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The Read & React: Cousins as a Celtic, and a lack of bench production

Between now and February, will the Celtics average more three pointers or Cousins-to-Boston rumors?

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Three Party (Jeff Nooney): The Celtics have been uncharacteristically good from long range this season. The addition of Al Horford has helped, as evidenced by his four-three-pointer night against the Kings. And the combo of Bradley and Crowder is shooting great, too. Boston ranks 8th in the league in 3P% after finishing 28th last year. This game showed why that improvement is so important. As Jared Weiss noted, Sacramento ended up with nine more possessions than Boston. But the Celtics went 11/28 from deep, compared to 6/26 for the Kings. This kind of advantage lessens the damage of getting out-rebounded. It's the simple math of a three-point shot counting more than a two-point one.

Boston's improved three-point shooting is undoubtedly a great thing. But there is a little room to be concerned. Looking at Dean Oliver's Four Factors, Boston's offense is propped up by its shooting (8th in EFG%) and ball security (5th) right now. Fortunately, those are the two most important factors out of the group. But the Celtics are in the bottom third of the NBA in creating offensive rebounds and free throws. This lack of balance is fine if you can consistently shoot well. Consistent shooting hasn't exactly been a strength of this team over the last few years, though, so I'm a bit worried about what a possible regression in 3P% would do to the offense.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

DeMarcus Cousins: Celtics material or no? (Keith P. Smith): Whether the Celtics should trade for DeMarcus Cousins has been debated to no end. It probably won't end unless Cousins is traded to Boston or elsewhere. As long as he's a King, the question will continue to be asked. Tonight we got to see both sides of Cousins. He played through a poor first half, looking disinterested for most of the time. In the second half, he made several big plays to keep the Kings in the game and put them in a position to win.

The talented big man spent a large part of the game showing off his bad habits. On offense he fell in love with the jumper, taking seven threes. Sure, Cousins can step out and hit that shot, but you don't want him living out there—not when he can overpower most opposing bigs in the lane. On the defensive end of the floor, the picture was really ugly. His effort hedging on screens wasn't just bad, it was barely there. Celtics guards blew by him repeatedly, forcing the other Kings to help and getting the Celtics clean looks.

And none of this mentions how Cousins stomps around the court like a sourpuss for most of every game he plays. On one hand, he has a case because he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt from the officials most of the time. On the other hand, he hasn't earned any sort of respect from the refs by constantly showing them up and stink-eyeing them for his entire career. And he's not really showing a lot of leadership for his teammates either. The Kings look like a bit of a rudderless ship, and most of that falls at the feet of Cousins.

So, is Cousins Boston Celtics material? Part of the argument is that if you get him to a stable environment with good veterans leaders as teammates, perhaps he'll stop with the foolishness and become a night-in and night-out dominant force. On the flip side, a tiger can't change its stripes. It is easy to envision Cousins stomping around all game, sulking when things don't go his way and turning off the fan base. Considering the cost it would take to acquire him, that is a price many can't bring themselves to stomach. Only time will tell which way this one goes, and until something happens, the debate will continue.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Bench woes continue (Bobby Manning): I hate to say it, but the Celtics are proving to be a top-heavy team this season. Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas are in the midst of quite possibly the best years of their careers. They've been superheroes for the Celts, and basking in their glory has overshadowed a troubling trend that reared its head again tonight. Sure Horford saved the game tonight, but it was another bad night for the Celtics bench.

Tyler Zeller played minimal minutes. Marcus Smart had four turnovers. Kelly Olynyk continued his inexplicably poor shooting season. Terry Rozier shot one of seven, though he did make some crucial plays down the stretch. Jonas Jerebko remains a steady contributor, which is what you'd expect (9 rebounds tonight). Jaylen Brown has faded into obscurity, as has James Young, and if there's a word that describes obscurity times hyperbole, that's where Gerald Green is at right now.

On a presumably deep team, the reliable options have been few off the Celts bench this year. Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise. The Cs’ shortened their bench minutes tonight, and it paid dividends, but when the unit was on the floor they were dominated. In particular, the group's overall inability to put the ball in the hoop is the biggest issue. Smart can make up for his shooting woes with scrappiness, Jerebko will also rebound well, Olynyk can distribute the ball, and Rozier does all three of those things pretty well. But when an entire unit is doing everything but putting the ball in the net, it doesn't bode well on the scoreboard.

Boston's bench players this year are ninth worst in points (30.8), shooting from the field in the lower half of the league (42%), as well as free throws attempted per game (6.1). The trends aren't alarming yet, but they're there. As crucial players need rest and nights off, whether or not the bench can step up and fulfill production will be crucial. The starters can't be driven into the ground to sustain the team though the regular season this year.

Drive (Bill Sy): Remember this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones shoots the sword-wielding henchman with a gun?:

Sometimes, that reminds me of the Celtics’ offense. The read-and-react motion can be beautiful to watch, but so many times of late it has resulted in a bad shot. In one of Scalabrine’s ATO sideline visits, he reported that Stevens was happy with the side-to-side action, but he wanted more penetration into the teeth of the offense. In other words, just shoot ‘em.

When the starters are in the game, a lot of penetration comes from the Isaiah Thomas-Al Horford pick-and-roll-or-pop. It’s just enough to suck in the D and generate an uncontested catch-and-shoot situation, a cutter, or a kick-out and drive for another teammate.

But without that paint touch, the Celtics struggle to create a good look. Last night, the bench had a tough time because neither Smart or Rozier could successfully collapse the defense. The Kings packed the paint and forced the second- and third-year men to shoot. Marcus and Terry combined for 1-for-6 shooting on uncontested shots, and Rozier alone went 1 for 5 on contested drives. They did however dish five assists on Marcus post-ups and with Terry in transition.

As many have noted, the Celtics are 6th in the league in free-throw attempts. Three-point shooting has kept them afloat, but eFG% can be fickle. Boston will need to start getting more consistent at getting easy buckets if they want to consistently win, particularly against better teams. That means less side-to-side and more north-and-south with their motion offense.

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