Slumping Celtics need to pick up the pace

NBC Sports Boston illustration

Slumping Celtics need to pick up the pace

BOSTON -- The fact that Boston has lost three of its last four games isn’t reason enough to hit the panic button.
But considering the Celtics fell behind by at least 26 points in each of the losses is indeed reason for concern as the Celtics near the All-Star break, the unofficial halfway point of the season.
With Paul Pierce being honored Sunday with a retirement ceremony in which his jersey number 34 was raised to the rafters, it led to folks glossing over -- to some degree -- the carnage that the Cavaliers and their new-look lineup left in the wake of their 121-99 whipping of the C's.
While there was plenty of material to muse over in explaining how decisive this latest beating was for Boston, the Celtics’ lack of pace seems to be a common theme in the last three losses.
“Offensively we need to have more pace to what we do,” said Al Horford. 
He’s right.
This season, Boston’s PACE (number of possessions per game) is 98.17, which ranks 22nd in the NBA. The last four games has seen Boston’s PACE (98.19, 22nd in the league) remain virtually the same. 
Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 121-99 loss to Cleveland.


Teams have raised their physicality against the Celtics, and the center of that focus has been Kyrie Irving. He is still producing at a fairly efficient clip, but the Cavaliers did a good job of limiting the volume of shot attempts by either keeping the ball out of his hands or sending help defending him early and often. He had 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting which is good for most players. But for what this team needs on a nightly basis, that’s just not good enough. 


Boston began the game with a heightened and undeniable edge, showcasing an aggressive brand of basketball we normally don’t see from the Celtics unless they're down by double digits. And when that didn’t put the Cavs on their heels early on, Boston began getting away from what kept the game close in the first quarter and, thus, led to Cleveland taking control of the game in the second quarter and never letting up. 



One of the reasons Boston has been able to weather the storms of huge deficits and still manage to win games is that someone invariably delivers a game-altering performance that sparked the team. It’s not a coincidence that Boston has struggled finding players to fill that void lately. Two of the best Celtics at doing that this season has been Marcus Smart (above) and Shane Larkin, but both are out with injuries and won't be back until sometime after the All-Star break.


When it comes to scoring, one of the more telling factors in whether the Celtics win or lose can be found in Tatum’s point total. In Sunday’s loss to Cleveland, Tatum had nine points. This season, the Celtics are 31-9 when Tatum scores in double figures, and just 9-9 when he doesn’t.


Sunday was our first look at the new-look Cavaliers. No matter how you may feel about LeBron James and the Cavs, the moves they made at the trade deadline will make them a much better regular-season team. But with so many of the new guys dealing with expectations for success for the first time, there are still questions as to how this new group will fare when it comes to what matters most -- getting back to the NBA Finals. The Celtics have several new faces as well, and they too will have to prove their worth in the postseason. But the big difference is Boston’s new guys have had an 82-game schedule to get familiar with one another. The Cavs have two months to figure things out. But give them credit. They made an impressive debut, for sure. 



Jayson Tatum gets no respect!

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Jayson Tatum gets no respect!

The popular narrative surrounding struggling Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum is that he’s hit the dreaded “rookie wall.” Another fun theory is that he’s been hampered by a dislocated finger suffered on December 20 vs Miami. One or both may be the cause of his dip in shooting since the start of this calendar year (he went from 58.5 eFG percent in 2017 to 46.2 eFG percent in 2018). But another factor could be respect, or the lack thereof, for Tatum when driving to the hoop.


From October through December, Tatum averaged 4.6 drives per game, coming away with points on 77 percent of those drives (fourth in the NBA). A lot of those points came at the line, as Tatum drew a foul on an NBA-leading 15 percent of his trips to the basket. Since January 1, Tatum is averaging 6.5 drives per game, but is only coming away with points on 55 percent of those drives. Oddly, the Celtics forward is only drawing a foul on 6 percent of his drives over that span, which is 67th in the NBA.

It’s hard to say why he’s no longer getting fouls, but the lack of respect is definitely impacting his overall efficiency. Hopefully the zebras will start treating Tatum like the obvious future Hall of Famer he is in the final stretch of the season.


Hawks may buy out Ilyasova; would Celts be interested?

File Photo

Hawks may buy out Ilyasova; would Celts be interested?

A buyout seems to be looming for the Atlanta Hawks power forward Ersan Ilyasova. 

The 6-foot-10 inch forward is averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 46 games played this season. He's on a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks.

If he hits the open market, as seems likely, he might be worth a look from the Celtics. A stretch forward who can make 3-pointers is a notable addition to any team.

Ilyasova could ultimately add some size and depth to a guard-heavy Celtics team that's looking to make a deep playoff run come April.