The Celtics started this season 0-3, and every major NBA writer or pundit (it seemed) appeared to have already written off the Celtics as "too old", and having no shot of getting things together. Celtics fans, however, remained confident that the missing pieces to this puzzle were Paul Pierce getting healthy again, and time to grow as a team. After all, two weeks of training camp and two preseason games with two rookies, six new players, and an injured Paul Pierce are setbacks that aren't easily overcome in a shortened season. Now, Boston sits at 2-3 with two consecutive wins against Detroit and Washington, respectively. Pierce returned against Detroit, and his impact on this team has been obvious. The Celtics appear to be getting better by the day. Let's take a look at some of the improvements we've seen over the past few games.
First things first if we're talking about improvements. The C's offensive cohesion has been much better over the past two games. After getting walloped by the Hornets in the third game of the season it was evident that Boston needed Paul Pierce back in a hurry. The C's man-to-man defense throughout the first three games was abysmal, and at one point Boston was the third worst team in the league in defensive efficiency. (In fact, they still are despite the two wins. Boston's DefEff is at 106.9 while the league average is 100.4. That's the 27th worst DefEff in the league.) Pierce returned, though, against Detroit, and his impact on this team was quite evident. Even though he had only one practice under his belt, and he was coming off an injury he was able to score 12 points on 4-8 shooting, pull down 4 rebounds, and amass 5 assists and a steal. Despite all of those stats, the biggest impact Pierce added to Boston was a fantastic impact on floor spacing and on defense. When he is on the floor the offense flows smoothly. Most times the offense runs through Rajon, but that's how it should be with #9 leading the point. During the first three games of the season there was ample confusion on the court offensively, and it led to missed cuts to the baskets, bad passes, and an all-around terrible showing for Boston. Now, the C's look like they are finding a bit of cohesion. Paul has brought confidence back to the starting five, and a familiarity that just wasn't there during the first three games.
The Celtics overall are ranked pretty differently in many areas so far this season. Here's a few of those rankings.
The C's are ranked 6th in the NBA in OffEff* with a 105.0 compared to the league average of 100.2.
The C's are ranked 27th in the NBA in DefEff* with a 106.9 compared to the league average of 100.4.
The C's are ranked 2nd in the NBA in eFG%* at 52.56 compared to the league average of 47.9.
The C's are ranked 23rd in the NBA in their opponents eFG% at 51.47 compared to the league average of 48.0.
Those are some pretty alarming numbers in some areas, but remember we are only five games into the season. With a healthy Pierce on the court, and a team that is still learning what Doc Rivers and his coaching staff expects on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball -- those numbers should look a lot better by the end of the season.
Another improvement so far is the addition of Brandon Bass. Bass is filling in quite nicely for Glen Davis this season, and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Sure, he's validated the nickname he earned in Orlando (No Pass Bass), but when he's connecting on 52.7% of his shots then who is going to complain? Bass has been involved in 19 plays this season that found Bass spotting up, and he's hit 10-19 (52.6%) shots from those spot-ups. Brandon has been the roll man on the pick-and-roll during 13 plays this season, and he has shot 8-12 (66.7%). Bass has also been involved in 9 plays resulting in post-up opportunities, and he has shot 4-7 (57.1%) on those tries. Defensively, he's been pretty good as well. He's been the primary defender on 28 plays so far this season, and has allowed 5-26 shooting (19.2%). Bass' TS% (true shooting percentage) was at 57.4 through the first four games of the season. He is averaging 15.3 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, and has a PER (player efficiency rating) of 21.90 -- above the league average of 14.01 through games played by 12/30. Oh, Glen Davis? He's averaging 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds and is shooting just 32.5%.
One last thing that seems to be getting better by the game is Jermaine O'Neal's performance on the court. Sure, his two most productive games so far have come against terrible teams. But if that's what it takes to give Jermaine confidence then so be it. He's seemed pretty fit, and so far his knees haven't appeared to give him any trouble. Well, trouble in the sense of pain. He still has very little lift to those legs, but he's been effective in the post the past two games, and has hit on quite a few more jumpers than I was expecting to see from him. If this little stretch gets him comfortable in the flow of the offense then I will live with his slow rotations defensively. Let's face it. He and Kevin are aging quickly. It is vital for Jermaine to find some sort of contributions offensively, and it's evident that Rajon is trying to get him involved (much like he did early on last season with Shaq). If he can find a groove and become comfortable and at least above-average defensively again, then Boston will be headed in the right direction. If not, then hopefully Greg Stiemsma will continue to develop and improve, because he will definitely be needed.
All of these things are great and positive things to be excited about. Hopefully, like my good friend Borat always says, they will bring great success. But there are still a lot of glaring deficiencies for Boston, and not a lot of time to practice to get them worked out. The C's are in the middle of a really nice home stretch, and that has got to be reason for Doc and his staff to be happy. The C's are always dominant at home. However, home court does not change the fact that Boston has a rookie seeing a big chunk of minutes at the center position (Stiemsma), an injured Pietrus who will really help a thin second/third unit if he could just get healthy, and a bevy of new guys who are still learning what is expected of them in Boston. The Celtics' straits are not dire right now, but there are plenty of things that need to be worked on and improved. Only time will tell how much improvement will be made, but one thing is certain -- Boston is 2-3 and getting better, and the Celtics' ship seems to be righting itself once again.
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