The Boston Celtics are currently riding their longest winning streak in over two years. However, common sense would suggest that the team still has some work to do in order to rise back up to the rank of title contenders.
Whether that return comes sooner rather than later is completely up to the Celtics.
After disposing of the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday, Boston has now won six straight games. The last time the Celtics accomplished this feat, they followed up by reeling off eight more wins.
But with each passing victory, another deficiency gets brought to the forefront.
If Boston has any hope of repeating that 14-game winning streak, it better start correcting these mistakes soon.
Second Time's the Charm
Over the six-game winning streak, the Celtics have averaged 11.8 offensive rebounds per game. It’s a significant improvement over their season-long average of only 8.5 per game—No. 28 in the league.
Unfortunately, their opponents have fared even better.
Boston is allowing opponents 13.2 offensive rebounds per game over its last six contests. That’s an increase over the 10.9 per game the team had surrendered before the streak.
The Celtics have really paid the price when matched up with some of the league’s elite rebounders.
The New York Knicks’ Tyson Chandler took advantage of this weakness, pulling down eight offensive boards (18 total) during a Jan. 7 matchup at Madison Square Garden.
Two days later, the Phoenix Suns had four starters with three or more offensive rebounds—including guard Jared Dudley (4)—on their way to a team total of 19 for the game.
It’s these second-chance opportunities that present a problem going forward.
Boston is failing to box out, giving their opponents multiple opportunities to capitalize.
Although the team is only allowing 85.2 points per game during this streak, it’s the laziness on the glass that allows opponents to keep themselves in games.
Painting a Horrible Picture
There’s a reason the Celtics lately have been linked to almost every big man who might be on the trading block. It’s because they have shown absolutely no interior presence around the rim all season.
In what’s become somewhat of a trend, opponents have been able to score with relative ease against Boston down low. The team ranks No. 16 in the league, allowing 41.3 points in the paint per game.
But lately, they have been even worse.
Over their last three games, the Celtics have allowed opponents 44.1 points in the paint per night. That includes 50 against the Suns and 48 against the Houston Rockets.
A lot of that could do with the fact that Boston only has two players on their roster listed at 6’11” or taller. One of those players, Kevin Garnett, has been doing his best to limit the damage. However, when he steps off the floor, he seems to take the team’s interior defense with him.
When Garnett is on the court, the Celtics allow 100.8 points per 100 possessions. That number balloons to 110.9 points when he’s on the bench.
One man can’t do it all. Especially not a 36-year-old, 17-year veteran.
Wait, Come Back!
During this streak, there have been several games that Boston should have blown out its opponents.
Against Phoenix, the Celtics went into the half with a comfortable 53-41 lead. A Garnett jump shot increased the lead to 14 to open up the third quarter.
However, the Suns responded by reeling off 17 unanswered points to take a 58-55 lead with 5:58 remaining in the quarter. During the run, Boston shot 0-of-8 and turned the ball over three times. Two days later, the Celtics began the fourth quarter with a Garnett jumper to extend their lead to 80-66 over the Houston Rockets. Less than four minutes later, Boston’s lead was cut to two.
The Celtics shot 1-of-5 and committed three turnovers during Houston’s run.
On Monday, against the woeful Bobcats, Boston once again went into halftime with a comfortable first-half advantage. This time it was 56-45.
Then, in almost a rerun of the Phoenix game, Charlotte began the second half on a 9-0 run. They would eventually tie the game at 58. The Celtics shot 0-of-6 and gave away two turnovers during that stretch.
Head coach Doc Rivers must have been passing out sleeping pills at halftime, or an opening-period Garnett bucket is just plain bad luck; either way, Boston looked a shell of its first-half self after intermission of those games.
Sure, the team rebounded to win all three games rather handily. But how much longer do you think the Celtics can get away with this trend?
Boston needs to start putting together complete games if they want this midseason streak to transform into long-term success.
Summing It All Up
Don’t get me wrong, the Celtics are easily playing their best basketball of the season.
Their defense has been out of this world lately, the bench is finally becoming a significant factor in games and the entire team just looks like they’re having a lot of fun out there.
But most importantly, the results have followed.
However, Boston is still not at that point where they should be completely satisfied with the product they send out on the floor every night. Whether they'll make a move before the Feb. 21 trade deadline or a couple changes in strategy, only time will tell.
Until then, can we hold off talking about banner No. 18 and just enjoy Celtics basketball?
There certainly has been a lot to smile about lately.
Let’s hope that keeps up.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of January 15, 2013
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