ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton, who writes the wise “Per-Diem” blog, currently has New York’s chances of holding onto the Atlantic Division at 74%, with Brooklyn at 20% and the Celtics down to 6%. Last night’s loss at New Orleans doesn’t help any. These Celtics are impossible to predict. Without Garnett, they play a nearly flawless game for three quarters against Miami and nearly end “The Streak.” And then they go and lose to New Orleans (for a second straight time) two nights later.
Bradley Love Hides Bradley Weaknesses
It’s strange how the narratives that fans create for players changes our perceptions. I am the first to admit that Avery Bradley is easy to love. Watching a 6’2″ guard with limited offensive skills dominate a game is impossible not to appreciate for most genuine fans of the game. I spent a good portion of the season’s first 30 games lamenting the fact that Bradley was out, and the impact it was having on our defense. Still, Bradley’s game is limited by the fact that opponents can game-plan for 4.5 offensive players when he is on the court. Especially in the half-court, Bradley’s shooting range becomes a liability. Sound familiar? Rondo has worked hard to minimize that weakness in his own game. Bradley is working equally hard and is showing improvement. Still, his 39.4% from the field in 10 March games is a problem. Avery seems to press when playing at home, shooting only 35.9% (8.0 ppg) on the year at the Garden. In contrast, he’s knocking down a healthy 45.6% of his shots on the road (11.1 ppg). The Celtics need both Jeff Green and Avery Bradley to contribute offensively, in addition to continuing their excellent individual defensive play, in order to succeed 4 out of 7 times in the postseason. In the last five games, Bradley is an unsightly 15 of 51 from the field, his accuracy dipping to 29.4% in those contests.
Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston has an insightful write-up of the emphasis these Rondo-less Celtics must put on pushing the pace. Boston is currently without an actual point guard–sorry Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Jordan Crawford, but you’re all missing the point (apologize, but couldn’t resist, the old Jewish man in me loves a pun).
Boston has to run and create confusion for the defense. The second half proved disastrous to the Celtics in New Orleans. The difficult-to-sustain intensity that was present for 3.5 quarters on Monday against Miami was absent for the whole second half against New Orleans on Wednesday. And this version of our Celtics, as has been stated before, has a pencil-thin margin for error, despite their 16-7 post-Rondo record.
Here are Forsberg’s sage words:
The Celtics are limited enough offensively that they can’t further shackle themselves by bogging down the pace, one area they actually can control.
There are some encouraging signs that Boston is listening to Rivers. Before Rondo went down, the team ranked 21st in the league in pace at 93.4 possessions per game. Since Jan. 27, the Celtics are averaging 94.02 possession per game (18th-best in the league).
And with players thriving in a ball movement-based offense, the team’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) has jumped up from 99.6 (26th in the league) before Rondo’s injury to 101.7 (21st) in the 23 games since Rondo went down.
No one is going to confuse these Celtics with offensive giants such as Oklahoma City or Miami. Much of Boston’s offense actually is fueled first by an ability to generate stops in the defensive end. But to fully cash in on those stops, the Celtics have to run.
As captain Paul Pierce noted when asked about the dip in pace on Monday, “We’ve got to be consistent in everything we do throughout the whole game. We don’t have a lot of room for error.”
Which is why it often looks like Rivers is playing the role of a no-conscience third-base coach on the sideline. The Celtics can’t afford to get into their offense late, and Rivers won’t let them forget it. Even if it looks like he’s two illuminated wands and a yellow vest away from directing planes at Logan Airport.