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Why the best is yet to come for the Celtics

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Celtics look like they’re back on track, but can they reach another level?

NBA: Playoffs-Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In the last three games it seems that the Celtics have finally find their groove and are treating the Bulls like the 8th seed they are. The rebounding issues have largely been solved by going small and getting more perimeter guys to stay in front of their man. Then on offense, it’s been all about spacing, elite passing, great space, and giving Isaiah Thomas room to work. Despite all this, the Celtics shooting has still left a lot to be desired.

As a team, it’s not readily apparent just how bad the Celtics shooting from distance has been, specifically on open or wide open looks. During the regular season, the Celtics were 37.3% and during the playoffs that’s dropped to 36.7%. Neither is particularly impressive, but also not different enough to be alarmed. However, it’s the shooting of two of the Celtics most reliable shooters that has given some pause.

Jae Crowder

This season Jae Crowder had his greatest shooting percentage from deep at 39.8%. His worked on mechanics were smooth, consistent, and a great result followed. This series however, the Celtics swingman has struggled to find any type of consistency. On Crowder’s open or wide open shots this series the wing has shot an abysmal 18.3%. For those thinking, “well yeah, its the playoffs now.” I hear you, and in some circumstances I agree with you. Last year Jeff Teague was a 40% shooter from deep, but at one point was only shooting 25.5% on open or wide open looks during the first round series against the Celtics. Why? The Celtics realized that during the regular season Teague was shooting 48.7% on catch and shoot three’s and 34.4% on pull-up attempts. So during the series, they dipped under every screen and begged Teague to keep taking pull-up after pull-up which led to the nightmare results. I say all that to tell you the Chicago Bulls have no such plan.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

As we know a Crowder works best as a catch and shoot guy, and during the regular season he averaged about 4.3 attempts on those shots in which he made 40.7% of. In this series Crowder has been actually taken more of his catch and shoot shots at 4.8 attempts, but is only shooting 20.8%. To take a step further, Crowder is actually averaging the same amount of open or wide shoots that he did in the regular season (4.2), but during the season he was making 42.7% of those looks.

Isaiah Thomas

Despite the Celtics dynamite guards relatively decent shooting percentage from the field, his three point shot has largely disappeared for the most part. Overall, his percentage has dipped from 37.9% in the regular season to a whopping 21.1% this postseason. Again, the drop-off here seems largely due to the lack of consistency on open or wide open looks. During the regular season Thomas shot 45.3% on open or wide open looks. In the playoffs? That number has dropped to 33.3%.

One wrinkle to Thomas’ shooting though is his pull-up shots have actually shot up from 24.1% to 29.2% in the playoffs, and his percentages have dropped from 36.6% to 15.4%. In this regard, the Bulls have been consistent in trying to stay attached to Thomas as much as possible and make it difficult, this is also why Stevens has played Smart almost exclusively at the one even when he’s with Thomas on the floor so that he can get some separation. However, even if those numbers don’t improve for the remainder of this series, If Thomas just returns to shooting his average on his open or wide open looks, none of it really matters.

NBA: Playoffs-Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics are going into there first game elimination game as the team trying to eliminate in the Brad Stevens era. The Celtics seemed to have figured the Bulls out and it’ll now come down to simply not believing they have already won the series. Despite the competitiveness of these games however, the Celtics always seem to be on the cusp of putting the game out of reach if they could just capitalize on the open looks there offense generates. Tonight would be the perfect night to flip the script.