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Early season offensive issues rearing their ugly heads once again for Celtics

After fits and spurts of improvement, Boston has regressed on offense.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Offense has been one of the biggest issues for the Boston Celtics this season. Just when they looked to be turning a corner on that end, they fell right back into a hole. Boston looked great in their wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, posting an offensive rating of 117.4. However, in their last two games against the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets, that number plummeted to 104.4.

While a piece of that drop-off in rating is due to the Celtics simply missing a bunch of shots, a bigger part of it can be attributed to how often they settled. Against the Thunder and Lakers, Boston was doing a great job of getting into the paint and creating offense from there. These last two games, they have strayed away from that ideology, instead choosing to play around the perimeter.

After their loss to Brooklyn, Ime Udoka was asked about the team settling for shots. It seemed as though the Nets were fine with letting Boston take shots around the perimeter, and the C’s fell right into that trap.

“The first timeout I talked about we’re getting nothing at the basket. All jump shots early. And even though we got some open looks a lot of them were one-on-one contested, you know, semi-contested shots. I don’t mind the penetrate and kick when we’re getting the wide-open looks, which we got several of them and didn’t particularly shoot it well. It was just we didn’t get anything at the basket”

In their games vs. the Lakers and Thunder, the C’s averaged 52.0 drives. In their last two games, that number fell to 48.0. While that may not seem like a huge drop-off, the difference can be seen in the number of points scored off drives. Boston averaged 41.5 points in those first two games, but only 23.0 in the latter two. There’s a huge difference between driving and driving with purpose.

Take a look at this play against the Thunder. The C’s get to the paint multiple times, forcing Oklahoma City to rotate, thus creating an easy look for Tatum.

The C’s took nearly 50 threes against the Nets, shooting only 22.9 percent. Udoka said that “it’s a balance,” but that they are “always going to take those shots” that come off of penetration. It was just a rough shooting night from beyond the arc in general.

Some of the looks they got were fine, but a few too many of them didn’t occur within the flow of the offense like the play below. Tatum holds the ball for the entire possession, dribbles along the perimeter, and takes a contested three-point shot over Kevin Durant.

This play didn’t come in the flow of the offense because there was no offense. Take a look at all four of the other guys on the floor. After Enes Kanter sets a screen, no one moves. The play was either designed for Tatum to take an isolation three, or he just decided to make the call himself. Regardless, this was not a good shot by any stretch of the imagination.

Another great example that displays a lack of offense is when Tatum tries to get himself in a rhythm. That play against Oklahoma City above was designed to get Tatum an easy look. In turn, he was able to find a rhythm, and he was hot for the rest of the game. In this play, Tatum starts the possession by taking a contested mid-range shot, gets his own rebound, and proceeds to chuck up a contested three.

Tatum is desperately trying to get in a rhythm. After these shots, he was 1-6 from the field and 0-4 from deep on the game. While getting him in a rhythm is crucial, the C’s have to do it in an effective way. There was no plan here to get him an open look. The ball didn’t touch the paint once, there was no drive-and-kick (which has been their bread and butter on offense this year), and Tatum ended up getting two bad looks.

With their lack of a true big man, the Nets love to load the paint with as many guys as possible. This definitely made it harder for the C’s to get looks at the basket, but that should not have deterred them from trying. Instead of attempting to go through contact, the Celtics constantly choose to reset the offense. This gave Brooklyn time to adjust, therefore decreasing Boston’s chances on that end.

Udoka also touched on this concept as a whole. He mentioned how important it is to make quick decisions and not let the offense get stagnant throughout the game.

“I mean, ball and body movement is what we stressed today. If you get stagnant, isolation-heavy against this team, they load up and that’s when they’re really good... I talked about quick decisions and that’s not holding the ball and I felt a lot of times we backed it out and held it and they loaded up and so we got a little stagnant.”

Despite their offensive firepower, the Nets are actually one of the better defensive teams in the league this year. Right now, they rank sixth in the NBA in defensive rating at 104.7, and ninth in opponent’s points per game at 104.9. It was certainly an uphill battle for the Celtics, but they clearly took the wrong approach.

There’s also the issue of reinserting Jaylen Brown back into the rotation. As great as Brown has been this year, Boston had just begun to find its rhythm on offense before he came back. Having Dennis Schroder in the starting lineup seemed to really give them a much-needed boost. When Schroder starts this year, the Celtics are 7-4. When he comes off the bench, they are 3-5.

Maybe it’s time to test out new starting lineups so Brown and Schroder can start together. However, that would require Udoka to either abandon the double-dig lineup or bring Marcus Smart off the bench. (The latter is highly unlikely). Both players have been crucial to Boston’s success this season, so something needs to be ironed out in that regard, and it could just be as simple as ensuring that Schroder runs with the starters more.

Regardless, the Celtics need to relocate the offensive prowess they showed glimpses of just a few games ago. As of now, it seems as though they are regressing back to the early-season offense that saw them get out to a 2-5 start to the season. That’s a recipe for disaster and something that must be corrected immediately.