Five keys for the rest of the Celtics season
Five keys for the rest of the Celtics season
SALT LAKE CITY – While much of the attention these days is centered on Thursday’s trade deadline, there’s still some unfinished business called the regular season.
The Boston Celtics (32-23) have plenty of reasons to feel good about where they are now.
But this team has too many players who have been through too many ups and downs to be satisfied with what they have accomplished thus far.
For this to truly be a great season, a strong finish is required.
Just as there was a variety of factors that came into play that catapulted them to the upper echelon status in the East, the same premise holds true if they are to find themselves in a comparable spot in the standings at the end of the regular season.
Here’s a look at five keys to Boston’s hopes of continuing what has been a strong start to the season thus far.
5. Evan Turner, the closer
There are a number of players on Boston’s roster that have had better seasons, but when it comes to making winning plays few stand taller than Turner. He has become Boston’s most important player down the stretch, putting up numbers in the fourth quarter that place him in some pretty elite company. His 231 assists off the bench leads all reserves in the NBA this season. And with 86 coming in the fourth quarter, only two players – former Celtic and current Sacrament King guard Rajon Rondo (113) and Washington’s John Wall (95) – have more assists than Turner in the final 12 minutes of play. As we get closer to the end of the regular season, having a player who has been so consistent in the closing moments of games either scoring the ball or being a facilitator, is a huge plus for Boston.
4. Steady Rotation
After several weeks of rotation roulette by the Celtics, Brad Stevens finally began to settle on a nine man rotation with an occasional 10th man seeing action in certain matchups. For all the moves that head coach Brad Stevens made during the pre-All Star break portion of the schedule, this might have been the most significant. It gave players very clear and defined roles in terms of playing which seemed to be just what this group needed in order to start playing with greater consistency. All indications now are that the Celtics won’t change the script when it comes to who plays and who doesn’t, but with the trade deadline near that could all change if the Celtics strike a deal that involves shipping out any of their rotation players.
3. Shoot, just be offensive why don’t ya!
Quantity over quality helps explain how the Celtics have been one of the NBA’s highest scoring teams despite being one of its worst when it comes to shooting the ball. At 105.7 points per game this season, the Celtics are fourth in the NBA. However, they are shooting 44.0 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from 3-point range which rank 21st and 23th respectively, in the league.
The poor shooting certainly hasn’t been for a lack of trying with the Celtics taking a league-high 89.5 shots per game. And they haven’t been shy about jacking up 3s either, averaging 21.7 attempts which is the seventh-highest average in the league.
But as the win total began to improve, so did Boston’s shooting. They go into Friday’s game against Utah having won 10 of the last 12 games. In that span, they have shot 46.3 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from 3-point range which ranks 12th and 7th respectively, in the NBA.
Picking up where they left off at the break when it comes to shooting bodes well for Boston’s continued success.
2. Continued big play from the little fella
Boston’s lone All-Star needs to continue playing like one in these final 27 regular season games. Thomas is averaging 21.5 points and 6.6 assists per game, both career highs for the 5-foot-9 guard. He is one of just five players (Stephen Curry of Golden State, James Harden of Houston, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook are the others) to average more than 21 points and six assists per game this season.
Maintaining his level of play won’t be easy, not with the Celtics hitting this final stretch of the season as the hunted and no longer among the deep pack of hunters in the East. It will be interesting to see how Boston handles this different vantage point heading down the home stretch of the season, and whether the good play of so many players – Thomas included – will continue.
1. Keeping a clean bill of health
You have to wonder just how much more quickly the Celtics would have taken off if not for Marcus Smart’s left knee injury which kept him out for 18 games. It was a huge blow to his development and even more important the growth of this team.
Avoiding injuries is a concern for every team in the NBA, but few thrive off the collective efforts of one another like the Celtics. And when you take one piece of that puzzle out of the mix even temporarily like with a minor injury, the repercussions have not been good for Boston.
So as the Celtics began officially preparing for the second half of the season with practice this evening in Salt Lake City, they will do so with a team that’s 15-deep and healthy – a look they want to have in a couple months as they gear up for the postseason.