When you're struggling to snap a losing streak, there isn't a better remedy than playing a 10-32 squad with one (potential) All-Star and a hodgepodge of moveable parts -- a reputation that doesn't translate well on the stat sheet.
Offensively, Cleveland ranks 27th in points per 100 possessions, at 98.9 for the season, per ESPN.com, and has struggled to find any sort of consistent interior scoring without the injured Anderson Varejao. And, no, the Cavaliers don't offset their offensive struggles by clamping down on the defensive end, which the Celtics have managed in recent seasons with relative success. Cleveland ranks 28th in the league defensively (ahead of only the lowly Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings), giving up 106.8 points per 100 possessions and prompting frequent criticism by way of Byron Scott.
Oh, did I say snap a losing streak? The Celtics managed to defy current offensive and defensive rankings tonight, falling prey to an underwhelming Cleveland team led by one explosive talent in dire need of some scoring help. Kyrie Irving was absolutely spectacular in this one, dismembering Boston's defensive rotations from all kinds of angles -- high pick-and-rolls, isolation sets, and quick secondary breaks all worked out well for the soon-to-be All-Star.
Outside of a horrendous defensive effort on the perimeter -- given, a rather important aspect of the game -- Rajon Rondo performed admirably, flirting with a triple-double and doing his best to counter Irving's scoring with a presence on the boards and his usual mastery of pick-and-pop situations. And, the game wasn't even on national TV!
But, there's absolutely no hope for the 2012-13 Boston Celtics if Paul Pierce -- inarguably the team's most versatile scorer -- continues this current shooting slump on the offensive end. During the Celtics' frustrating losing streak, "The Truth" has connected on a mere 18 of his 58 shot attempts, which comes to roughly 31% shooting from the floor. It just gets worse from behind the arc. Pierce has made only 2 of his 15 three-point tries during this rough stretch -- an atrocious shooting percentage of just 13%, which translates into ample rebounding opportunities for the defense and easy transition baskets on the other end. Let me reiterate. 2-15. Two for fifteen. 2 out of fifteen. As of late, Pierce's normally reliable jumper has been uncharacteristically flat (usually attributed to tired legs and built-up weariness over time) and the results haven't been particularly pretty.
Of course, Pierce's shooting struggles are only irrelevant because of his high usage rate in the Celtics' offensive schemes, since Doc Rivers loves using him in high pick-and-roll situations when Rondo isn't on the floor and post-up sets when they're in the game together. The Celtics are at their most efficient when Rondo pushes the ball aggressively and finds his forward for a trailing three-pointer or midrange jumper in transition.
Unfortunately, when the shots aren't falling, the offense will screech to a halt and stagnate -- this is exactly what happened in Cleveland tonight, as the Celtics were held beneath their per game scoring average by one of the league's worst defensive teams. For Boston to produce even middle-of-the-pack results on the offensive end, Pierce's high usage rate -- he ranks 19th overall in this league-wide rating of a player's involvement on offense, per ESPN.com, ahead of guys like Deron Williams, Rudy Gay, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul, and Brandon Jennings -- must translate into made shots, made shots, and more made shots in the flow of the offense. His streakiness from midrange and beyond must not continue moving forward; Doc's beloved group of battle-tested veterans, dropping quickly in the Eastern Conference standings, just can't afford it.
Only when the shooting woes subside will the prolonged losing streaks, "win one, lose one" inconsistencies, and daily visits to ESPN's NBA Trade Machine slowly fade from memory.