Paul Pierce Rips His Boston Celtics: Our Team Lacks Mental Toughness

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

Jan. 7, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) gestures to calm down against the New York Knicks during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Boston won 102-96. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

They don't call Paul Pierce "The Truth" for no reason.

Prior to the Boston Celtics'  loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Pierce spoke (via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe) nothing but "The Truth" about his team:

I think that’s the one thing this team lacks, that mental toughness, man. When we lose our confidence, I’ve never been on teams like that. We got to stay together, we got to play with confidence.

Yeah, definitely, it hurts me to say that. It’s like I really sometimes don’t believe it.

Undoubtedly, it "hurts" Pierce to admit it, but he has to.

Boston was supposed to contend for titles, not fight, and ultimately fail, to stay above .500. The Celtics were supposed to be a much-improved offensive team, not rank 27th in points scored per 100 possessions. Halfway through the season, they weren't supposed to have lost three or more consecutive games on three separate occasions.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. But it is.

On the heels of coach Doc Rivers asserting Boston wants the "easy way out" and then threatening to make changes, something needed to be said—by the players themselves.

And Pierce said plenty:

Everything revolves around playing hard consistently.

We got a system in place and a game plan in place, and then we look at the film and we aren’t always following it.

We don’t have the discipline night in and night out, the consistency to maintain a game plan and play hard night in and night out.

That’s been our problem all year long and that’s why you are going to see us go up and down until we are able to maintain that, have the discipline to play hard every night.”

The Celtics were in need of an unfiltered reality check, and Pierce provided it. A six-game winning streak all but proved Boston was capable of contending for a title, yet their teetering efforts still say otherwise.

During that winning streak, the Celtics didn't let up 100 points. Not once. In their past four games (all losses), they've done so twice. More troubling is those points were totaled by two bottom-half ranked offenses in the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.

For a team whose success is predicated upon strong defensive sets, such lapses aren't a happenstance—they're the result of a deficient effort.

Boston isn't playing like a cohesive unit. At all. It's dependent upon the efforts of a few to carry the many, and it shows.

On offense, Rajon Rondo is easily considered this convocation's end-all. He leads the league in assists per game with 11.1 and is one of the most unselfish floor generals there is. Yet he can't assist in putting points on the board if no one aside from Kevin Garnett and Pierce is scoring.

In fact, with Rondo on the floor, the Celtics are scoring just 101.3 points per 100 possessions, compared to 103.9 with him off. Last season, the team posted 104.4 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor and a beggarly 96.7 with him off.

That's not just cause for concern, it's cause for the team to look within themselves and attempt to understand why one of the best point guards in the league can't positively impact their offense.

The same goes for defense.

Garnett has proven to be Boston's defensive cure-all. With him on the floor, the Celtics are allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions, which would give them the third-best mark in the league. Once he steps off, however, that number skyrockets to 108.6, which would stand as the fifth-worst mark in the league.

It's never acceptable to depend solely on the defensive efforts of one individual (see the Los Angeles Lakers), but given Garnett can barely log 30 minutes a game, it's even more disturbing on the Celtics' behalf.

So of course something needs to change, and it's not necessarily the personnel, but rather, their attitudes.

Why are Rondo, Pierce and Garnett the only ones owning up to the failures of this team? I get that they're the core and must be held responsible, but they're not the problem. Their supporting cast is.
Rondo needs to shoot more, but he shouldn't be questioning his abilities as a player and a teammate. Not on his own. And Garnett, the one who is responsible for the Celtics laying claim to a top-six defensive rating, shouldn't be questioning his, either.

But there good ole' Kevin was after Boston's loss to Cleveland, demanding (via A. Sherrod Blakely of more from himself and no one else:

For Garnett, those soul-searching moments have yet to reveal the solution that he's so desperately seeking to discover.

"I don't know man; I don't know man. I want it so bad. I have to find a balance. Some of the things I messed up on tonight, that's not me.

"I have to be better. I have to do better. I have to be more effective for 48 minutes, regardless.

"You can find yourself wanting this a lot to the point where you mess up and make mistakes. It's a human game. You gonna make mistakes. I just have to be better, period. No excuses. No (bleep). I have to be better, period."

Are you kidding me?

Garnett has had his fair share of struggles this season, but these comments followed a performance in which he had 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and a season-high five blocks in just 31 minutes. Still, the Celtics were a minus-three with him on the floor against the Cavaliers.

I repeat: Are you kidding me?

Admittedly, he had some poor defensive sets. Just ask Tristan Thompson. But to conclude that Garnett needs to do more is beyond absurd. Have we (and has he) forgotten he's 36? Since when is it sufficient to rely on an aging stars to bear overwhelming burdens?
It's not, and you can ask the Lakers that as well.

Boston's misfortunes are not ones that can be attributed to just Rondo, Garnett or even Pierce. They're on everyone, yet not everyone possesses the same kind of urgency as this year's version of the Boston Three Party.

I didn't see Jeff Green demanding more of himself after scoring just five points in 21 minutes against the Cavs. Nor did I see Courtney Lee (nine points), Jason Terry (four points) or Brandon Bass (eight points) concede as much, either.

And that must change.

Nights like the ones in Cleveland and Detroit—and even against the New Orleans Hornets—have become all too familiar for the Celtics. From start to finish, the importance of what's at stake never seems to resonate with the collective. Nonexistent defensive rotations, flat jump shots, lazy passes—you name it, Boston is plagued is by it.

Are they afflicted beyond repair?

Obviously not, but that's the problem.

We know that Boston is capable of more. We've seen as much this season. But we've also borne witness to the Celtics' lethargy and seeming indifference.

Which at this point means more than their six-game winning streak ever could.


*Stats in this article are accurate as of January 22, 2013.


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