He was the catch for the Celtics last summer. When Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers reeled in free agent Mark Blount, against all odds, it looked like a win-win. Blount finally got his big contract and security. The Celtics kept their center and a defensive presence in the middle for this year and several more to come.
So why does Blount look out of sorts? It's not because of playing time; he's started every game and is averaging a career-high 30.1 minutes a game. It can't be the money; $4.9 million goes a long way in everyone's world except Latrell Sprewell's. It's nothing he wants to articulate or is even sure he can articulate. But all you have to do is mention one word -- defense -- and Blount lets you know he is not happy with what he's seeing or doing.
"If I wasn't a guy who could play defense, or hadn't made his reputation playing defense, that'd be one thing," he said following the Celtics' Monday night victory over the Hornets. "But that is what I know. That's my game. That's why I'm here."
Blount worshipped at the Jim O'Brien defense-over-all altar. Ainge's remaking of the Celtics has resulted in a different kind of team, one that is fun to watch, runs a lot, scores a lot, has some intriguing, athletic newcomers, and generally plays porous defense. Through Monday's games, only one team, Orlando, was allowing more points than the Celtics, and Boston was 18th in defensive field goal percentage. Those two stats would have been unthinkable for an O'Brien team.
As Blount sees it, there's not enough communication on the defensive end. That's not exactly a bulletin, but with the season already 31 games old, Blount thinks things should have clicked by now.
"We've got to get better cohesiveness out there," he said. "I feel at times we know what we're doing and then there are times where we're just standing. We've got to play team defense. That's it. That's the only thing I know."
He continued, referring to himself: "I know a guy who was able to get on the floor in the last couple of years, early on in his career, [because of his] defense. That's all I'm going to be able to tell you. We've got to be able to play team defense, every night."
Until Monday's 108-90 victory over the NBDL Hornets, the Celtics had allowed 100 points or more in 11 consecutive games, 16 times in the last 19 games, and 20 times in the first 31 games. Last year, the Celtics allowed 100 or more points in 34 games, 14 of which occurred when O'Brien was coach. In 2002-03, the Celtics allowed 100 points or more in 26 games and only 21 times in 2001-02, the year they won 49 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
As for his own game, Blount describes 2004-05 as "a lot of ups and downs." Statistically, his rebounding is down (from 7.2 to 6.0) and he has managed 10 or more rebounds in only two games. Both Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce average more rebounds per game. Blount's scoring is up a shade (11.2 from 10.3). He still remains a reliable shooter (52 percent, good for eighth in the NBA through Monday), but there have been too many head-scratchers, like his 20-minute, 6-point, 2-rebound submission last Sunday against the Pistons.
"I feel like, one minute I can do some stuff out there and I'm waiting to get set up," he said. "Then I'm not involved. I'm not a guy that needs to have the ball. But I felt like, early on, I was doing OK. I guess other basketball people didn't see it that way." . . .
Gary Payton said after Monday's game that he "most likely" would play tonight against Golden State. He has sat out successive games because of injuries only once in his career . . . Doc Rivers used his fourth starting lineup Monday, with Marcus Banks getting the nod over the hors de combat Payton. If Payton does go tonight, it will be the 23d game for what is now the regular starting five (Payton, Blount, Pierce, LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch). The Celtics are 9-13 with that quintet . . . The Warriors may be without Jason Richardson, who has missed two games with a sprained left ankle. Not coincidentally, the Warriors lost both after putting together a season-best four-game winning streak. Richardson is listed as day-to-day, as is Mickael Pietrus, who has a sprained right ankle. Pietrus missed Monday's loss to Philadelphia . . . Adonal Foyle recently passed Joe Barry Carroll for the top spot on the Warriors' all-time shot-blocking list. That's the hoop equivalent of Madonna passing Mariah Carey on the best actress list . . . Dale Davis appears to be residing in new coach Mike Montgomery's caseta de perro. He has not played since Dec. 20, registering six straight DNPs; he has 11 DNPs this season . . . Tonight's game is the first of a four-game swing for the Warriors against the real tin of the East. In addition to the Celtics, Golden State faces the Nets, Raptors, and Bulls.