The Boston Celtics have not played great basketball through the first 41 games of the year, but the final 41 will be a different story.
Currently sitting one game under .500, the Celtics haven’t been their normal selves in 2012-13. But despite the rough start to the season, they sit 3.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.
What has slowed Boston has been inconsistent play from a wide variety of players as well as poor team play. The Celtics have been adequate at home and poor on the road. They’ve lost four straight after winning six games in a row. They had lost four consecutive games prior to that. They get streaky in both good and bad ways.
Well, it’s time to make a playoff push as the second half of the seasons starts on Thursday, Jan. 4 against the New York Knicks. Here’s how the Celtics can do it.
Too many times this season the Celtics have lost due to too many fouls.
Boston currently averages the fifth-most fouls per game in basketball (via NBA.com). The defense gets lazy, and then in order to try and stop the opponent from capitalizing on it, it fouls him and make him earn it from the charity stripe.
Opponents attempt 24.3 free throws per game when playing the Celtics, the fifth-most in the NBA (via ESPN). Luckily for Boston, opponents only shoot 72.3 percent against them from the line, which is the second-lowest behind the Los Angeles Lakers (via ESPN).
Now it’s fantastic that opponents only make around 18-of-24 free throws per game against Boston instead of more, but that’s too way, way too many. Hypothetically, the Celtics giving away 24 points per game because they can’t properly cover their man.
Ideally, Boston needs to decrease its fouls per game from 21.4 to around 19.5, which isn’t a lot by any means.
The Celtics have a couple of threats from deep, but they haven’t been very threatening this year.
Boston sits in the middle of the pack in the league in three-point shooting at 36.1 percent. Paul Pierce has shot around his career average at 36.4 percent, but Jason Terry and Avery Bradley haven’t.
Terry has been a great three-point shooter over the course of his career, but is shooting two percent lower this season than his career average. Over his last five games, he’s only shooting 33.3 percent. Terry is seeing a lot of time on the court, and he needs to make the most of his by hitting deep balls a little more often down the stretch.
In Bradley’s first full season in the NBA last season, he shot 40.7 percent from the three-point line in 64 games. Through 10 games this season—missing time due to injury—he’s shooting 31.3 percent. If he’s going to continue to take 3.2 three-pointers per game, he must be better.
It’s pretty painful to try and watch the Celtics try and grab a rebound. It truly is.
Without context, 39.1 rebounds per game doesn’t sound half bad. But when you learn that only the Miami Heat average fewer rebounds per game, your perception of the situation changes.
That’s correct: The Celtics average the second-fewest rebounds per game this season (via ESPN). Kevin Garnett averages seven boards per game which leads the team. Over the course of his Hall of Fame career, Garnett has averaged close to 11 rebounds per game.
Rookie Jared Sullinger is next with 6.1 rebounds per game. That’s acceptable considering he isn’t seeing nearly as much time on the floor as Garnett.
But no one else on Boston averages at least six rebounds per game. And it’s not like one guy is getting a ton and restricting everyone else to get them. It’s just that no one is crashing the boards anymore.
Rebounding is probably Boston’s biggest weakness headed into the second half of the season.
I’ll give credit where credit is due. The Celtics have been very good at hanging on to the ball this season.
That’s very good considering how poorly the Celtics have played overall. But they have to keep it up.
Rajon Rondo is obviously going to have the most turnovers each night because he’s touching the ball the most often. But even still, he’s averaging less than four per game compared to 11.1 assists per game.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett—the next likeliest to turn the ball over—also have to continue playing smart. They can’t put themselves in situations where they can’t find an open man or think they can take someone one-on-one when they can’t.
Turning the ball over just allows the opponent to score on your behalf. The Celtics need to keep up the good work in this aspect of their game and the wins will eventually come.
The Boston Celtics aren’t going anywhere unless Rajon Rondo is healthy and performing at a high level.
These aren’t the glory days of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce and Garnett are still making great contributions—having the two-highest PER on the team—but the success of the Celtics now relies on Rondo. He’s their playmaker.
Rondo is the only player on the team averaging double figures in multiple categories. He’s currently averaging 13.4 points and 11.1 assists per game in around 37 minutes per night.
But his numbers aren’t exactly what Boston needs each night. The Celtics need a leader.
As B/R Featured Columnist Dan Favale recently wrote, Rondo is already becoming one:
Boston has plenty of issues, from top to bottom. However, thanks to Rondon, the absence of a leader isn’t one of them. Yes, he must do a better job of leading this group, but he makes no excuses and has voluntarily put their failures on his shoulders. Meaning? He’s already going a better job of “being a leader.”
If the Celtics are going to make the playoffs, it will be because Rondo stepped up and got them there.