Ugly Losses and Reality Checks

The Boston Celtics have been losing games Celtics fans would hope they should have won lately. These are the more painful losses. The losses that stand out over the course of a season, leaving a sour taste. The Lakers are 8-28. They are the Lakers, Boston’s longtime foe. The Nets are 10-25. Every Nets loss adds to the dreams of a top 3 pick for the Celtics in June. Kobe’s farewell game had fans chanting his name in appreciation. Still, the Celtics couldn’t stop Jordan Clarkson or Lou Williams. Meanwhile, Amir Johnson has been playing through plantar fasciitis. In the Lakers game, he finished with a negative 18 plus/minus in 18 minutes. One has to wonder if he should just rest the foot, though plantar fasciitis has been known to nag long-term (not good).

Against Brooklyn, Avery Bradley’s left hip was bruised in an awkward moment early in the game. With Bradley limited to 10 minutes of playing time, the Celtics offense was limited. Boston simply doesn’t have enough three-point shooting at the moment to handle the loss of Bradley. In the Nets game, the combination of Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko, and Evan Turner shot 1 of 10 from deep and 8 of 24 overall. In a game the Celtics lost 100-97, that 10% number from beyond the arc was disastrous.

After bouncing back with a win in Brooklyn, the Celtics hosted Detroit. The Pistons (20-16) are jockeying for position in the crowded East with Boston. It was a game that Celtics fans needed to remind themselves that this team is definitely playoff-worthy. After leading for most of the game, and taking a 9-point cushion into the 4th quarter, the Celtics saw their lead disappear with Marcus Smart, James Young, Jonas Jerebko, Jae Crowder and Jared Sullinger on the court. The Pistons erased the deficit in the first four minutes of the final quarter, and Isaiah Thomas’ one-man attempt at dragging the sagging offense to victory fell short. Collectively, the Celtics shot 6 of 28 from deep (21%) for the game. The reserves shot 0 of 9 from long-range and a measly 5 of 23 overall. For a team that was supposed to rely on its depth, these pitiful bench numbers are alarming.

A few possible explanations for the awful shooting:

  • Jared Sullinger suffered a wrist injury a while back, and has been playing through it, but his shooting has been atrocious lately (5 of 24 from deep) since December 1st.
  • Marcus Smart missed over a month with a knee injury, and is 1 of 12 from deep in the 5 games he’s played since returning.
  • Jonas Jerebko hasn’t been given regular minutes with the logjam at power forward.
  • Rookie R.J. Hunter has dealt with minor injuries and the learning curve of all rookies.

As a result of the non-Bradley (38%), non-Olynyk (39%) shooting woes, the Celtics are now 26th in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 32.0.

As of January 7, Boston has a dreadful 9-10 record at home. Not exactly protecting home court. The Celtics win back-to-backs, especially on the road, which makes very little sense, but is obviously helped by the fact they are a young, deep team.

What Boston needs desperately is for Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk to provide an offensive lift during the busy stretch of games ahead. Isaiah Thomas is doing everything he can to spark an offense that has seen it’s easy baskets (due to steals and transition) dry up in the last few weeks. Olynyk shows glimpses of sweet-shooting and crafty interior passing, but can’t seem to find a consistent rhythm from night-to-night. Stevens hopes inserting Olynyk into the starting lineup will help the offense, as the on/off numbers show Olynyk and Amir Johnson pair well defensively together, with Olynyk nimble enough to cover opposing stretch power forwards, and Amir protecting the rim. Now we just need Bradley to get healthy and to see what the Isaiah-Bradley-Crowder-Olynyk-Amir group can do. With a very busy month until the 9-day All-Star break, the Celtics have to find a way to stay above .500 despite the injuries and inconsistencies. With a 5-in-7 stretch of games coming up, the depth will certainly be tested.

Upcoming games:

Sun 1/10 @ Memphis (19-18)

Tue 1/12 @ New York (18-19)

Wed 1/13 vs Indiana (20-15)

Fri 1/15 vs Phoenix (terrible and getting worse without Bledsoe)

Sat 1/16 @ Washington (15-18)

Of these five games, only Phoenix now feels like a game we should expect the Celtics to win. Nothing quite makes sense with this team yet. They need health, they need rotation stability, and they need momentum. Hopefully, they achieve two of those three within the next few weeks. In general, the schedule looks uglier in March and April, when the wins will appear that much more urgent.


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