After losing five of the last six games since the All Star break and all four against playoff competition, the Celtics are looking for answers. There may be some detritus from the trade deadline and rumor mill, but they’re finally healthy with Aron Baynes back from an eleven-game absence and have eighteen games before the playoffs start in just over a month.
The cause of the current slump has been hard to diagnose. There are games where they look defensively locked in (vs. Milwaukee and Portland), but other times when they let up double digit runs and looked lost on D (vs. Toronto and Houston). However, there are some obvious symptoms of a team funk. Over their last four games, they haven’t shot better than 30% from behind the arc and are collectively 29 of 121 from three (23.9%). Since the All Star break, Boston is the worst shooting team in the league with a true shooting percentage of 52.1%.
Kyrie Irving’s cool confidence (arguably cold demeanor) in the Celtics flipping the switch in the playoffs is counterbalanced by fans and writers looking for answers on how to fix the team. Three quarters into the regular season isn’t exactly the most ideal time to make a big change, but we’ve seen drastic measures turn this team around before. When the Celtics were a disappointing 10-10, replacing Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward with Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart in the starting lineup sparked an eight-game winning streak. Could Boston use another jolt before the post-season?
“We’ll look at everything. We’ve been looking at everything after every game, every night when we got to bed. Every minute when you wake up, you’re always thinking about that. There’s things that are helpful in that and things that are not helpful,” Brad Stevens said after being asked if a change to the Celtics’ starting five might help.
“If it’s the root of your issues, then I think a small tweak can help. I’m not sure if that’s our root. That said, we still are evaluating tweaks regardless. We just have to keep working to all play better rather than when we play. We’ve all had moments over the course of the year where we’ve all played well. Danny has said this on a number of occasions, ‘when we have six or seven guys playing well, we’re pretty good.’ We just have to get back to that.”
The leading candidate to regain his starting spot is Jaylen Brown. Over the last ten games, Brown is averaging 13.1 points on 46.8% shooting in just under 26 minutes a game. He hasn’t exactly regained his three-point shooting form from last season, but Brown has refined his shot selection and been aggressive attacking the paint.
Brown’s added a punch of the bench, particularly on the defensive end, and over the last three games, he’s played the entire fourth quarter in all of them. When asked specifically about making the third-year swingman a starter again, Stevens said, “starting, not starting, he’s playing well and like you said, he’s been in it at the end. He’s doing a good job and the other thing you have to factor in is that sometimes, he’s doing a good job because he’s comfortable with the group he’s playing with. That’s the hard part sometimes. Again, if I thought that who we start the game with was going to make a huge difference or even give us a spark we need, then we’ll consider it and do it, maybe just try it for the hell of it.”
Stevens jokingly added, “I don’t usually fly by he seat of my pants like that. Usually, I like to think and have a thoughtful process to it. We’ll just keep plugging away and see what we can do.”
The Celtics now head out west on a bit of a revenge tour through California. They’ll try and avenge home losses to the Warriors, Clippers, and Lakers and add ping pong balls to their chances at a better draft pick in Sacramento. Reading between the lines, it doesn’t seem like Stevens is keen on making a change anytime soon and hopes that the road trip could bond the team closer together. Stevens said, “I think that’s one of the benefits of being on a long road trip. You get to spend some time together. You get to have some meals together. There’s more time off the court that you can engage with each other, and we can do that.”
GARDEN REPORT ON JAYLEN BROWN’S IMPROVED PLAY