It is very tempting to call this year’s version of the Boston Celtics “mediocre.” We are constantly in search of a way of managing our expectations of our favorite teams. If we call them “mediocre” after one-quarter of the season, we can be pleasantly surprised when they get hot in March, run off a winning streak, and challenge for the Atlantic Division title, or even the Eastern Conference title once again. It is entirely possible things do not change dramatically for the Celtics in 2012. It is possible they are en route to becoming a 45-win team that will hope to avoid finishing in the 7th or 8th spots in the East, when spring training ends and the Ryan Dempster and Mike Napoli-lead Red Sox open their new season in April. It is possible.
It’s also possible that the team is currently treading water while they wait for a few things to ignite their season. The main ingredient of the blaze being Avery Bradley’s return to the lineup. As has been mentioned maybe too-often after inconsistent defensive efforts this year, Bradley’s tone-setting defense impacts the energy of the team, makes them more athletic, and bolsters the bench by allowing Jason Terry to play the role he prefers: the second-quarter assassin. With his ball movement, Terry also makes life easier for Jeff Green and Courtney Lee on the wings. Danny Ainge has stressed patience in regard to both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox, as they both recover their stamina and confidence after missing all of last season with similar heart-surgeries. Ainge recently noted that Wilcox is two month behind Green in terms of their recoveries. Green’s contribution is a key to success this year. After a slow start to the season, Green has found a rhythm in December, putting up 13.6 pts and 4.7 reb in 25 minutes/game through the month’s first 7 games. It’s worth noting that the same Celtics team that pushed Miami to Game 7 of the conference finals last June, started 4-8.
One problem that Avery Bradley won’t likely help solve is the fact that the Celtics are among the four worst rebounding teams in the NBA after 23 games. With a rebounding rate of 47.5%, only the Knicks (minus Amare and playing small all year), the Mavericks (minus Nowitzki), and the Bobcats are equally atrocious on the glass. Bradley pestering defense may force teams into slightly fewer easy offensive sets, which might help a bit on the defensive rebounding, but the team has to commit to the glass in a way they have yet to show. Either Wilcox, Sullinger or both, have to gain stamina, minutes and rebounds quickly, or Ainge will have to obtain a rebounder. Milicic’ absence is felt in both shot-blocking and rebounding. Another weak point is the team’s defense against the three-pointer. Rivers has pointed out that they were trending in a positive direction in this regard over the last ten games or so, but the losses in San Antonio and Houston (two teams that move the ball and shoot well from distance) highlighted the perimeter defense. Defending the three is often about crisp rotations on defense. Bradley’s impact will help in this regard. The perimeter defense of Terry and Barbosa are shaky at best.
When the Celtics win, KG, Terry and Green are all more productive. Pierce hits more 3’s, Green takes twice as many FT’s, Garnett is more involved in scoring and assisting, and Terry shooting 13% better from the field.
In Celtic wins / In Celtic losses:
- Terry 4.5 – 8.8, 51.4% FG / 3.5 – 9.3, 38.2% FG
- Pierce 2.0 – 5.4, 37% on 3’s / 1.4 – 4.2, 32.6% on 3’s
- Green 11.4 PTS / 8.4 PTS
- Green 3.0 FTA / 1.3 FTA
- Garnett 16.6 PTS / 14.8 PTS
- Garnett 2.5 AST / 1.5 AST
Up Next: Tuesday @ Chicago, Wednesday vs. Cleveland, Friday vs. Milwaukee
Side note: Jared, Eric and I will be there on Wednesday and Steve and I will be there Friday. Hopefully the C’s defend home court with better defense against the Kyrie Irving-led Cavs and the Larry Sanders Machine, also known as the Bucks.