Every division game holds more weight this year than in previous years, as the Atlantic now consists of four potential playoff teams, each of whom hope to finish with a winning record. Similar to the AL East in baseball, this division race will probably go down to the wire, and the winner will likely find themselves with the 2nd or 3rd seed in the East.
Boston hosted Philadelphia on Friday night in the first Atlantic Division match-up of the season, and the resulting loss, 106-100, to the Bynum-less 76ers confirms an ugly trend of the season’s first four games: this version of the Celtics play defense…at least not yet. Philly’s 34 2nd-quarter points illustrate the weak defense of the bench, in particular. Holliday and Nick Young were catalysts in the early run which the Celtics were unable to recover from. Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry, neither of whom are known as defensive-minded players, were torched. Evan Turner’s all-around numbers were impressive (24 points on 19 shots, 11 reb, 4 ast), especially considering he came into the game averaging 10.3 ppg on 35% shooting. Avery Bradley’s absence was once again noticeable. Courtney Lee played 19 decent minutes, hitting a few jumpers, but was overmatched by the length of Turner.
The night’s marquee match-up, 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday against Celtics play-maker Rajon Rondo did not disappoint (no disappointment at the point), each dissecting the defense and setting their offenses in motion. Here is a comparison of their match-up:
Examining the numbers, it’s obvious both players dominated this game. The plus/minus category is less representative of their specific performances, as both players were on the court for 42 minutes.
The loss opens a busy stretch for the C’s, in which they play four more games in the next six nights. With three of the four on the road, and facing four decent to good teams, the Celtics will do well to split the next four. The Celtics bench, which will eventually be a strength, is under the microscope right now. Against the tough Philadelphia defense, Green, Bass and Sullinger all struggled. Thaddeus Young, who finished with two steals and three blocks, may be one of the more underrated defenders in the league. Terry, Green, and Brandon Bass must provide more, on both offense and defense, than they are currently.
Realistically, the defensive rotations will take some time to tighten up, but the assertiveness and energy has to be there every night for the Celtics to win. It’s always tempting to come to a judgement, regarding the bench or the team in general. The reality is this: they are a work in progress, and they are missing one of the better backcourt defenders in the NBA in Avery Bradley. The upcoming week should force Doc to call on Darko at some point soon, though Wilcox is establishing himself as the back-up big man. Former Celtic Greg Steimsma’s early averages in Minnesota: 15 min/game, 7 points, 2.0 blocks, 54% from the field.