Friday, January 4, 2013

What's wrong with the Boston Celtics?

Last season, the Boston Celtics were the best defensive team in the league and took the soon-to-be champions, Miami Heat to a game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. The difference between then and now is that they are currently sitting below .500, with a record of 14-17, lost their last 4 games by a margin of 20 points and are playing some of the worst basketball you have ever seen. This is still the same team, with the same coach. Ray Allen might have gone (I could make a case for Greg Stiemsma as well, but I will refrain from going to that), but they did get equivalent talents as replacement, so why are they struggling?

There are a few things (by few, I mean a lot) to fix before the Celtics return to a playoff contending team and it starts with finding a suitable back-up for Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett is basically everything for this team, he literally anchors the defense and the stats show. According to NBA Advanced Stats, they are at an above average defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed in a 100 possessions, the lower the better) of 96.3 with KG on the floor. Without him, they have the league's worst defense and yes, that is even worst than the Charlotte Bobcats, allowing approximately 111 points per 100 possessions. The main problem is that Boston is allowing more points then they can score, Avery Bradley should be an upgrade on defense, but there isn't anything else he can give them.

The importance of Kevin Garnett doesn't just extend into disrupting offenses. Boston's rebounding numbers drop in the absence of his presence. This is where Boston misses Greg Stiemsma the most. Their decision to let him go to the Timberwolves, who rarely gives him playing time will hurt the Celtics. Greg by no means can fill KG's role, but he is better defensively than both Jason Collins (old) and Jared Sullinger. The pressure on Jared Sullinger to come off the bench to fill KG's void is a bit too much for a rookie to handle. Make no mistake, he is not a bad defender, he is just not consistently ready or quick enough to guard against most NBA players (he will get better over time).

On the offensive end, things just get worst. Age has finally caught up to them. Paul Pierce looks slower than he usually does and Kevin Garnett's jumper is not going down. The pieces they added to the roster over the summer have not worked out in the way they would have imagined. Jason Terry, who had everyone's hopes up coming into this season to replace Ray Allen is only averaging 11 points, the lowest since his rookie year. Courtney Lee has yet to find himself in this Boston defense and is also at career low in points scored per game. The Jeff Green experiment can be marked as a failure and no, it is not too early to say so. On top of all of that, the Rajon Rondo they needed is not coming through. He has continued to refuse shot attempts after shot attempts for assists. He has to understand he doesn't have a choice to pad which stat because his team needs his scoring, whether it is a jump shot or a lay up, they will take whatever you give them. Allowing opposing teams to play off you and give your teammates a tougher shot is not what a point guard does.

Losing Ray Allen, may have left a bigger impact than we all thought it would. The Celtics take forever to set up their offense, and usually shoots late in the shot clock. Doing this, allows defense to settle and adjust accordingly, which doesn't help this offensively maligned team. To make things worst, they can't score anything in the paint, 35 points (approx.) per game for a team like Boston can't hope to win. Especially if it relies on outside shooting that they don't have. Not to mention how many leads they blow without KG on the court. With Ray Allen, they had go-to plays in scoring droughts and his mere presence spaces the floor for his teammates. Unless Jason Terry finds his shooting touch or someone steps up their production, you can look forward to some ugly games.

Boston should be worried and they are, because these concerns are very real. They still have a good amount of games left to play and time to make some big moves. Something has to change for this team, and we might be looking at a different Celtics team by the end of February.

Source: Basketball Reference (Stats)

The Celtics play the Pacers tonight, and if they are like every team after I write about them. They will probably blow the Pacers out and make everything I wrote pointless because the world hates me.

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