Celtics' weaknesses exposed during two-game losing skid

Celtics' weaknesses exposed during two-game losing skid

BOSTON –  The first two-game losing streak suffered by the Boston Celtics this season came within hours following Gordon Hayward’s gruesome dislocated left ankle injury.

The second, two-game losing streak involved ex-Celtic Kelly Olynyk (now in Miami) having the best game of his NBA life, and was followed by Michael Beasley delivering an “M-V-P, M-V-P” chant-inspiring performance for the New York Knicks.

MORE - Blakely's takeaways from C's-Sixers

Fast forward to the present with the Celtics (34-12) hours removed from an 89-80 loss to Philadelphia that was preceded by an overtime loss to New Orleans on Tuesday.

While suffering a two-game setback is nothing new to the Celtics, the most recent back-to-back losses have a very different feel about them.

The two previous sets of back-to-back losses involved an extraordinary occurrence to the Celtics’ detriment, factor into their defeats.

And while Anthony Davis (46 points, 16 rebounds) for New Orleans and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (26 points, 16 rebounds, six assists) each had exceptional games for their respective teams, both rank among the league’s best players (both were named starters in next month’s all-star game) – so no one should have been blown away by them having big games against Boston.

But Kelly Olynyk and Michael Beasley each dropping 32 points, on back-to-back nights?  

More than anything, the two most recent losses exposed what are arguably some of the biggest weaknesses and concerns for a Celtics squad that boasts the best record in the Eastern Conference (34-12) and is on pace to eclipse the 60-win mark for the first time since 2009.

Here’s a look at the four biggest issues brought to light during Boston’s most recent two-game losing streak.



The issue for the Celtics when it comes to their frontcourt, has to do with a lack of talented bodies and not a lack of talent.

Al Horford and Aron Baynes have been a good 1-2 defensive punch for Boston in the frontcourt this season. And Daniel Theis on many nights has done a solid job of providing some much-needed production at both ends of the floor off Boston’s bench. But beyond those three, there’s little to no production from any one else among Boston’s big men. And while a rotation of three big men works for the most part in the playoffs, the last two games exposed Boston’s lack of depth at the center position. Between now and the playoffs, the Celtics are expected to vigorously explore the buyout market with an eye towards using some or all of the disabled player exception they received for Gordon Hayward’s injury.



Boston’s offense has been pretty much hit or miss most of this season. Because of that inconsistency, figuring out a solution has been among the more daunting tasks for this coaching staff.

But the last two games have really been rough for the Celtics. And yes, not having Kyrie Irving (left shoulder soreness) certainly didn’t help matters in Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia. But with or without Irving, there have been fundamental shortcomings with the offense that exist regardless of who’s playing. 

  • Ball movement: Boston makes 301.3 passes per game which ranks 15th in the NBA. A year ago, they averaged 324.8 passes per game which ranked third in the NBA.
  • Drives: Boston averages 38.2 drives per game which ranks 22nd in the NBA. A year ago, they were 16th in the league with 37.5 drives per game.
  • According to nba.com, the Celtics average a league-low 14.7 paint touch points this season, compared to last season when they averaged 18.7.



The Boston Celtics didn’t need to see Kyrie Irving in street clothes to appreciate the impact he makes on games. His shifty, ankle-breaking dribbling skills are what separates him from his peers both on the Celtics roster and in the NBA, which is why the 25-year-old was chosen as a starter in next month’s all-star game which will be his fifth all-star selection. And while Irving has shown a greater willingness to defend consistently, Boston’s defense is generally better when he’s not on the floor. When he has been on the floor in games this year, the team’s defensive rating has been a solid 101.2. But when he’s off, it improves to 96.5. Naturally there’s an offensive dip in the team’s efficiency when he’s on the bench. On the floor, Boston has an offensive rating of 108.1 but falls to 97.5 when he’s off. Finding a way to stay engaged and effective offensively when Irving gets a breather, is one of the many challenges Boston faces.



 You knew there would come a time in the season when not having Gordon Hayward around would be a major bummer. Now is that time. The last two games made it abundantly clear that after Irving, there really isn’t that one player the Celtics can turn to who provides a consistent scoring presence.

Jayson Tatum has been winning over fans all season long. He has the range, the ability to take over but lacks experience to do so consistently. We’ll keep an eye out for him to start becoming more aggressive, more assertive which benefits both him and the Celtics. Marcus Morris has a nice inside-outside game and seems to be getting better.

Jaylen Brown has shown flashes of being capable of producing offensive explosions, but the second-year wing isn’t quite ready to take on that next-in-command load full-time. He averages 14.2 points per game which is second on the Celtics in scoring. Only three teams (Atlanta, Sacramento and Indiana) have a second-leading scorer who averages fewer points than Brown. Boston hopes the coming weeks will bring about someone, anyone to help fill the void that we all know would have been manned by Hayward.


NBCSB Breakfast pod: How Jayson Tatum compares to Paul Pierce

NBC Sports Illustration

NBCSB Breakfast pod: How Jayson Tatum compares to Paul Pierce

1:25 - With half of the Celtics roster on the shelf, we’ve been able to see just how great a scorer Jayson Tatum can be. A. Sherrod Blakely, Mike Girardi and Trenni Kusnierek discuss how Tatum compares to Celtics legend, Paul Pierce.

5:35 - The NFL Competition Committee is giving it their best shot at modifying the ‘catch rule’ and Tom Curran, Kyle Draper and Hardy try to wrap their heads around the proposed changes.

11:02 - The Bruins clinched a playoff berth despite losing to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Joe Haggerty joins Tom Giles to break down the game, which included another goal by Ryan Donato and a questionable call on a high hit on David Krejci.

Report: Kyrie Irving to undergo knee exam Thursday


Report: Kyrie Irving to undergo knee exam Thursday

The second opinion on Kyrie Irving’s sore left knee will be done on Thursday, according to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett.

Irving, who has missed the last four games, is expected to decide between having a surgical procedure performed to help alleviate some of the soreness, or continue to manage it with rest.


During the 2015 NBA Finals, Irving suffered a fractured left kneecap injury which was the beginning of Irving’s left knee issues.

While Irving has had soreness of some form during various stretches of play this season, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has seen him making progress recently.

“That knee is still sore,” Stevens said. “He’s worked really hard to manage it throughout the entire season. He’s had some pretty good days recently. I’m encouraged by the big picture.”

But Stevens has made it clear that he supports Irving getting a second opinion, adding that Irving’s absence is due to the knee being too sore for him to play at a level he’s accustomed to.

“He’s out because of knee soreness, not because we’re choosing to rest him,” Stevens said. “That’s the bottom line. Again, we want him to feel 110 percent. He wants to feel 110 percent. Obviously, we’re fortunate we created a cushion early on in the year with playoffs and everything else. This is not one of those situations where we’re choosing to rest someone; it’s because he has a sore knee.”