Celtics

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.

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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.

 

DEFENDING DOMINANT BIG MEN

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.

 

INCONSISTENT OFFENSE

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.

 

KYRIE IRVING FACTOR

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.

 

NUMBER TWO SCORER NEEDED

 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.

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Marcus Smart remains cautiously optimistic on return to the Boston Celtics

Marcus Smart remains cautiously optimistic on return to the Boston Celtics

WALTHAM, Mass. — Marcus Smart, less than two weeks away from becoming a restricted free agent, remains cautiously optimistic that he will be back with the Celtics this season.

“I do,” he said at his basketball camp held on the campus of Brandeis University. “I haven’t put too much thought into this off-season, the free agency thing.

He added, “my number one focus is on my family now. I have a lot of stuff going.”

Specifically, Smart’s mother Camellia Smart is battling cancer.

Smart, who has spent a good chunk of the offseason with her in Texas, said her health has been his number one priority this summer.

“Right now, she needs all the positive thinking we can give her,” said Smart who added that she has three kidney stones and has lost the ability to walk due to chemotherapy treatments. 

While basketball is certainly an afterthought for Smart at this time, both he and the Celtics will have to make some tough decisions soon. As a restricted free agent, the Celtics can match any offer he receives. 

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A number of teams, including the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns are doing their homework on Smart to determine 1) If they want to make an offer to him and 2) what’s a number they can put out there that would dissuade the Celtics from matching.”

Smart, selected by the Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, has been a mainstay in the Celtics rotation from the moment he joined the team.

Despite often being criticized for his poor shooting, Smart averaged 9.4 points per game throughout his career as a Celtic, appearing in 251 regular season games.

His impact most nights lies at the defensive end of the floor where he has emerged as one of the better on-the-ball defenders in the NBA.

And while most think of good perimeter defense as contesting shots, Smart has shown you can be a difference-maker defensively by being in the right position at the right time as well.

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After rallying back from a 26-point deficit to beat Houston earlier this season, Smart drew a pair of offensive fouls on inbounds plays against James Harden in the closing moments to help secure the win.

And there have been countless dives on the floor for loose balls, deflections, rebounds and of course forcing turnovers, that have made Smart a player that has tremendous value in the eyes of the Celtics.

But in terms of dollars and cents, how much is Smart really worth to the Boston?

There are several teams in the NBA  such as the New York Knicks and Detroit Piston s, that are making calls inquiring about Smart to determine if they will make an offer to the restricted free agent-to-be next month.

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Celtics were first to show "high level of interest" in Donte DiVincenzo

Celtics were first to show "high level of interest" in Donte DiVincenzo

In an interview with the Boston Globe ahead of Thursday's 2018 NBA Draft, Villanova University coach Jay Wright said the Boston Celtics were the first team to show a "high level of interest," in Donte DiVincenzo. 

"I think Danny Ainge might have been the first guy I talked to about Donte,” he said. “They saw something in him really early. They liked his competitiveness and his ability to shoot the ball."

Wright went along to explain that the Celtics questioned DiVincenzo's defensive ability, but that they really liked him nonetheless. Boston owns the 27th pick in the NBA Draft this Thursday, and could consider taking the former Wildcat if he is available. 

The Celtics brought DiVincenzo in for a pre-draft workout early in the draft process, while Ainge reportedly took him out to lunch after it had concluded

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in his redshirt-sophomore season. He shot 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three point range, leading the Wildcats to their second NCAA National Championship in three years. 

It is possible the Celtics won't be able to select DiVincenzo with the 27th pick with the way his draft stock has risen, but Ainge has plenty of future draft picks to consider trading up if he has deemed DiVincenzo "his guy."

The 2018 NBA is scheduled to begin on June 21st at 7 p.m. EST. 

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