a force on both ends of the court, scoring eight of his 12 points in the final quarter and unleashing an out-of-nowhere blocked shot and a key steal late in the game.
The Celtics desperately needed the lift because once again they have a big problem on their hands. With Garnett on the court, the C's were scoring 2.8 points more than their opponents heading into Saturday's game, and without him they were a staggering -15.5 in only 93 minutes. It's not hard to pinpoint where the issue lies either.
It's all on the defensive end where the Garnett-less Celtics are allowing teams to shoot almost 53 percent and are surrendering a staggering 112.5 points per 100 possessions. Opponents are going to town inside when KG is on the bench, making almost 74 percent of their shots inside of five feet.
The Celtics have tried to get away with playing undersized fours Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Green together in combinations during the 18 or so minutes when Garnett rests each night. Those lineups have been getting crushed on the defensive end, which reveals the fundamental flaw in Ainge's grand design. All three of those players need Garnett next to them to cover for their defensive weaknesses, but there's only so much KG to go around.
Where can Rivers go from here? There aren't many options. He hasn't used Darko Milicic much and for good reason as Darko has been dreadful. Jason Collins hasn't seen the court yet and Fab Melo isn't likely to see it much either, unless it's in a D-League arena. That leaves Chris Wilcox, just seven months removed from heart surgery, to pick up the slack. Wilcox has been fine in limited minutes, but asking him to run the defense is probably asking too much.
As Rondo noted on Friday, "Kevin does a great job of talking. Just follow the leader. It's not as hard as it seems. It's just a matter of some guys don't talk. And for us to win, I think guys have to come out of their comfort zone and do something they're not comfortable with."
The good news is there is still ample time to get things straightened out. Anyone giving up on the Celtics after two weeks would be wise to examine their track record over the last half-decade. It may also be tempting to put this on their age, but the old guys have been their best players so far. As long as Garnett, Rondo and Paul Pierce are playing at a high level, they still have a chance, but things could get dicey if they have to ride those three all the way to April.
That's why Green's play was so important against the Bucks. Rivers also shook up his lineup, moving Bass back into the starting lineup and starting Jason Terry ahead of Lee. He's still searching for the right combinations, but unless he can figure out the KG conundrum, it could be a long regular season.
The trouble with injury timelines
John Wall is recovering from what's been termed a "non-traumatic stress injury" to his left knee. It doesn't require surgery, which is great news, and the original timeframe when it was diagnosed in late September was given as eight weeks. Wall had an MRI recently and the results were promising. It's looking like he's close to a return, but Wall is playing it close to the vest.
"No target at all," Wall said earlier this week.
This is a smart, rational approach and ultimately a good thing for the Wizards franchise. Too many times players have been held hostage to the vagaries of an artificial timeline and teams would do well to avoid them completely.
It's a natural first question the press always asks when someone is hurt: how long will Player X be out? Instead of simply saying, "We don't know," they assign a nebulous construct that sounds fine in September, but starts to become a real tangible thing whenever those eight weeks or so come into focus.
"I learned that my first year listening to my body and not my heart because I came back injured," Wall said. "I still played OK, but I didn't play like I wanted to. I'm going to take my time this time."
This is a huge season for Wall, who has been underwhelming in his first two years in the league. But if he's going to reach his potential, he needs to be healthy.
Meanwhile, there's a lingering sense of unease that hovers around the 76ers while they wait for Andrew Bynum to return. The team originally said it would take three weeks to deal with a bone bruise, but three weeks has become six and now there is no timeline. Indeed, there was a reluctance to even mention his name when they traveled through Boston on Friday.
"I don't think you'll ever know who you are with that group," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "You've got to figure out who you are with this group."
What the Sixers are at the moment is anyone's guess. They have an improving young point guard in Jrue Holiday, in whom they recently invested a four-year extension. There's Evan Turner, who is still an enigma, and a useful player in Thaddeus Young. That's an OK nucleus, but they were obviously built with a game-changing center in mind.
"It could be a blessing in disguise," GM Tony DiLeo said. "They go out and find their games and play at a certain level, and then when Andrew comes it just raises us to another level."
Still, DiLeo acknowledged the obvious. "We're all waiting to see how it all fits together," he said. "We just have to wait until he's healthy and then we'll see."
Bone bruises are notoriously difficult to treat. There's nothing Bynum can do until the pain goes away and then once it does, he'll have to get himself back into game condition.
"It's the nature of the injury," DiLeo said. "It has to be to the point where it's pain free and once it's pain free then he can do basketball activities on the court. It's just monitoring him and seeing how he feels. Once he gets to that point that will be it, but it's hard to predict with bone bruises until they fully heal."
Because of his injury history and the expectations that are riding on Bynum, this has become a very big deal in Philadelphia. No matter how frustrating the process turns out to be, the Sixers were smart to reverse course and remove the timeline and let Bynum heal.
One needs to only look at the Warriors and Andrew Bogut for a lesson. They tried to bring him back slowly after he underwent ankle surgery last season by limiting his minutes and resting him on back-to-backs. Now the Warriors are shutting Bogut down for at least a week. Injuries are the most frustrating part of the game, but managing them properly is vital.
Perspective on Mike Brown
Not surprisingly, coaches around the league were quick to come to the defense of Mike Brown after he was fired just five games into the season.
"He beat my record," said Doc Rivers, who was axed 11 games into his final season in Orlando. "Obviously I think it's awful. I thought mine was awful too, by the way. Five games into a season, that's hard to believe."
Given a moment to reflect on his experience, Rivers acknowledged, "I was kind of relieved. I felt like it was coming eventually. It was only talked about every day."
That's the thing. If it hadn't reached a point of no return in Los Angeles, it was getting closer by the day. Whether it was Kobe's death stare or the howling from the fanbase, this was a move that had to happen.
Do the Lakers look ridiculous? Absolutely. See Ziller's evisceration. However, the worst mistakes are the ones you don't fix. Many have rightly pointed out that the offense wasn't the problem, but whether Brown was fired for the right reasons doesn't really matter. He didn't appear to have the support of his players and he certainly didn't have the full backing of management. That's a toxic situation that would only get worse with time.
"All of us, we make a lot of money and the players are making a lot of money. That means there's more pressure," Rivers said. "We have to accept it. If you don't perform, it's easier to move one. That's just the way this life is."
I was all set to jump on the Timberwolves bandwagon before they ran into Tom Thibdoeau's buzzsaw on Saturday. Still, there may not be a more surprising team in the league than Rick Adelman's crew in Minnesota, who are 4-2 and doing it without Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio. Adelman's team has benefited from a soft early schedule, but there's a lot to like about their start.
He's used a 10-man rotation with seven players averaging more than 20 minutes a night and only one -- Andre Kirilenko -- averaging more than 31 per game. The shots have been distributed as evenly as the minutes with five players averaging double figures in points. They've been solid defensively and good enough on offense to weather the injuries. Just think: If Adelman had got the Lakers job, things would have been a whole lot quieter.
Best stat line of the week goes to Kemba Walker with 26 points, six rebounds, seven assists and eight steals against the Mavericks on Saturday night. Worst stat line of the week goes to the Pistons. All of them.
And for the highlight of the week, let's all nod silently as Andre stuffs Derrick Favors at the rim.