Five takeaways: Wanted - consistent No. 2 scorer
Five takeaways: Wanted - consistent scoring option behind I.T.
ATLANTA – Avery Bradley is Boston’s No. 2 scorer this season.
And in many ways, the season he is having serves as a reminder of both the promise and problems the Celtics have had with finding an adequate scorer to compliment Isaiah Thomas when he takes a rest during games.
No moment impacted Wednesday’s 114-91 loss to Cleveland more than the six minutes Isaiah Thomas spent on the bench to start the second quarter after having played the entire first. The Cavs made the most of Thomas’ absence, going on a 22-4 run that the Celtics could never recover from.
And remember, Thomas had the Celtics ahead 20-19 at the time he went to the bench.
While Bradley has been the team’s next-best scorer to Thomas most of the season, his durability has made it difficult to really count on him being that guy on a night-in, night-out basis. He is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, but he has missed a team-high 27 games this season due to illnesses and injuries.
That has left it to others to make up for what he brings to the game, which includes providing some offensive punch.
And while the Celtics have had a number of guys step up and do some good things in Bradley’s absence, he still remains the best option available to them in terms of being the guy to help fill the scoring void when Thomas isn’t on the floor.
But having missed so many games this season, regardless of how good Bradley has been when he has played, can the Celtics really bank on the 6-foot-2 guard to be that guy when the playoffs arrive?
Here are five more takeaways from Boston’s 114-91 loss to Cleveland:
HORFORD NEEDS TO DO MORE, MORE OFTEN
I love the fact that Al Horford is a stand-up guy who doesn’t pass the buck or blame on to others in defeat. There was no mistaking that Kevin Love kicked his butt on Wednesday night, leading to Horford acknowledging after the game that he needs to be better going forward. He’s right. He needs to be a lot better in the future if the Celtics are going to have what Avery Bradley has referred to as, “a special season.” Boston knew when they brought Horford here he wasn’t going to give you the steady diet of 20-point, 10-rebound performances most fans anticipate from their highest-paid player. But Wednesday’s loss was one of those games when Horford should have dominated the defensively-challenged Love or, at a minimum, canceled his play out. But he didn’t. Love got rebounds, baskets at the rim and most significant, a big win for the Cavs. Horford has to be better, period.
EFFORT NEEDS A BOOST ASAP
If you didn’t know better, you would have thought the Celtics were the defending champs who were waiting to turn it on in the playoffs, not the Cavs. At no point did the Celtics come even remotely close to instilling their will on the game. And for a team that was supposedly fighting for home-court advantage, playing at home in a playoff-like atmosphere, that development was disappointing on so many levels. Boston looked as though it wasn't ready to play and compete. At this time of year, regardless of the opponent, that can’t happen. We’ll find out tonight in Atlanta whether that lethargic effort against the Cavs was just a blip on the radar screen, or whether it’s the beginning of a deeper, more troubling reality of these Celtics.
HEALTH REMAINS A MAJOR CONCERN
Jae Crowder told me before the game that his left elbow was still sore. And in his postgame interview, he responded similarly when asked by CSN’s Abby Chin. It was clear that Crowder’s shot just wasn’t right. And while he won’t admit it, the elbow had something to do with that. His situation is a reminder as to how delicate these last four games are for the Celtics. Not in terms of winning, but more so to ensure that players are as healthy as possible for the playoffs. Having clear minds and healthy bodies are at the top of head coach Brad Stevens’ postseason wish list. Clear minds? No problem. Healthy bodies? Uh...we’ll get back to you on that one.
CAVS SHOOTERS SPREAD CELTICS DEFENSE THIN
When word got out that Tristan Thompson (thumb) wasn’t playing, there was a collective "Oh crap!" from the Celtics. Because without Thompson, that meant the Cavs would essentially have five shooters on the floor all game. And that meant Boston couldn’t really provide the kind of help-side defense they’re accustomed to which as we’ve seen of late, has been pretty good. Since the All-Star break, Boston’s defensive rating is 103.6 which ranks fifth in the NBA. Against the Cavs, Boston’s defensive rating was 117.6.
BOSTON WHERE THEY SHOULD BE
There’s a slim possibility that Boston could still land the top overall seed in the East, but with the Cavs (51-27) up one game, along with now having the tie-breaker by way of winning the head-to-head series, Boston is likely stuck with the No. 2 seed. Considering the type of season they have had, the Celtics should be the next best thing in the East to the defending champion Cavaliers. And while Cleveland proved they are an overwhelming favorite to come out of the East, being the No. 2 seed has been a good thing for teams in the East lately. In the past five playoff seasons, the No. 2 seed in the East got to the conference finals or further four times, with the lone exception being the New York Knicks getting bounced in the conference semifinals by Indiana in 2013. So while Boston isn’t where it wants to be, one can’t dismiss that the C's are still in a very good place right now.