The Celtics are a lost bunch right now.
As we get closer and closer to the end of the NBA regular season, the Boston Celtics have gotten farther and farther away from the level of basketball they should be playing. Every passing week has brought forth new issues that have hampered the team.
Luckily, the Celtics’ remaining schedule will provide them with all the answers they need.
After a slow start to the season, Boston rebounded to post a 36-29 record through 65 games. The Atlantic Division title was still within grasp—the New York Knicks’ lead was down to 2.5 games—and the team had successfully overcome losing Rajon Rondo to a season-ending injury. The Celtics were 16-6 without their All-Star point guard.
However, since then, things have begun to crumble.
Boston has now lost five straight games. To make matters worse, the team’s injury toll has only been rising—both Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee have missed time with ankle injuries (via Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn).
But while their offensive production has not faltered much, the Celtics have struggled on the defensive end in recent weeks.
Over the last five games, the team’s defensive rating has skyrocketed to 106.6. Boston is also allowing opponents a staggering 101.2 points per game.
Both are significant increases over the team’s season marks of 102.2 and 95.9, respectively.
Unfortunately, the Celtics have various reasons to hold responsible for the drop-off.
It’s a collective team effort that will hopefully get resolved over the course of the team’s final 12 games.
Rivers hasn't had much to smile about on the road.
It’s remarkable how much of a different team Boston is on the road.
In 35 games played away from home, the team is 12-23. The Celtics have averaged 90.9 points and 21.9 assists per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor. They also have an offensive rating of 99.7 and a defensive rating of 104.5.
But while Boston struggles, its opponents have thrived.
Opposing teams have averaged 97.3 points and 22.3 assists per game. They have done so while shooting 45 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range.
Compare that to the team’s performance at home.
In 35 games played at the TD Garden, the Celtics are 24-11. They average 98.5 points and 24 assists per game, while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor. Boston has also posted an offensive rating of 101.5 and a defensive rating of 98.4.
Conversely, while the team thrives, opponents have struggled.
The Celtics have held the opposition to just 89.9 points and only 19.6 assists per game. They have also limited them to 42.8 percent shooting from the field and 31.1 percent from beyond the arc.
It’s startling how much the venue alone can affect Boston’s performance.
However, with six of its final 12 games on the road—including matchups with the Miami Heat and New York Knicks—the team has the perfect opportunity for redemption.
Win those games, and the Celtics can go into the postseason with a little more confidence on the road. Lose both, and it could turn out to be a very short run for them in the playoffs.
Which will it be?
Bradley has found buckets hard to come by this season.
Avery Bradley was one of Boston’s biggest stories last season.
He was just 21 years old, possessed elite-level defensive skills and was slowly evolving into an offensive weapon. During the last 15 games of the season, Bradley averaged 15.1 points and 2.6 rebounds over 32.9 minutes per game. He also shot 52 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from three-point range.
This season, Bradley has not had the same good fortunes.
Through 39 games, he’s averaged just 9.3 points and 2.6 rebounds over 29 minutes per game. Bradley is also only shooting 40.2 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent from distance.
However, lately, his numbers have been even worse.
Over the last five games, Bradley has averaged just seven points and three rebounds per game. His shooting has slumped to 28.8 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Bradley’s defensive prowess still remains, but his offensive production is nowhere to be seen.
Maybe he’s still recovering from the double-shoulder surgery he underwent over the offseason. Or maybe, Bradley just is not the player he was advertised to be.
Either way, the Celtics are sure to find out soon.
Crawford has slowly begun to come around.
Jordan Crawford has long been known for his poor shot selection. But soon enough, he just might be known as Boston’s biggest contributor off the bench.
In 16 games with the team, Crawford has averaged 8.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists over 19.1 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 40.4 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from three-point range.
However, over the last two games, Crawford has taken his game to another level.
The 24-year-old has averaged 17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists over 34 minutes per game during the contests. He’s shot 10-of-24 (41.7 percent) from the floor and 4-of-10 (40 percent) from beyond the arc.
But it was during the Celtics’ March 23 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies that Crawford displayed just how good he can be.
With the Grizzlies leading by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter, Crawford led a game-changing surge for Boston, netting 14 of his 21 points in the period. He eventually cut the lead to four with little over a minute to go.
Of course, it was by way of an ill-timed, 30-foot jump shot. But hey, that’s part of the lure of Crawford.
Expect the youngster to become more involved in the offense as the season comes to a close.
Bass has become one of Boston's biggest disappointments this year.
Is there a bigger tease than Brandon Bass on this Celtics roster right now?
The guy posts a stat line of 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, re-signs with a hefty contract and then proceeds to pull a disappearing act that would even leave Houdini impressed.
Through 70 games this season, Bass has averaged just 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds over 27.1 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 46.7 percent from the field—his worst mark since his rookie season.
So it comes as no surprise that Boston actually seems better off without him.
In 1,545 minutes without Bass on the court, the team has an offensive rating of 100.7 and a defensive rating of 95.9. In comparison, in 1,895 minutes with Bass on the court, the Celtics post an offensive rating of 100.4 and a defensive rating of 102.9.
However, Bass has recently shown signs of significant improvement.
Over the last four games, he’s averaged 11 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 blocks over 30.1 minutes per game. Bass has also shot 17-of-29 (58.6 percent) from the floor.
He’s been moving a lot better on the court and has been more aggressive with the ball in his hands. It’s an aspect Bass has been missing all season long—he’s averaged just 6.9 shots per game compared to last season’s average of 10.7 per game.
Is it a sign that he’s turned the corner? It’s too early to tell.
But Boston can expect to get a better answer if they keep feeding Bass the ball down the stretch.
Without too many healthy options in the frontcourt, the team could really use Bass right now.
Green is ready to step into a much bigger role during the playoffs.
Last season, the Celtics pushed the eventual champion Miami Heat to seven games during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Rajon Rondo can be credited for much of that success.
In 19 games, Rondo averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals over 42.6 minutes per game. He also shot 46.8 percent from the field.
Rondo essentially carried Boston to victories when the Big Three stumbled, which turned out to be quite a bit.
This season, the team will have to look elsewhere for that go-to guy.
The leading candidates are Paul Pierce and Jeff Green.
Throughout the year, both have stepped up in the clutch and both are in the midst of their best stretches of the season.
Over the last five games, Pierce has averaged 20.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 steals over 35.2 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 54.7 percent from the floor and 52.4 percent from three-point range.
Pierce has done everything for Boston during Rondo’s absence. Aside from his usual points production, he’s taken over the distribution duties and been active on the boards. Pierce has proven to be the true definition of a point forward.
In the same span, Green has averaged 19.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, two blocks and 1.2 steals over 36.2 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from downtown.
Whether he’s been in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, Green has been productive. He can take it to the hoop or knock down the outside shot. Green put all those on display during his career-high output of 43 points against Miami on March 18.
Both players are getting hot at the right time and give the Celtics the best chance to win whenever they’re on the floor.
But who’s going to be the one who steps it up even further come the playoffs?
That’s the question.
All stats used in this article are courtesy of NBA.com’s Media Central (subscription required).