In the midst of all the fireworks and moving parts, we've still got some basketball to play. It's tough to execute with rhythm when half of the roster is being shipped to different places (... as if the Celtics have played with rhythm at all this season), but the struggles continued this week as the C's ran into some quality clubs on their three-game home stand. After falling to Chicago and Atlanta in double-digit fashion, Boston has now lost 11 of their last 14 games and as weak as the Eastern Conference may seem, we've got cruise control activated in the carpool lane to lotto land.
With that said, there were plenty of positives to take from this three-game week. Most importantly, the Celtics overcame a visually effortless 34-point outing by Anthony Davis on Monday night to earn a high-energy 108-100 victory against New Orleans. Jared Sullinger went toe to toe with the bouncy superstar and matched him with a big time double-double. Jae Crowder complemented him with his coming out party that was highlighted by a career high 22 points. We knew he was tough and scrappy with a high motor, but I am digging his ability to knock down shots.
Marcus Smart, the guy everybody is rooting for to succeed, has continued his solid all-around play as his responsibilities gradually increase. Much has been made of his drastic improvement as a perimeter shooter in comparison to the first month of his pro career, and rightfully so as Smart is now up to 35% from beyond the arc, but I've been just as comforted by how much more poised the rook has been with the ball in his hands. He is operating at a much more controlled pace, he's not rushing every single spot-up jumper anymore and like any aspiring floor general, he is slowly starting to figure out how to read the floor.
We're finally starting to notice coach Stevens feature Smart within the offense in certain areas of the floor. For example, in last night's game against the Bulls we saw Smart posted as a playmaker in the mid-post on more than one occasion and he is running the pick and roll both more frequently and efficiently. If you ask me, the biggest difference in Smart's pick and roll attack is that he is beginning to make himself a presence. He isn't rubbing off and then pausing to see what happens, he is now heading north-south while he watches the play develop and he has even put his body into his man that had gone under the screen. That half-step differential on the draw means the world he does a nice job of recognizing cutters in the back line of the defense.
Smart had a solid week, averaging 6.0 points, 5.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game while committing just two total turnovers in 85 minutes played. The kid still has a long way to go, especially in terms of creating offense, but make no mistake about the fact that he is starting to figure out how to play at the NBA level.
However, the most productive and consistent Celtic this week was none other than the big fella, Jared Sullinger.
CELTICS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
20.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.3 APG
Many would argue that #7 is the best player on the roster now that Rondo and Green have moved on, and he has backed up those sentiments since the deals were made. Sully went at Anthony Davis for 27 points and 10 boards and he dropped another 20-piece last night vs. Chicago, putting him at team highs 20.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for the week.
The more aggressive Sullinger plays the game, the better. Sure, you could say that about any athlete in any competitive sport but a guy with as much skill as Sully should get to the free throw line more than 2.1 times per game. This week, he got to the stripe for 17 free throws and even went 8-9 against New Orleans.
Something tells me Sullinger isn't going to tone down the jump shooting any time soon, but I love when he makes up his mind to throw his weight around 10 feet and in. He did that a lot more than usual this week and it paid off. Let's hope he can build off of this and put together a nice streak of big games going forward. I mean, hell, If he doesn't, who will?
As the remaining personnel timidly glances at their phone every five minutes with the fear of Trader Dan's wrath filling their chest, the Celtics have their work cut out for them looking ahead. Monday night's visit in Clipperland with the Rivers family marks the first of a six-game west coast swing that will keep our beloved C's on the road until the end of the month. Following a couple of days to travel and prepare, the trip continues with two sets of back-to-back meetings, the first of which coming on Thursday and Friday out in Portland and Denver before a Sunday evening affair with Golden State sets the table for something rowdy in Salt Lake City the next night (won't be the first time that has happened). Next Wednesday's [winnable?] matchup in Minnesota concludes the trip, then they get to come back home to host the Rockets.
Fun fact: All three of Jahlil Okafor's games are nationally televised throughout the time period of this Celtics road trip. Just in case you were wondering.
Off to the west coast we go!