Five takeaways: Some C's concerns as playoffs approach
Five takeaways: Some Celtics concerns with playoffs around the corner
ATLANTA – The night after getting smashed by the Cleveland Cavaliers at home, the Celtics found themselves once again licking their wounds after a road loss at Atlanta.
It was a weird scene both outside the locker room and inside it, where players and coach Brad Stevens were definitely in “the glass-is-half-full” when it came to what they took away from Thursday’s loss.
For Stevens, he saw his team in play in the second half with the kind of fight and grit that we haven’t seen much of lately. He also utilized some different combinations that worked a lot better than he thought.
That’s all well and good, but the bottom line this time of year is to win, which is something they have not been able to do the past two times they’ve stepped on to the floor.
There are several factors leading to the Celtics’ most recent losses, but their level of concern isn’t particularly high despite the playoffs being right around the corner.
And this playoff run will begin at the TD Garden, a reward for teams whose play all season ranks among the best in the Eastern Conference.
With that privilege comes increased responsibility and expectations to not just compete, but win a playoff series, which would be the first under fourth-year coach Stevens.
“We’re fine,” Isaiah Thomas said after Thursday’s loss. “A week ago, they were saying Cleveland was not as good as they are and they had a really good game against us. They’ve been playing well the last four or five games. It’s a long season. We’re going to go through these types of phases, I guess it is. We’ll get out of it; we’ll be all right. We’re in second place [in the East] for a reason.”
Here are five other takeaways from Thursday’s game.
NO HUNGER TO COMPETE, THIRST FOR SUCCESS
We’ve heard a lot from the Celtics about not having great effort and competing the way they should the past couple of games. Throughout a season, that happens. But it takes on greater significance this time of year and in many ways, is magnified because of the playoffs being around the corner. We’ve seen enough of this team to know that they can play with the best when they are fully engaged at both ends of the floor. But that hasn’t been the case the past couple of games, both of which ended with a Celtics loss. They need to re-discover that hunger to compete, that thirst for success if they are to close out the regular season playing closer to their brand of (successful) basketball.
WHERE’S AL HORFORD?
I have been a big Al Horford fan because of his ability to do so many things to help teams win and do so without drawing much attention to himself. Here’s the thing, though. Horford can get away with putting up not-so-great numbers because his teams typically win a lot of games. But what we’ve seen from Horford the past two games is just bad basketball on his part. Foul trouble was an issue in the loss at Atlanta, but missing seven of eight shots? And only tallying three assists? This is the time of year when players fine-tune what has worked for them in the season. We’re not seeing that from Horford or most of his teammates. Part of his role is to lead this team. It’s something he has done well this season. Now, he has to lead himself out of this playing funk because when the playoffs start, he has to be better – a lot better – than what we’ve seen the past couple of games if Boston will have any shot at having a good postseason run.
FLIPPIN’ THE SWITCH?
After the loss at Atlanta, Jae Crowder floated the idea that maybe some of his teammates think they can “flip a switch” when the playoffs arrive and play with better effort then. Two things. It’s a HUGE mistake if anyone on this team has that idea in their heads. And the fact that Crowder mentioned it leads me to believe that at the very least, it’s something the Celtics are becoming increasingly concerned about. While they are a better team now than they were say a year ago, no one fears them because their strength now – taking 3’s – appears to have taken away from what was their strength in previous years which has been their defense. That defense is fueled by effort; the kind of effort that gave them a chance to compete with the elite teams of the NBA. But they don’t get into players defensively how they used to. You don’t see as many bodies flying to the floor or into the floor seats for loose balls, as you did in Stevens’ first three years. We’ve seen this team play with great force before. But too often, they follow those efforts up with a more finesse approach which as we all know, doesn’t work in the playoffs. Maybe they do have a switch they can flip. But between now and the playoffs, they might want to check and see if they have enough “power” to do that; and by power, I simply mean playing with more force, a greater level of physicality – the kind of things that gets you from one playoff series to another.
REBOUNDING PROBLEMS. SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
Getting beat on the boards is something that’s just a way of life for the Celtics. It’s not what they want, obviously. But in order to have the kind of spacing they seek, they need shooters. And shooters generally don’t spend a lot of time around the rim seeking out rebounds. But lately, Boston has had more struggles than usual. For starters, their guards don’t crash the boards like they used to. And the bigs aren’t doing as good a job of sealing fellow bigs off, as we’ve seen in the past. Add it all up, and you get games like Thursday’s in which Boston was outrebounded, 52-38.
Not only did the Celtics tap into a few combinations that might work better for them down the road, but the roles that they put players in might be tweaked as well; specifically Marcus Smart. He plays both guard positions, but we may see him more at the point in these next couple games and the playoffs. Thursday night was one of Smart’s better individual performances this season. He was an absolute two-way terror, particularly in the second half. He finished with 18 points off the bench on 6-for-11 shooting. He also grabbed four rebounds, dished out seven assists and tallied six steals. You can’t expect him to be that good in so many areas every game. But it shows just how impactful he can be. And like most of his teammates, it’s all about doing things more consistently.