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Celtics Still Searching For Identity On Offense

The Celtics are still searching. Whether it's against the Miami Heat or the Detroit Pistons - they are still searching.

For what, you ask?

Who they are on offense.

The players don't really know. Doc Rivers doesn't really know. And far be it from any one of us to have any clue.

Maybe the answer, if ever discovered, isn't one we want to hear anyways.

When it comes to straight up scoring points, the Celtics are ranked 26th in the NBA averaging just 90.2 per game. The four teams behind them? Raptors, Pistons, Hornets, and Bobcats.

The two teams ahead of them? Nets and Wizards.

Talk about a crap sandwich.

The difference though, is that the Celtics play defense - something none of those other teams that are listed do to the same extent. That's why when the C's lose it's on their defense, not their offense - so they say.

Yeah, they play at an extremely slow pace - the slowest in the NBA - which contributes to their low scoring. And yeah, they were without Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass Wednesday night, two obviously important pieces.

But it's clear the issue is far deeper than missing one or two guys - it's a fundamental issue rooted deep in the team's execution on offense, or lack thereof.

Are they to utilize Rajon Rondo more aggressively on offense- and his new chemistry with Chris Wilcox - like they did tonight when Rondo took 27 shots? Or are they going to walk up the ball, set the offense, and look for Ray Allen's and Paul Pierce's shot?

In a perfect world, the two styles are complementary. But it's not always the case, and certainly not easy. And Rondo is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. When the C's lose and he doesn't attack the basket, he needs to do it more. When the C's lose and he takes 27 shots, some say he needs to get the ball moving more. And then some - like Doc Rivers - want him to do both.

"Offensively I didn't really like the way we played the whole night, really," Rivers said. "Wasn't a lot of movement. I like Rondo being aggressive, but on the other hand we didn't get a lot of ball movement. This wasn't lost on offense. Defensively you give up 98 points to a team that's struggling right now scoring."

"I want Rondo to stay aggressive, more in transition," Rivers went on to say later. "In half-court, that's when you get the ball to your other guys. But listen, Rondo we want him to stay exactly, we want him to stay aggressive. That's really important to us. The way to really do that is off of stops. In the first half, that's how we did it. In the second half, we were not getting stops."

I did the play-by-play - the C's scored 27 of 49 first-half points on the ensuing possession of a defensive stand or turnover but still only led by two points. In the second half, they scored 17 of 39 points under the same circumstances.

The Pistons hit three more field goals in the second half (19) than in the first half, with the same amount of field goals (37). They scored four more points in the second half than in the first half.

So really, how much worse was the defense? Four points worse than in the first half? If you want to put it on the defense, you can make an argument that 98 points to the Pistons is too much. But to say it was the second-half defense would be a little off.

The C's held Detroit to 40-percent shooting in the fourth quarter (although they gave up four 3-pointers to Ben Gordon), but could only score 16 points. In the third quarter they scored 23 points while allowing Detroit to convert 65-percent of the time. How does that translate to creating offense from defense? It doesn't.

After the game Rondo talked about the difficulties of being aggressive and also finding his teammates.

"It's difficult. When you have it going yourself, my teammates kept telling me stay aggressive," he said. "But at the same time I was just trying to get other guys involved. You know, when they're not missing, they have to come back and tell me to still attack and stay aggressive."

Ray Allen took just five shots, hitting one. Pierce was not himself either, finishing 3-11 for 10 points. Maybe it was because they didn't get it going early on. But if Rivers wants aggression from Rondo, who converted 15 of 27 field goals, that's the price he pays.

"We played a lot of bump and roll. Rondo got the hot hand and took the shots that were there when they sagged off of him," Pierce said. "When the shots were there he took them. We went to him in the post a lot and it caused a lot of isolation. That was the game plan."

Rivers didn't like the offense all night and wanted more ball movement. Pierce says the plan was to give it to Rondo for as long as Detroit would allow.

And here we are.

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