Before the holidays, all was well in Celtic land. Boston had put together a franchise-best 19-game winning streak, and when it came to team concerns, there weren't many to report.
Since Christmas' marquee matchup in LA, the tables have shifted a bit in the wrong direction. The C's have dropped four of their last six games, with all of those losses coming on the road (including those pesky Knicks). Through this frustrating streak, the bench play has been below average at best and the team is legitimately beginning to show signs of fatigue.
Meanwhile, one of the league's cellar dwellers is starting to play some halfway-decent basketball. The Charlotte Bobcats made big changes last month, as they sent high-scoring "Celtic killer" Jason Richardson to Phoenix in exchange for defensive specialist Raja Bell and well-rounded forward Boris Diaw, whose career may have been reborn with this change of scenery. Since the deal, Diaw has held impressive averages of 15.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.2 rebounds per game on an efficient 50.4% shooting clip. Hell, he has even hit 13 of 25 from beyond the arc (52%).
Since Bell and Diaw stepped into a Bobcats uniform on December 13, Charlotte has held a semi-respectable 5-6 record. Granted, their schedule throughout that stretch hasn't exactly been the league's most challenging, as only two of those 11 games were played against teams with winning records. And both of those games, played in Atlanta and at home vs. Detroit, have resulted in losses for Larry Brown's club. Regardless, a win is a win, and for a hard working young team like the 'Cats, the more confidence, the better.
Charlotte has given the C's problems on an annual basis since their 2004 franchise birth. In fact, Charlotte even beat last year's Celtics squad at the Garden, and if it weren't for a miracle three-point buzzer-beater by Ray Allen on November 24 (2007), the 'Cats could have gone 2-2 against the 07-08 NBA champs.
PG SG SF PF C
PPG: Paul Pierce (19.0)
RPG: Kevin Garnett (8.8)
APG: Rajon Rondo (7.6)
SPG: Rajon Rondo (2.2)
BPG: Kendrick Perkins (1.8)
Celtics X-Factor: Focus
As previously the mentioned, the Celtics have dropped four of their last six games, and are not playing the same quality of basketball as displayed throughout the 19-game winning streak earlier this season. However, the C's didn't go anywhere. They're still here, and they still hold the best record in the NBA. As long as the green come out focused, put the losses behind them, and play Boston Celtics basketball, we should all get a good night's sleep.
PG SG SF PF C
PPG: Gerald Wallace (16.9)
RPG: Emeka Okafor (11.0)
APG: Raymond Felton (6.0)
SPG: Gerald Wallace (1.9)
BPG: Emeka Okafor (1.8)
Bobcats X-Factor: Defensive Intensity
The reason Charlotte has played better basketball since acquiring Bell and Diaw is simple - defense. Coach Brown got himself a couple of "Larry Brown kind of guys," and it's showing up in the win-loss column. Since the trade, Charlotte has gone 5-6, as mentioned in the introduction. However, Bell has missed the past three games with a strained groin. When Bell and Diaw are in the lineup together, Charlotte have played .500 ball at 4-4. As long as they continue that defensive intensity, whether Bell is in the lineup tonight or not, they should give the C's a run for their money (as they typically do).
|2008 - Kendrick Perkins||8.9||8.4||1.2|
|2008 - Emeka Okafor||13.8||11.0||0.6|
Kevin Garnett (sore right calf - probable)
Raja Bell (strained groin - day-to-day)
Keys to Victory
- Bench Play
- Own the Glass
- Close Out Quarters