Biggest Issue Boston Celtics Must Solve Before the Start of the Playoffs

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Biggest Issue Boston Celtics Must Solve Before the Start of the Playoffs
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Pierce (left) and Rivers (right) just haven't been able to put it together on the road.

The Boston Celtics wrapped up last week winless in a showdown with the defending champions, the Miami Heat, and a three-game road trip.

While the loss to the Heat can certainly be forgiven—LeBron James and Co. have won 26-straight games—the same cannot be said about the Celtics’ shortcomings on the road. They are currently 12-23 away from home this season.

It’s an issue that has quickly become an Achilles heel for the team. One that threatens to dismantle any chance of success Boston has in the postseason.

The Celtics have now lost four-straight games and six of their last eight. They have also lost five consecutive games on the road.

It’s a slump that has had crippling effects on Boston’s season.

After getting as close as 2.5 games back of the New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division last week, the team has now dropped to 6.5 games out of the division lead and two games behind the Chicago Bulls for sixth in the conference.

It just goes to show you the importance of being able to win on the road.

But just how bad are the Celtics outside the comforts of the TD Garden?

Consider this: Out of the 16 NBA teams currently in playoff position, Boston holds the worst record on the road.

Not the best sign for a team that is likely to enter the postseason as a bottom-four seed. 

 

There’s No Place Like Home

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Boston has felt hounded on the road.

At home, the Celtics are calm, collected and go about their business in orderly fashion.

On the road, the team is lost, reckless and behaves unpredictably. 

Needless to say, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have nothing on this Boston team.

In 34 games played at the TD Garden, the Celtics have averaged 98.5 points and 24 assists per game, while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor. They have also posted an offensive rating of 101.5 and a defensive rating of 94.8.

At home, the game seems to come easy for Boston.

The ball is constantly in movement, allowing the team to find the best available shot. It also allows each player an opportunity to get himself into the flow of the game.

The result is a more proficient and better scoring offense.

Conversely, the defense has been just as effective.

The Celtics have held opponents to just 89.9 points and only 19.6 assists per game, while limiting them to 42.8 percent shooting from the field and 31.1 percent from three-point range.

Boston does not allow the opposing team time to get into a rhythm on offense. The team’s perimeter defense and quick rotations close down the passing lanes and force opponents into difficult shots. More often than not, it also results in turnovers—the Celtics average 9.3 steals per game at home.

Boston's defense has been a tremendous asset at home.

However, on the road, it’s an entirely different story.

In 35 games played away from home, Boston has averaged 90.9 points and 21.9 assists per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor. The team also has an offensive rating of 99.7 and a defensive rating of 104.5.

On the road, the game seems to slow down for the Celtics.

The ball does not move as much, with players electing to let the shot clock tick away before attempting an ill-advised shot. It almost seems as if the players are playing as individuals and not as a team.

The same holds true on the defensive end.

Opponents have taken advantage of Boston, averaging 97.3 points and 22.3 assists per game, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc.

The Celtics defense is not as solid on the road, allowing opponents better ball movement and higher-percentage shots. Sloppy perimeter defense has allowed opposing guards to slip by, causing mayhem inside the paint. It usually results in an uncontested bucket down low or a kick out for a wide-open three-point attempt.

Those are easy points Boston can’t afford to give up.

 

Stretch Run Issues

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Rivers hasn't been pleased with his team's lack of focus down the stretch.

It’s no secret that the Celtics have had their fare share of issues when it comes to closing out games. They have already lost seven contests this season in which they held a double-digit lead at some point—including margins of 16, 17 and even 27.

Not surprisingly, six of those blunders have come on the road.

The catalyst just might be the team’s play in tightly contested games.

At home, in 118 minutes with the score tied, Boston has an offensive rating of 103.4 and a defensive rating of 84.4. The team also shoots 47.8 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from three-point range.

On the road, in 121 minutes with the score tied, the Celtics have an offensive rating of 105.9 and a defensive rating of 102.8. They also shoot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from distance.

While the differences are marginal offensively, the 18.4 difference in defensive ratings is alarming.

Under the same circumstances at home, opponents have shot just 40.7 percent from the floor and only 23.5 percent from beyond the arc. On the road, those marks increase to 45.3 percent and 35.1 percent respectively.

The changes are even more significant when the team is either ahead or behind.

At home, in 718 minutes with the lead between one and five points, Boston has an offensive rating of 102.5 and a defensive rating of 91.2. The team has shot 46 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from three-point range.

On the road, in 728 minutes with the lead between one and five points, the Celtics have an offensive rating of 99.8 and a defensive rating of 107.3. They have shot just 43.4 percent from the floor and 33.6 percent from outside.

Losses like this have prevented the Celtics from soaring to a top-seed in the Eastern Conference.

In front of their home crowd, Boston has looked all the parts of an NBA title contender.

The team has kept its composure throughout the full 48 minutes and delivers fundamentally sound basketball night in and night out. Victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers proves as much.

Surrounded by the unfamiliarity of hostile opposing fans, the Celtics have stumbled.

It’s as if they have suddenly forgotten how to play defense. More specifically, it’s almost as if they don’t care. Losses to the Charlotte Bobcats (twice) and New Orleans Hornets prove that.

Talk about playing to the level of your opponent.

 

Summing It All Up

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Are the Celtics ready for take-off? The next couple weeks will provide us with the answer.

With the playoffs quickly approaching, Boston’s bipolarity between home and away is a major concern.

The team can’t expect to make a deep run when the venue of the game alone is enough to determine how well it will or will not play. It’s simply not realistic.

How far will Boston go in the postseason?

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However, while consistency has proven to be a nagging issue for the Celtics this season, the search for an identity has to be their top priority.

Without one, the team serves as just a sitting duck to who ever it matches up with during the first round.

Luckily for Boston, there are still 13 games remaining in the regular season. Sure, it’s not much time, but it’s just enough for the team to get on a roll.

Sometimes it helps to be streaky.

And that sums up the Celtics 2012-13 season in six words or less.

 

All stats used in this article are courtesy of NBA.com's Media Central (subscription required)

For complete team coverage and everything Celtics, follow Sebastian on Facebook and on Twitter 

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