BOSTON -- We're two games into the season. The Boston Celtics are exactly where they were a year ago -- 0-2 -- and yet the feeling couldn't be more different.
A year ago they were wounded and had had two tough road games. They at least competed.
They embarrassed themselves Friday night. There's no other way to put it after the 99-88 submission to the Milwaukee Bucks. Doc Rivers can talk about a lack of urgency and Kevin Garnett can talk about hyenas, but the bottom line is the Celtics just weren't engaged in this one.
They were down by 16 at halftime and never got closer than 13 in the second half. They almost allowed a second straight opponent to score 100 points against them. Jason Terry, who guaranteed they'd "come out fighting" at Washington on Saturday, didn't score until midway through the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce had three field goals and four turnovers. Kevin Garnett had four rebounds, one fewer than Milwaukee point guard Beno Udrih, who played four fewer minutes.
There were 18 turnovers, many of them simply the result of sheer sloppiness. There was a 10-rebound disparity on the boards. (OK, that does not constitute a news bulletin.) Brandon Jennings dominated Rajon Rondo and had six steals to go along with 21 points and 13 assists. Had Marquis Daniels not played like a Celtics mole (0-for-5) it might have been even worse.
It made for quite an ugly TD Garden debut for a team widely expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown. It was especially disconcerting given that the Celtics had been smacked in Miami three nights earlier.
"I don't see the urgency yet," Rivers said. "At times I think we show up, and because we've got a lot of players, that would mean we [think we should] win. When you make this many changes, I think our guys have to understand you have to invest into the team to become a team. I don't think we've done that yet. I think we will. Their spirit is right. We've got to get the minds right."
After the game, Garnett went into Wild Kingdom mode to outline what he thought the team needed. As relayed by Courtney Lee, Garnett said the team needed to be like a "pack of hyenas, stalking its prey, circling around it, waiting for it to be at its weakest point and then moving in for the kill, all at once, together.
"Then," Lee continued, "they get to eat the prey together. It's all about acting together for the benefit of the team."
Garnett, when asked about his comments, said, "Running in packs means that we help each other. Since I've been here, we've built the code on what these great organizations have been built on -- and that's history. And that's gained not by individual, but team."
OK, it's not quite Ubuntu, the all-for-one, one-for-all concept Rivers introduced before the start of the 2007-08 season. But it's probably only a matter of time before we start seeing T-shirts with Celtics in hyena attire gathered around a blissfully unaware LeBron James, ready to pounce.
Garnett, who has had two underwhelming performances in the first two games, said he wanted to let the "new guys" know what it means to wear a Celtics jersey.
"I won't go into that -- it's none of y'all business," he said. "But I had to reiterate it [after the game]. I thought [it] was the perfect night to do that."
Maybe he should have said something before the game?
But how was he to know his team would come out flat, just as it had come out flat five months earlier in the potential series-clinching game against Miami? Like everyone else, he looks at a roster that is two-deep at every position and should be crushing clubs like the Bucks. Instead, he got outplayed Friday by Larry Sanders and outrebounded by Udrih.
As Terry noted, "Getting beat is one thing, but getting outworked? That's unacceptable."
Having said all that, it's not even worth losing a REM cycle over this team right now. It's already a strange season. The Lakers are 0-3 and Kobe Bryant is telling lotusland and worrywarts to "shut up" while the Lakers work to integrate a new offense. The supposedly invincible Heat got hammered in New York by the Amar'e Stoudemire-less Knicks. James Harden has morphed into George Gervin.
The Celtics might be deep at every position, but Rivers has one new starter and an entire new bench. Lee is playing with four unfamiliar fellows in the starting rotation. Every single reserve who played against the Bucks was either somewhere else last season, hurt or, in the case of Chris Wilcox, here for a nanosecond. Two were in college.
Growing pains are inevitable. The real Celtics fans know this and understand it might take time for this group to come together. What they can't accept, nor should they be asked to accept, is the kind of half-baked effort they saw against the Bucks.
The Celtics might look good on paper. They do look good on paper. But, right now, that's the only place they've looked good.