By J.D. Anderson
While the NBA All-Star Game means a frustrating break in the action, it probably came at a good time for the Celtics. Going into the break, they’d lost three games in a row, and five of the last ten.
In fact, of the teams currently in the top eight of the Eastern Conference, only Miami has a worse recent record. Just as worrying is the Celtics’ tendency to ship points. For two games in a row, they gave up 120 or more. The All-Star hiatus gives the team and coach Brad Stevens time to regroup and adjust.
It’s also a good time for fans to take stock and read up on the latest news and updates, study the schedule, and try to forget about… you know… Minnesota.
There are some big games coming up, particularly the back-to-back clashes with Indiana and Washington in the first half of March. You can check out the latest NBA odds on the Celtics as the season progresses.
It’s also important for fans and players to keep their recent form in perspective. They’re still in a strong position in the East. Five up on the Cavs, and only two games behind Toronto. Sure, Stevens will be focusing on what needs to be done to correct the team’s inconsistency, but fine-tuning rather than panic measures are in order.
What lies behind this inconsistency? There are a couple of factors.
First: defense. This might seem crazy, given how highly the Celtics rank defensively. Celtics fans, though, know that the stats aren’t telling the whole story. Giving up 121 points to the Cavaliers and 129 points to the Clippers was unacceptable. DeAndre Jordan and other bigs have found it far too easy to attack the rim at will. The fact is that the Celtics have not been playing hard enough on defense and this has to be addressed. And all of this, without giving up even more of the silly defensive fouls that crept in against the Cavs and the Clippers.
The other main issue may be slightly harder to resolve. Boston’s bench strength isn’t as good as it could be. They have a number of role players such as Rozier, Theis, and Larkin, but the second unit has lacked consistency. Too often, they have been a little sluggish or made unforced errors that have caused a second-quarter slump.
In the absence of Irving, Morris, and Smart, the replacements stepped up pretty well, but the Celtics bench has crept down from near the top of the NBA pack to the middle. Top of the agenda for Stevens and Danny Ainge has to be a reshaping of the lineup to produce a better balance –- easing the load on the starters, and giving the Celtics bench more opportunity to develop as a unit.
Then there’s the pressure on Irving. In his absence, the team is just less effective on offense. Irving regularly throws down 30-plus points and consistently puts his body on the line in the cause, but he can’t do it on his own. The other Celtics need to step up and provide more of an offensive contribution.
That need to provide some front-line support for Irving was behind the Celtics’ interest in Tyreke Evans, who would have certainly ticked the offensive boxes. Come the trade deadline, Evans was still at Memphis. Henceforth, Celtic development will have to come from within.
Celtic fans should draw confidence from the fact that the man at the top of the organization won’t let things slide. Stevens is one of the best in-game and between-game adjusters in the NBA. After the break, he’ll have some surprises in store.
The other factor that could help the Celtics recapture their best form is the return of Marcus Smart. The defensive warrior’s self-inflicted injury has left the team weaker, but when he gets back into action, we can expect the defense to tighten up. With Smart back on the court, and Stevens working hard to fix the rebounding and bench-scoring issues, the outlook for Celtics in the short and long term remains positive.