Injuries have really hurt the Celtics this season, but that doesn’t explain why they are performing so poorly. The Celtics appear to have lost their identity, and they know it. So, what have the Celtics done well? And, what have they done poorly to put them in this dilemma?
The NBA season is too young to make any real assertions. Early in the year teams are still feeling out each other and trying to establish an identity.
Still, the Celtics were supposed to have an identity already, as they didn’t make a lot of additions or subtractions in the offseason. So, why are the Celtics such a different team so far this year?
OFFENSIVE BREAKDOWN: WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE OFFENSE?
The Celtics are one of the best shooting teams in the NBA. They are also in the top ten in assists and top five in fewest turnovers. Lots of assists, low turnover rate, and great shooting numbers. That sounds like a great recipe for success, right? Well, it’s not and here’s why:
YOU NEED TO TAKE SHOTS TO MAKE SHOTS
They aren’t getting enough shots up to make those great shooting numbers matter. It’s great to be the second best shooting team, but being 17th in field goals made and 23rd in field goals attempted makes those great shooting number less meaningful.
GETTING ABSOLUTELY ABUSED ON THE BOARDS
The reason why they aren’t getting enough shots up is because they can’t rebound. It doesn’t matter how well you shoot if you keep giving your opponents two or three chances to score 15-20 times a game. We will have to wait and see if the return of Crowder and Horford will alleviate the Celtics issues on the boards, or if Ainge will have to take action. For now, this one problem leads to almost every other problem.
THE CELTICS ARE GIVING TEAMS AN ADVANTAGE AT THE FREE THROW LINE
Boston isn’t getting to the line, while their opponents are. Boston ranks 11th in points in the paint with 45.7 per game, while getting to the line 20.1 times per game. They have the second highest difference between points in the paint and free throw attempts in the league, with only Milwaukee having more. Meanwhile, the Celtics rank 3rd in most free throw attempts against per game at 28.9. and holding their opponents to 41.7 free-throw points, which ranks 12th lowest. The numbers don’t seem to add up, and while the NBA’s officiating is suspect at times, the Celtics need to figure it out soon. Losing the free-throw battle by nine attempts per game is like giving your opponents a seven point lead to start the game.
THE CELTICS DO NOT HAVE A GOOD TRANSITION GAME
During the preseason, the Celtics looked great in transition. Everyone was pushing the ball, and they were getting a lot of fastbreak points. It looked like the Celtics were going to run on teams all season. That has not been the case. The Celtics are 26th in the league in fastbreak points with just 9.4 per game. The issue goes back to rebounding, as that has really had a major impact on what the Celtics are trying to do.
DEFENDING THE THREE
The Celtics give up 33 points a game from three-point land. That is a really big number, but are they all open three’s? Opponents are averaging 28.4 three point attempts per game. Of those 28.4, the Celtics are contesting 22.4. Which means the Celtics are contesting 78.9% of the three’s their opponents have taken, which ranks 14th. So, it really doesn’t matter that they are contesting the three because they are going in anyways. Sometimes you have to just tip your cap and move on.
Bradley, Smart, and Crowder are all largely considered to be three of the toughest defenders to play against in the league. Unfortunately, all three players have yet to play together this season. The Celtics have really struggled at causing turnovers this year, but that may change when Crowder returns, and the Celtics can play a more aggressive style of defense. For now, the change in rotations has resulted in communications issues, among others, which have led to a more conservative defensive approach.
FREE THROW DEFENSE
I have always laughed at the free-throw defense line. Maybe you can fake step into the lane, yell something, or pull off a conversation that is reminiscent of the movie ‘Major League.’ But, opponents are shooting 78.2% from the stripe against Boston, which is up from the 75.7% mark last season. More importantly, teams are getting to the line and winning the free-throw battle every game. The Celtics have yet to shoot more free throws than their opponent this season. Fouls usually come about when players are out of position. Players have been out of position because of poor rotations. Poor rotations are a result of poor communication. And communication is the result of a lot of hard work and trust. The hard work and trust for this team has been shaken up with Horford, Smart, and Crowder missing a chunk of time early on.
BACK TO REBOUNDING AGAIN
The Celtics have had a lot of good defensive possessions erased by a quick put-back from their opponents getting offensive rebounds. Giving up the second most offensive rebounds at 12.7 per game is demoralizing for a defense. If there was a time of possession statistics in the NBA, then the Celtics would be getting crushed. Combine the offensive rebounds, the three-point shooting, and the low turnovers, and it’s no wonder that the Celtics are giving up 3rd most points this season.
IS IT TIME TO HIT THE PANIC BUTTON?
You take three of a team’s top six players off of a team this early in the season, and the results will probably not be very good. Early in the preseason, we saw the starting unit playing really well, and then the bench came in and struggled. As the preseason progressed, the bench started playing better, and the starters continued to play great minutes for the most part.
This team was based around a solid starting unit, and a bench that consisted of Smart, Rozier, and Brown. Since the season started, nothing has gone as planned, and Coach Stevens had to mix things up. That mix up has left the Celtics in disarray, and even when Horford and Crowder come back it may take a little time to get rolling.
The good news is there is basically one main problem that the Celtics need to overcome. That problem is rebounding. Rebounds mean less free throws, less second chance points, less open threes, more transition baskets, better defense, and a much easier road to victory.
Horford’s return is looking pretty good, as he has been cleared to practice. Crowder, on the other hand, looks like he may be out until next Wednesday or Friday. Once the team gets back to full strength we can get a better look at whether or not these issues are bigger than the roster, or a work in progress.
Over the next 19 days, the Celtics will play 11 games. The finger has moved a little closer to the panic button in the last eight days. Whether or not the finger gets closer to the panic button, or back on the arm rest will be determined over the next couple weeks. We should be reminded that the Celtics have the exact same record they had this time last year, without a series of injuries. It wasn’t until late January that the Celtics really kicked into gear. Almost every one of the Celtics major problems are a result of one big problem. If the Celtics can become an OK rebounding team, then the winnable opportunities should be there. This team has a lot of convincing to do over these next 19 days, and it starts tonight.