Every team has matchup problems. Maybe outside of the Spurs, no team can seemingly beat everybody all the time. Even the Warriors, who have won a record 204 games over the last three seasons, have trouble with certain teams. Ahem, one of those teams are the Celtics. With Bradley, Smart, and Crowder neutralizing Golden State’s perimeter game, Boston has been their kryptonite.
But for the Celtics, it’s bigger and longer teams who are immune to Boston’s perimeter pressure defense that have found consistent success over them this season. Think about who the Celtics have had trouble with: Nuggets (0-2), Spurs (0-2), Cavaliers (1-3), and Hawks (1-2). All of them are teams that can a) play inside out from the post, b) use their length to overload the strong side of the ball on defense, and c) kill them on the offensive glass.
After the game, Paul Millsap quipped, “We tend to play pretty good basketball against them for whatever reason.” Atlanta outscored Boston 44-36 in the paint and 22-14 on points off turnovers, out-rebounded Boston 52 to 38, and made a ridiculous amount of mid-range shots. That’s your ball game.
"We're not gonna panic," says Isaiah Thomas. "We're just gonna keep fighting."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 7, 2017
Should the Celtics be worried heading into the playoffs? Sure. Every team has weaknesses, and Boston is 2-9 against those teams that have been able to expose them. Thankfully, two of them are out West, they likely avoid Atlanta in the first round, and a match up with the Cavaliers would only come in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Here’s the hard truth about the current roster: it’s built for the modern NBA game, and against most teams, they’ve done well and put together a 50-win season. Unfortunately, we’re still in the rebuilding process. Yes, we’re the #2 seed in the East, but real talk, we’ve overachieved. A lot of fans will make expectations based on their record and not on their timeline, and that’s just not fair.
The Celtics are one of the youngest teams in the NBA, and Ainge has struck gold so many times in the last four seasons: the Brooklyn trade, the Isaiah Thomas trade, the Jae Crowder trade, signing Al Horford away from the Hawks, going against the consensus and drafting Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown, stashing quality players in the G-League and abroad. Every move has been a eureka moment, but you can’t accelerate player development.
During Wednesday night’s massacre at the hands of the Cavaliers, the Celtics started the third quarter with Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Kelly Olynyk, and Jonas Jerebko. In less than five minutes, Cleveland’s veteran crew outscored Boston 18-4, and the Celtics never got back into the game. You’re going to get moments like that when you play kids against grown men.
Brad Stevens: "Sometimes you feel like you found something in a loss. I feel like we can build off this one."— Jay King (@ByJayKing) April 7, 2017
But then, there are moments like last night when you see patience pay off. Down twenty midway through the third, Stevens started tinkering with the lineups, mixing veterans from the starting lineup with young guys from the second unit. By the start of the fourth quarter, they had whittled the lead down to 10, and the IT&D lineup got it down to two possessions with over two minutes to go in the game.
Against a team that’s always given them trouble, they figured out how to counter punch. With the playoffs coming, they’ll need that kind of mentality, flexibility, and fortitude to win a seven-game series.