IT & AB Carrying a Sinking Ship (Jared Weiss): It would’ve been hard to imagine this a month ago, but the Celtics are at .500, and they’re lucky to be there. This team hasn’t passed the eye test, smell test, or any other exam that could identify a consistent basketball team.
They’ve relied on Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley to be their buoys, but the rest of the team is sinking. Thomas is scoring at an all-NBA level, while Bradley is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game on top of 18.5 points per game on 40.7-percent three-point shooting. The only guard averaging more rebounds is Russell Westbrook, who is somehow on the precipice of averaging a triple-double.
The Horford and Crowder injuries—as well as Smart’s early injury—are the obvious issues that allow you to write off the slow start at first. But the overall concepts that underlie the defensive system have been failing on the aggregate. The offense hasn’t looked like itself aside from some beautiful minutes with the full-strength starting lineup in the season opener against the Nets.
The Celtics will be a shell of themselves until they are at full strength. But even this shell should have a thicker skin. They are still succumbing to the types of unforced errors and the lack of creative play that plagued them early in Stevens’ tenure.
Kelly Olynyk’s pass to Tim Frazier showed that these mistakes will still be lurking under the surface. I was working on a story showing how Olynyk and the Celtics are back, but that was abruptly put on hold.
The truth is that the starting backcourt has been the gold standard in the league this year. But the rest of the roster is still searching for myrrh and frankincense.
Celtics are losing games in the front court (Bobby Manning): No matter how effective Al Horford is in his return to the front court (whether you want to call him the 5 or the 4 as Brad Stevens does), someone has to step up beside him or come in from the outside. Kelly Olynyk would be the obvious choice, but while he has played effectively since returning, he's left a black hole offensively on the bench. He's far better suited there for the team's success, but nobody else has proven capable. Tyler Zeller has come the closest, but his defensive and rebounding deficiencies are where the team is currently lacking immensely. Amir Johnson played fantastically in those two areas a year ago, but early on he's lost a step. Watching him airmail two out of three 3PA in the opening four minutes was infuriating, as the Cs gave up bucket after bucket in the paint. As for Jonas Jerebko and Jordan Mickey—two players who showed great promise a year ago—they've both been disappointing non-factors. This team's defensive issues stem from that hole in the starting lineup.
Keep it simple, stupid (Bill Sy): Here’s a picture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
It was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry. It’s brash and unique, and its unorthodox look actually serves to maximize the acoustics of the space. It’s a piece of sonic and visual achievement, and it’s the first thing I thought about after three ATOs by Brad Stevens were met with mix results.
With thirty-seven seconds left in a tie game, Stevens drew up a relatively simple set for his best player. It was a quick hitter to Isaiah Thomas, designed specifically to get a 2-for-1 opportunity.
We’ve seen similar sets from Stevens to get a quick bucket like this one in Toronto. With Thomas getting the ball past half court, he can use his speed to slingshot towards the rim and run downhill on any defenders. The double pick set by Olynyk and Johnson allow him to go virtually one-on-one with Anthony Davis to create the contact and the two free throws. That play, I got. The next one, I didn’t.
After Davis hit two free throws to regain the lead, Stevens had Avery Bradley go head-to-head with Anthony Davis, and Bradley’s three-pointer got blocked. After a series of down screens, Bradley got AD on a switch and took an ill-advised shot from the behind the arc. But it’s not even the shot that puzzles me. Like Norman Dale in Hoosiers telling a ref that he’ll play with four players, Stevens uses Thomas as a decoy. In fact, Thomas isn’t used at all. You can’t even see him enter the frame until Bradley starts making his move.
I just wonder if this is a little overthinking on the part of Stevens. Thomas is Boston’s best scorer, and they need a score on that possession. I get that you have the Pelicans thinking, “what is Thomas going to do? Why is he so far away from the play?” and you create more space for Bradley to work, but that was just a miserable outcome when the team needed something clutch.
The ensuing inbound play was brilliant, but unfortunately, Frazier sniffed it out in the last second and jumped in front of Amir for the steal. Stevens is brilliant in those cluster screen moments when three players enter a cloud of contact and jet out in different directions.
And when they really needed it, Stevens simplified it again and got Thomas on his strong side for an easy drive. The Celtics ran their basic weave action with Thomas, Smart, and Olynyk. I love all the options that came out of it. Smart is wide open at the top of the key for a three, but because Olynk rolls and seals Davis on his back, Thomas can freely get to the rim for a layup.
Brad Stevens is a wizard on the white board, but sometimes I wonder if he doesn’t need to draw up a Gehry-esque concert hall every time. Sometimes, all you need is a high school gym to hear the music just fine.
The Celtics are deep, but not that deep (Jeff Nooney): Boston has struggled at times with inconsistent scoring from the bench this season. It was an issue again last night, with Langston Galloway of all people outscoring the Celtic reserves by himself. Jaylen Brown chipped in 8 points, but that was the best of the bunch. James Young went from being an unlikely hero against the Pacers to putting up a six-minute trillion in the box score. Injuries play a factor, but you can only use that excuse for so long. Boston needs other players to step up off the bench because the starters are bearing too much of the load right now.
Glass half empty (Tim MacLean): We can talk about the lack of execution on Brad's last two ATOs until we're blue in the face. But the fact of the matter is it never should have gotten to that point in the first place. New Orleans' bench outscored Boston's 57-20—in other words, the Celtics are lucky they only lost this game by one. Terrence Jones (!) looked like a superstar all night against this defense, and that's just simply unacceptable. You can't lose games like these. You just can't.
Glass half full (Keith Smith): No way around it, this was a bad loss. The Celtics took way too many threes, didn't share the ball well (they assisted on just half of their baskets) and didn't take full advantage of being in the penalty with 8:34 to go in the 4th quarter.
In what was hopefully the last game for a while without Al Horford and Jae Crowder, it was the Celtics "littles" who almost got it done. Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart combined for 71 points. In addition, the team only had 10 turnovers, even if the last one was a crushing one by Smart. This enabled them to get up 95 shots. On a poor shooting night, quantity can sometimes beat quality. Bradley and Smart also combined for 16 rebounds, as the Celtics grabbed more offensive rebounds than an opponent for a change.
On Wednesday, or Friday at the latest, the Celtics should be at full strength for the first time all season. And with three straight against teams that made the playoffs last year, it comes at exactly the right time. A 5-5 record with all the injuries this team has faced isn't all that bad. As the season nears a month old, it is now time to find out what kind of team Boston actually is.
Wait a minute... (Jeff Clark):