Celtics mailbag: Here we go again?

Nothing like an old-fashioned Celtics fourth-quarter meltdown to trigger bad memories of last season's up-and-down regular season for our faithful readers. All the optimism generated from Boston's season-opening triumph over the new-look Heat seemed to wash away with one (questionable?) 3-pointer by Anthony Parker that essentially sealed the Celtics' fate in Cleveland Wednesday night.

Maybe this postgame submission to the mailbag summed it up best.

Oh c'mon! We just got off the damn roller coaster and they're making us get right back on. I'm still nauseous from last year. Where can I get a nine-month supply of Dramamine? -- Dave (Mansfield, Mass.)

After enduring Boston's 27-27 finish to the 2009-10 season, it's understandable why some would feel a little green around the gills watching the Green stumble in Cleveland. If it's of any solace, Dave and everyone who sent similar sentiments, I do think these type of "oh c'mon" losses will be far less frequent this season. It's still somewhat concerning that this one had "trap game" written all over it, and Boston still got snagged in the net.

As we buckle in for another season of Celtics basketball, Dave in Mansfield isn't the only one fretting already.

Q: You are going to get this question a lot after the Cleveland game: Are we in for another regular season like last year? I don't have any gray hairs yet ... and I'd really like to keep it that way. -- Tom (Orange City, Iowa)

Let's talk some folks down from the ledge with the first Celtics Mailbag of the 2010-11 season. Click a link below to hop to a specific section:

Panic Switch | Suggestion Box
| The Departed | Best of the

Panic Switch

Q: Are the Celtics going to have problems with young, athletic teams again this year, like the Cavs, 76ers, Warriors, and Bucks? -- Dan (Wakefield, Mass.)

A: Given the Celtics' struggles against athletic teams at times last season, combined with Wednesday's loss in Cleveland, I understand the concern. But I'd also caution against getting too worked up too soon. Last night was a bit of the perfect storm: The Celtics were on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, coming off maybe the most high-intensity game they will play during the regular season. What's more, they were playing a team playing one of its most high-intensity games considering it was Cleveland's opening night and its first contest in the post-LeBron era. Sprinkle in the fact that Jermaine O'Neal remains woefully behind after missing time in the preseason, combined with the absence of Delonte West due to suspension, and I think there's reason to believe that this Celtics team won't fall into this trap too much moving forward.

Q: The Celtics were due for a letdown. They played well into the third quarter, but the problem for this team is their ability to score and, when they abandon the post game completely, it's like playing with fire. -- Tyler (South Bend, Ind.)

A: Couldn't agree more. I'm not concerned as much with the final outcome, those things happen in the NBA, but it's the reasons why Boston let the game slip away that concern me: 19 turnovers, abandoning the post game and fourth-quarter technicals -- just a lot of avoidable errors (and ones that plagued the team last season). Those are good lessons to learn this time of year. As long as Boston isn't making those mistakes in April, there isn't too much to worry about.

Q: I am concerned with the turnovers. Take away the turnovers and the Celtics win against Cleveland. Same thing vs. the Heat: Take away the turnovers and it's not close. By the way, KG looks great with 15 boards vs. Cavs. I don't worry about his shot, it will eventually fall. -- Jeslie (Buffalo, N.Y.)

A: I'm right there with you, Jeslie. Celtics coach Doc Rivers brought up a great point during the preseason: Boston was one of the most efficient offenses in the league last season. So why didn't the Celtics score a lot of points and blow more teams out? Because they gave away so many possessions, they weren't even giving themselves a chance to score points at times. When the Celtics value the ball, they are very tough to beat. When they don't, sometimes they give the game away in the process. And I share your enthusiasm on Garnett: 15 rebounds is more than double his average last season and shows he's regaining the timing he lacked for much of the 2009-10 campaign.

Q: In typical fashion, the C's get comfortable and/or overconfident and end up letting many teams back into games. Then they go into scramble mode and make poor decisions, take bad shots, and play "hero" ball. The 2008 champs never relented in games, or at least not in a predictable fashion. Does Doc address this? I'd hate to see more of this again this year. If they do I can only predict failure in the postseason. It's only two games but it looks like a continuation of last year. -- Dave (Santa Barbara, Calif.)

A: I know it's easy to be discouraged, but I'll reiterate, Wednesday was the perfect storm. I do agree that the Celtics built a double-digit lead and downshifted. That's when this team really needs its second unit to pounce. If Boston can get a team on the ropes, the reserves need to deliver the knockout blow, even if the starters have dropped a gear. That's something Boston's second unit last season could rarely deliver.

Suggestion Box

Q: A prediction: Big Baby will be the starting center for the Celtics soon and will keep the spot until Kendrick Perkins comes back. Am I wrong? -- Blake (Providence, R.I.)

A: I do think you're wrong, but I like where your head is at. Davis has been absolutely fantastic, but that almost makes him even more likely to stay on a second unit that had trouble scoring Wednesday (and, well, all of last season). I think Rivers has already found a really nice rotation with his bigs, getting six quality minutes out of Shaquille O'Neal to start, then rotating in Glen Davis for a bit, before rolling in the rest of the second unit. This way you're maximizing production out of both Shaq and Baby (who plays extremely well when sharing the floor with Garnett). What the Celtics really need most right now is simply for Jermaine O'Neal to shake off the rust and start chipping in offensively on that second unit.

Q: Can we just take the midlevel exception away from the Celtics moving forward? Can we make sure that's in the next CBA? -- Leroi (Los Angeles)

A: Let's give Jermaine O'Neal a little time before we toss him in the disappointment bin with Rasheed Wallace's regular-season play from last season. O'Neal gets the benefit of the doubt after injuries slowed his preseason and he's putting in extra time most days after practice trying to learn the offensive sets. On the positive side, you can see his potential to be a very good defensive-minded big man on the second unit, something Boston really lacked last season (at least in terms of a shot-blocker and rebounder). Plus, watching him and Davis compete for charges is fun.

The Departed

Q: Tony Allen's defensive presence off the bench will most certainly be missed this season. Who do you see filling this void for the C's? -- Chris (Delray Beach, Fla.)

A: It's somewhat amusing how much chatter the departure of Allen generated this offseason. If you check out the box score from his debut with the Grizzlies Wednesday night, you'll see TA went 0-for-6 from the field with no points, one rebound, one steal, one turnover, and four fouls over 11 minutes as the Grizzlies (8-0 in the preseason, mind you) fell to the Hawks, 119-104. Allen was also a frightening minus-17 in the plus/minus category (only Hasheem Thabeet was worse for the Grizzlies at minus-18). Now, I do think the Celtics will miss TA's defensive abilities at times, but Paul Pierce showed Tuesday that TA wasn't the only guy that could keep LeBron James in check. I think Marquis Daniels has the ability to be a very good defender and the Celtics aren't afraid to lean on him as a bit of a stopper off the bench.

Q: Shelden Williams: 8 points, 16 rebounds as a starter on opening night with the Denver Nuggets. Why can't we get guys like that? -- Tim (Charlottesville, Va.)

A: Williams actually put up some decent numbers in the preseason as well, helping him earn that starting role. To be fair, let's remember that he actually came out of the gates pretty strong in Boston, playing in place of injured Glen Davis, then faded into obscurity (well, except for that cringe-worthy Finals cameo). Considering he's out West, I think C's fans would love to see Williams finally put it together and maybe consistent playing time -- while sharing the floor with the starters -- is exactly what finally brings that first-round talent out of him (but we'd like to see it over a prolonged stretch of time before anyone laments his departure).

Q: Who is going to be this year's Shelden Williams? I'll set the odds: Semih Erden is 2-1, Luke Harangody is 4-1, and Jermaine ONeal is 8-1. -- Myles (Saugus, Mass.)

A: I'm assuming "this year's Shelden Willams" carries a largely negative connotation in this question, but we'll try to play nice and assume it means someone who can fill in serviceably, even if he disappears to the end of the rotation when the games matter most. In that case, let's say Erden. He'll get his chances when the O'Neals inevitably miss games due to injury and he'll probably have some quality nights. In the end, this whole season is going to be a learning experience for Erden, and he'll develop more from battling the likes of the O'Neals, Garnett and Davis in practice.

Best of the Rest

Q: What happens to the money that players pay for fines? Does it go to pad the league's coffers? With the supposed financial struggles of the NBA, is upping the fine for technical fouls and making it easier for players to pick up technical fouls David Stern's way of helping the league's supposed financial troubles? -- Lily (Boston)

A: League fines and money deducted for suspensions is typically split between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, then donated to each organization's charities of choice. So if the increased technical fouls are watering down the NBA product, at least they're helping some needy folks in the process.

Q: What happened to Rondo's headband? Why was it missing in action in the opener? Inquiring minds want to know! -- Paul (Sherman Oaks, Calif.)

A: Hop HERE for the details.
Long story short: The NBA modified its uniform rules this season and players can't wear their headbands upside-down, which is something Rondo has done in recent seasons. Informed he'd be fined for that moving forward, it appears he has decided to simply go naked above the eyebrows.

Q: Should we expect to see Shaq get more minutes throughout the year or is this the amount of play we will be seeing from the big sham? -- Dave (Portsmouth, N.H.)

A: I think 20 minutes is the target. You get maybe the first six minutes of each half, then mix and match eight more minutes the rest of the night (the majority coming in the second quarter). His free throw woes do limit how much you can have him on the floor in the fourth quarter of close games, but I still think he's already proved to be maybe even better than most expected at age 38.

Q: What happened to Cliff Ray? Seemed like everyone liked him, so why wasn't he brought back? -- Sean (Hudson, Mass.)

A: Not sure we'll ever get the full story, but one thing Rivers pointed out is that every time he brings in a new assistant, he tries to bring in another familiar face to ease the transition. In this case, new big man coach Roy Rogers worked with Lawrence Frank in New Jersey (previously, assistants Mike Longabardi and Tom Thibodeau worked together in Houston). Rivers did suggest that he hoped to work with Ray again in the future.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.