David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Over the course of the six-game winning streak and the now five-game slide, the Celtics have seemingly traded defensive intensity for offensive efficiency. What's the solution? KEEP SHOOTING.
Chris Forsberg over at ESPN Boston detailed last night's shooting debacle against the Knicks:
These Celtics live and die with perimeter jumpers and, well, on Thursday night nothing was falling for Boston. From our friends at ESPN Stats and Info:
The Celtics shot a season worst 7 of 32 (21.9 percent) for 17 points on shots at least 15 feet from the basket on Thursday. When the Celtics have won this season, they have averaged more than 40 points per game from such distance.
Exactly how bad was it? Boston shot 21.9 percent overall from 15+ feet -- its worst percentage this season and it's 3-point percentage was 16.7 percent, second worst this year.
And of course, Doc hit us with the famous "make-or-miss" quote:
"All you hope is that you make your open shots. And we just didn't. [Jason Terry is] struggling right now, I thought he had -- 1-for-6 [shooting] and four of them were point-blank, wide-open looks. Paul had a couple. I think Kevin missed a couple right at the basket. That's just the way it goes. It's a make/miss league; With effort, it's a make/miss league. If you play with great effort every night, then the game will come down to if you make your open shots."
That sounds like the most convenient of excuses for a coach mired in a five-game losing streak, but he's right. Frankly, the Celtics' advantage over every team in the league is their shooting. According to HoopData.com, they rank 1st in FG% from 16-23 feet at 44.7% and 8th from 10-15 feet at 43.7%. The NBA is all about utilizing your advantages. Some teams are fast, some teams are big. The Celtics can shoot and they're going to have to shoot themselves out of this slump.
This will sound like Doc speak but if you dig deeper into the numbers, it's really just a matter of making shots. According to Synergy Sports, the Celtics generate most of their offense from spot ups. 21.2% of their shots come from Rondo looking for the open man or the ball swinging strong side to weak side. Here are the spot up numbers from the winning streak: vs. Indiana 8/19, vs. Atlanta 11/19, vs. New York 7/13, vs. Phoenix 5/17, vs. Houston 8/17, and vs. Charlotte 13/29. That's 45.6%. During the losing streak, the C's have been as bitter as the Boston winter: vs. New Orleans 8/26, vs. Chicago 7/23, vs. Detroit 5/17, vs. Cleveland 15/27, and vs. New York 5/24. That's 34.2%, eight percentage points off their season average. The good news is that the defense kept them in a lot of those games and if you believe in the law of averages, the Celtics should get hot soon and hopefully, very soon.
Sure, that may not be the best recipe for success. Ideally, you'd want every play to end with something at the rim, getting fouled, and making the and-1. Going into a game, you'd much rather rely on getting buckets close to the basket or from the free throw line where the percentages are much higher, but Doc's a smart coach. He doesn't game plan for an entire season; he thinks ahead for the playoffs where defenses are tighter, refs swallow their whistles, and "easy" shots are hard to come by.
But as the title of Forsberg's article suggests, the Celtics are currently dying by the jumper. This morning, Marc Stein reported that Celtics have "ramped up their interest" in Orlando's J.J. Redick. The need for a big man notwithstanding, the interest in the Magic shooting guard makes sense. He's a 46% shooter who hits almost 40% of his three pointers and he plays very good defense at 6'4.
But I tend to agree with Doc. Before the Knicks game, he said:
"[No changes] right now; let's hope we don't," said Rivers. "If we start playing better, then you don't have to do that. Obviously if we don't, then we have to do something at some point. Again, I think we have what we need in the locker room, I'm just not getting it out of them. I have to figure out a better way of doing that."
Redick's a nice player, but can he outplay the Helter Skelter duo of Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee? I don't think so and he's certainly going to command more money when he hits the free agent market this summer. And even if Rob Hennigan was interested in a 35-year-old Jason Terry who is in the first year of a three contract which he's not, it's hard to give up on a clutch player like Jet. You have to think that the season will turn for him at some point, right? That goes for the rest of the team, too. Just. Keep. Shooting.
We can spit out all the empirical data but ultimately, it all rests in faith, right? Over the last couple of games, it's clear that the cold streak has affected the players. There's a tentative hitch in their jumpers and guys are passing up looks that they would have confidently taken during the winning streak. You can really see it with The Captain. Every time he shoots, his body english looks like he's translating French into Spanish back to French. He's become the whipping boy for everybody's frustration, but he's just gotta keep shooting.
Look, even in their best shooting nights, Boston shoots about 50%. That's a coin flip. And as dismal as the Celtics have been in the last two weeks, I'm still betting on them.