The Celtics need a backup small forward (Keith Smith): Most Celtics fans spend their time wringing their hands about the team's weaknesses in the frontcourt. After Al Horford, the other players all have flaws, especially as rim protectors and rebounders. But that doesn't seem to be the Celtics biggest challenge at the moment, and you can count me in as surprised on that front.
Jae Crowder has become a fan favorite and team leader in relatively quick fashion. He goes all out every game and you never question his heart or effort level. Because of this, he can wear down and suffer injuries. Having a quality backup behind Crowder is paramount. Entering the season it seemed like like Boston had the perfect situation. Crowder for 30-35 minutes and #3 overall draft pick Jaylen Brown behind him, developing for around 15 minutes a night. Unfortunately, like the best laid plans of mice and men, that hasn't gone as envisioned.
Brown hasn't played more than 13 minutes, outside of extensive garbage time vs Golden State, in the last two weeks. When he has played, he's looked tentative on both ends and, sometimes, he's looked downright lost. Because of this, Brad Stevens can't trust him on the floor. That has led to the backup minutes behind Crowder being filled by a combination of Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko and Avery Bradley. None of those players are really small forwards. Jerebko isn't quick enough to defend most threes and Smart and Bradley both lack the bulk. Against the Pistons this showed up in a big way, as both Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris feasted when they drew either Smart or Bradley as their primary defender.
So, while most are losing sleep over the lack of a rim protector and the overall rebounding woes (both of which are real concerns), the Celtics have another unexpected hole to fill. Danny Ainge might have more work to do than originally thought, as the next trade window opens up on 12/15.
Should the Celtics always counterpunch? (Bill Sy): First, a disclaimer: I really like Amir Johnson. From everything you hear about that locker room, Amir is a leader to this young team on and off the floor. He’s vocal on defense and does all the dirty work. His gait reminds me of Robert Parish and then I think of the 80’s and then it’s Bird and McHale and those championship teams and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Here comes the “but”...
...but I can’t wait until his expiring contract is dealt in the next three months.
Last night, he had one of his better games statistically with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and a block, but we all know it isn’t about the numbers. His value, much like Marcus Smart’s, is in the margins, but I’m getting a little skeptical about his worth above any other replacement. Theoretically, he’s supposed to keep opposing centers in check, but Drummond had 20 & 17 with eight offensive rebounds against him last night, Whiteside had 25 & 17 on Monday, and Towns had 27 & 18 two weeks ago. Again, those are just numbers and you can argue that the Celtics won two of those games, but are Johnson’s five minute stints in each quarter necessary?
Against the Pistons, Kelly Olynyk and Al Horford played about ten minutes together. In two big chunks at the back end of the first and third quarters, they were a combined +8. The team hit 10-of-16 threes and nine out of the twelve field goals were assisted. Yes, those are again just numbers, but I feel like that’s the way the Celtics want to play: stretch the floor on the offensive end, get open threes, and let their wings penetrate in space.
On two of KO’s threes and one by Smart, you can see why it works. With Horford now as the low block big, it spaces the floor so that guards can drive and Olynyk can spot up on the perimeter.
Admittedly, there could be defensive issues. If it is Olynyk getting the bulk of minutes next to Horford or even starting (gasp), I think Brad opts to have KO guard the likes of Drummond, Whiteside, and KAT instead of sliding Al over. It preserves Horford and keeps him as more of a switching big in PnR’s. If that’s the case, I doubt Kelly fares any better against the league’s elite big men but at least he’s providing some versatility on the offensive end.
It just feels like Amir is out there to weather the storm sometimes. If he can be a net neutral against the opposing teams’ best centers, then the Celtics can counter with a more modern game from its bench with Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko. But why not stasrt that way? At this point, I kinda want to see Boston take the fight to them right off the bat. At some point this season and certainly by the summer, Ainge is going to add a legitimate big on this roster. That’s not a rumor. It’s just a necessity now. End circumstantial-rant-that-I’ll-regret-tomorrow.
Improvements are happening, but time is required (Alex Kungu): The last thing fans want to hear is how they shouldn’t overreact, but seriously, don’t overreact. Despite the Pistons having a “hole-in-one” game offensively, there’s a lot of good takeaways from this game. For one, the offense has been humming along nicely, and the half court execution is a great indicator of the Celtics ability to score in the playoffs. Also, Kelly Olynyk is starting to find his shooting touch again and the second unit seems to have be finding their identity. I still want to see more from Terry Rozier —who could end up being the x-factor for the second unit— but even he’s starting to gain more and more confidence each game. Celtics legitimately have a top 10 offense and are ranked in the top 10 in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting, a far cry from what we experienced last year.
So no, we don’t need to sign an over-the-hill vet to take away Jaylen Brown’s minutes. No we don’t need Greg Monroe. And no, there’s no long-term issues with our defense. Pistons threw a perfect game. That happens sometimes. Take the advice of a sleeve-cutting legend, and move on to the next game.
Isaiah Thomas is impossibly good (Bobby Manning): Isaiah Thomas isn't to be doubted as a passing point guard anymore. That part of his game has developed more rapidly than any other during his time in Boston, with his highlight dishes of the past now occurring multiple times per night. He's even cracked the top 20 in assist %, with his career high 33% in the same league as Mike Conley who's paid as the top point guard in the league.
He also did this tonight, which doesn't appear possible, but what about Thomas isn't? After an all-star season, he's reached a new level on the NBA ladder through 18 games this season and is continuing to prove he's the most irreplaceable talent on the team. Pick him last again.
Stan Van Gundy Never Stops Coaching (Jared Weiss)
His team was up 11 with just over a minute to go. It looked like the Pistons were closing in on an impressive and vital win on the second night of a back-to-back.
Then Avery Bradley caught a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope airball and took it down the floor. He got a Kelly Olynyk screen and stepped right into an open three. Van Gundy shuffled in place, clearly discontent. Eight-point game.
After Ish Smith ran a circle around the Celtics’ defense on the next possession, he found KCP for a nifty mid-range jumper. The Pistons just needed to get one more stop and it was over. But the Celtics did what they do best.
Kelly Olynyk flinged a quick inbound to Isaiah Thomas, who got into an early side pick-and-roll with Jae Crowder while the Pistons were still getting set on D. With the Pistons working through matchup confusion, Al Horford snuck into the weak side corner.
Smith [top] recovered to Horford, which left the elbow wide open for Bradley. KCP tells Tobias Harris to run out at Bradley, but it looks like Harris’ brain shut off as he keeps sliding toward the rim until he sees Bradley catch the ball. Needless to say, Bradley sank the shot.
Van Gundy was already ripping his hair out by the time Horford slipped the pass. When Bradley came down and popped another three over Harris in 3 seconds, Van Gundy went to his happy place for a few seconds to avoid going bloodsport on Tobias.
Does this look like the face of a man up eight with 21.4 seconds left? Only if you’re a coach who is truly committed to developing your basketball team into a winning culture and system. When Van Gundy snapped out of this face, he proceeded to bark at Harris, making sure he knew exactly where he failed and exactly what he needs to do. Van Gundy was so jacked up on diet pepsi Wednesday night, he might’ve had an ulcer if the Celtics hit another three.
“The key to the game was earlier,” Van Gundy said. “To go up eleven and then we just thought the game was over and we quit playing and let Avery Bradley raise up and make threes and we threw the ball away. We didn’t finish it well but we played the game well for forty-six and a half minutes.”
But those 46.5 minutes were something impressive. Van Gundy said it was their best offensive performance of the season. They needed it, as it was the first time the Celtics lost a game when committing less than six turnovers since February 2000, per BBall Reference. Ish Smith was a missed free throw shy of the Pistons pulling off a miraculous 5 x 20, with all their starters hitting that golden mark.
Never stop never stopping. God bless Stan Van Gundy and God bless America.