Celtics: A Look Ahead as Boston Gears Up for Playoff Push


What a satisfying few weeks it has been for Celtics fans. Another solid win over the Pistons last night. The Celtics are gaining momentum, winning 7 of their last 8, as we enter the final week before the All-Star break. Meanwhile, the Pistons can’t afford to lose Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for long (possibly strained groin on an awkward slip due to a wet spot on the court).

The Boston Celtics are beating solid teams by wide margins. The Celtics bench is dominating. We knew the depth would be a strength this year. As the dog days of the NBA season take effect (pre-All-Star break), a team’s bench becomes a bigger issue. Marcus Smart missed a month with a knee injury. Now he looks fresher than ever, knocking down 17 of his last 37 from deep, adding much needed scoring to the roster.

The Celtics are 29-22, tied for 3rd in the East. Half of a game separates four teams: Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami, all fighting for the third and fourth seeds, which would grant them home court in the first round. Indiana sits in 7th, only two games behind Celtics and Hawks. Detroit is right behind the Pacers. Only Cleveland and now Toronto appear safely entrenched at the top of the conference. March and April promise to be filled with drama.

Despite their record, the Celtics rank 20th in the NBA in rebounding. In many ways, it’s not surprising the C’s get out-rebounded often. Only one of their big men, Jared Sullinger, is all that big, and Stevens chooses not to crash the offensive glass (though he’s smartly letting Marcus Smart go after more boards since returning from the knee injury). Amir Johnson does a solid job in limited minutes. Neither Kelly Olynyk or Tyler Zeller are all that wide-bodied, tall, intimidating or bouncy. That depth is evident in Zeller’s effectiveness over the team’s recent hot streak.

Who is wide-bodied? That’d be Sully. Sullinger grabs 8.6 rebounds / game in only 23.4 min (13.1 reb / 36 min, which ranks 10th in the NBA per 36). Sully would get more minutes if his range extended to 23 feet, but his 26.4% from deep limits his effectiveness. Meanwhile, Kelly Olynyk is an absolute tear from deep (t-10th in NBA at 42.8%), but only grabs 4.4 rebounds in 21 min/game. Olynyk’s 7.1 rebounds per 36 min, ranks him 133rd in the NBA per 36, next to other ground-bound big men like Kendrick Perkins, Roy Hibbert and Tiago Splitter. I have often wished Danny Ainge could somehow combine Sullinger and Olynyk into one human. Jared Olynyk. Kelly Sullinger. Or perhaps…Jarry Olynger.

Jarry Olynger: Hybrid Human

I long for the day Jarry Olynger suits up for the Celtics. A man-bun sporting, wide-ass-shaking center who drains threes and swallows rebounds. Instead, Ainge will soon have to decide on Sullinger, who will be a restricted free agent in July. Thankfully, Stevens recognized David Lee wasn’t going to be useful enough to take Zeller’s limited minutes after mid-December.

 

  • Celtics record when winning rebound battle: 19-5
  • Celtics record when losing rebound battle: 10-17
  • Celtics record when David Lee plays: 15-15
  • Celtics record when David Lee doesn’t play: 14-7
  • Celtics record when Kelly Olynyk makes at least one three-pointer: 21-14
  • Celtics record when Kelly Olynyk doesn’t make a three-pointer: 7-8
  • As Mike Gorman noted during Wednesday night’s game, the Celtics have outscored opponents by 137 points with Kelly Olynyk on the floor over the last 10 games.

To Trade or Not to Trade (Feb 18 deadline)

After listening to a few NBA trade-deadline speculation podcasts, I’m not expecting Ainge to find a deal that makes sense. The Celtics will not (and should not) deal this June’s top-5 pick they acquired from Brooklyn. If teams are asking for Crowder, the Celtics would not only be trading away their newly-developing heartbeat/spirit-lifter, but they would also be resetting the chemistry. They would need to acquire a player they are sure will stay in Boston, not a one-year rental. Blake Griffin’s name has been floating around since the ridiculous scuffle he had with the equipment fella. Plus, the Clips keep on winning without him. But Crowder’s contract is too valuable ($7 million per year for four more years, even more valuable when the cap skyrockets), not to mention how emotionally deflating it would be to trade him during this honeymoon phase: the fans are falling in love with him and his feisty play.

If the Brooklyn pick doesn’t turn into a top-3 pick, Ainge might consider adding a future Brooklyn pick to the 2016 pick, and seeing if he can move up to #1 or #2. Trouble is, which team would pass up Simmons if it meant a #4 or #5 this year and a possible top-8 pick from Brooklyn in 2018?

In addition to Jarry Olynger, the Celtics need one more shooter/scorer they can rely on in the 4th quarter. Ryan Anderson seems like he’d be an ideal fit.

February schedule

Rest of Celtics schedule in February, rated on 1 to 5 scale in order of intrigue/ importance/impact.

Fri 2/5 @ Cleveland Cavs (4)
C’s need to show they can compete with the best. Since player’s only meeting in Cleveland, Love is getting elbow touches and looking rejuvenated.
Sun 2/7 vs. Sacramento Kings (3)
This one doesn’t impact East standings, but Sacramento is fighting for the 8th spot in the West. The Rondo-haters will be out in droves for this one. Hopefully they don’t make too much noise.
Tue 2/9 @ Milwaukee Bucks (2)
Orlando packed the paint and tempted the Celtics into taking 46 three-pointers in their recent loss. Boston should do the same to Milwaukee, as long as Khris Middleton isn’t taking more than a few of those.
Wed 2/10 vs. Los Angeles Clippers (4) 
Final game before the break. Second game of Back-to-back. 3rd in 4 nights. 6th game in 9 nights. Against a team that is 13-3 without Blake Griffin. If the Celtics can dig deep and win this one, it feels like it would give them a boost heading into the break.
All-Star Break
Fri 2/19 @ Utah Jazz (3)
With Rudy Gobert healthy, the Jazz are 15-12. They’ve won five of their last 6. They’ll be fighting with Sacramento and Portland for the chance to get massacred by the Warriors.
Sun 2/21 @ Denver Nuggets (2)
One of the few soft games on the schedule for February. The thin-air of Denver, where the Nuggets are running, but not defending.
Mon 2/22 @ Minnesota Timberwolves (1)
A chance to see two of the best under-23 year-olds in the league in Towns and Wiggins. Make the Wolves shoot threes, which they refuse to do. Will Ricky Rubio be a starting point guard in the NBA in 4 years? He’ll have to learn how to shoot to answer that definitively.
Thu 2/25 vs Milwaukee Bucks (2)
See above.
Sat 2/27 vs Miami Heat (5)
This one feels like a playoff-seeding game. The last seven weeks of the season will be full of those. Miami, Atlanta, Indiana, Chicago.
Mon 2/29 vs Utah Jazz (3)
see above.
Post All-Star Break Games to Circle
2/27 vs MIA
3/5 @ CLE
3/15 @ IND
3/18 @ TOR
3/23 vs TOR
4/1 @ GS
4/9 @ ATL
4/13 vs MIA (final game)
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One thought on “Celtics: A Look Ahead as Boston Gears Up for Playoff Push

  1. a fan says:

    Go Celtics

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