The Boston Celtics are the best mediocre team in the NBA. Certainly they don’t intend to hold that distinction come season’s end but right now that’s about the best they can muster. It’s hard to fathom how this team can lose by 20 to the Pistons and beat the Thunder a few nights later. The Celtics hope to be, and still have time to become an elite team in the league but they have had an inconsistent start given all the promise their roster showed on paper entering the season.
This isn’t another “the Celtics are old” article but rather one that looks at some of their “old” bad habits and the formulation of some new ones that have developed to begin the season – namely their bench, post scoring, rebounding, and now their defense.
The roster has undergone a facelift that includes the likes of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Leandro Barbosa and the return of Jeff Green. All have had some nice moments so far but all have been wildly inconsistent this season. They were supposed to unite like Voltron and form one of the best benches in the league but Doc Rivers is still playing musical chairs with the rotation to find the most effective combinations on the floor. Currently, Boston’s bench ranks 18th in the league in points scored, which is a significant improvement from 29th a season ago, but it’s still not where they hope to be.
Lee and Terry have flip-flopped as the team’s starting shooting guard in the absence of Avery Bradley. Terry has found his shooting stroke after a rough start, averaging 11.1 points while shooting 51 percent from the field and 43 percent from three. Lee, on the other hand, is playing more of a defensive role for the team until he finds his shooting touch. Meanwhile, Sullinger and Brandon Bass have flip-flopped as the team’s starting power forward since the season commenced. Bass has a tendency to get lost offensively and if his jumper isn’t falling, he kind of wanders up and down the court, grabbing an occasional rebound. Bass averages just 5.2 rebounds in his 28 minutes of action compared to Sullinger’s 4.3 rebounds in just 18 minutes. Still, Bass is the proven veteran and the starting position is his to lose.
Then there is Jeff Green who is being paid a king’s ransom for meager production. He had the Boston faithful giddy after tearing up the preseason looking like a man on a mission of redemption. Unfortunately once the games started to count for real, the aggressiveness seeped from his body and Boston has only seen the real Green in spurts. He averages just 8.1 points per game in 22 minutes, as he has been opting to wait his turn offensively on Boston’s second unit. To his credit, there have been three games in which his play has turned the momentum in favor of Boston.
In the Celtics’ second tilt with the Bucks and games against the Jazz and Thunder, Green scored 12, 16 and 17 respectively. Unfortunately, he has reached double-digits in scoring in only five of Boston’s first 14 games and he has a long way to go to meet the Celtics’ expectations of him this season.
Boston has been known as a jump shooting team for quite some time now and not much has changed on that front. They are dominant when they get easy baskets down low with Kevin Garnett or take off in transition with Rajon Rondo leading the break. Neither of those things have happened enough to give the Celtics the push they need to be elite. When Garnett exits the game, the post becomes a barren land in which Boston wants no part of. The Celtics rank 25th in points scored in the paint but are a respectable 13th in fast-break points, which begs to question why they don’t run more often?
At some point they will need to address what to do when Garnett exits the game. Rumors of interest in Phoenix center Marcin Gortat have surfaced but nothing is likely to happen until after December 15 when players signed over the summer are eligible to be traded (Lee, Bass, Green). Gortat would solve the post scoring and rebounding problems for Boston but nothing is remotely close in that trade scenario.
Where Boston is particular putrid is in the area of rebounding, ranking dead last in the stat both defensively and offensively. The caveat to the offensive deficiency is that they shoot a high percentage, ranking second in field goal percentage, which gives them less opportunity to hit the glass on that side of the floor. But defensively… there simply is no excuse.
Boston’s defensive prowess has been a staple of the team since the inception of the Big Three era. This year with younger and faster athletes, the defensive has taken a huge step backwards. Currently they are 20th in opponents points per game (down from third a season ago). Couple that with the staggering fact that they allow 44.3 points in the paint per game (29th overall), and it is hard to see where things will get better for the Boston defense. In a loss to the Spurs, they allowed San Antonio to score 58 points in the paint.
The hope is that Bradley will return to be a menacing force on the perimeter, which will deter opponents from driving to the basket. He and Lee can create a lethal defensive backcourt combo when Rondo needs to rest (keep in mind Rondo is pretty special on defense himself). Still, Boston seems like they need a shot blocker to help patrol the paint. With Darko Milicic no longer with the team and Greg Stiemsma in Minnesota, they lack a big who can enforce the paint with regularity.
Despite all the negative stats surrounding the team, Doc Rivers is positive and feels like this is the best team the Celtics have had since their championship in ’07-’08. The diversity of the roster is what he likes but it has caused him some trepidation trying to deploy the most effective lineups each game. The new pieces, along with Rondo’s masterful facilitation, have the offense up from 26th last year to 15th this season in scoring, as Paul Pierce is still one of the game’s best closers.
The Celtics aren’t broken but they could use some tweaking. Many times, the Celtics are wrongfully counted out and then they emerge defiantly from the restrictions of their age and the ice packs that fill their locker room. They know they aren’t perfect but they hope to be just right when the playoffs come because for them, it’s never about they start, but how they finish.
How deep will Boston go in the playoffs this year?
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