The C's have had an up and down season.
Through 74 games of the NBA regular season, the Boston Celtics’ true identity still remains to be revealed. One second they’re running off several wins in a row; the next second they’re suffering losses in bunches.
But while “who the Celtics are” still remains clouded in obscurity, their strengths and weaknesses have become clear as day.
On the season, Boston has had win streaks of three or more games four times—including undefeated stretches of six and seven games. Conversely, the team has also endured losing streaks of three or more games four times this year—including winless stints of five and six games.
Sure, the bipolarity might hint at a team in complete disarray. But closer examination sheds light on an even bigger problem: The Celtics are their own worst enemy.
As if playing against an NBA team wasn’t hard enough.
In what’s been a season-long struggle, Boston will succeed through a strength only to be brought back down by a weakness. It’s an occurrence that has plagued the team time and time again.
If the Celtics are shooting well, the defense can’t slow down a snail. If they’re playing great defensively, the offense provides enough bricks to pave a road to Oz. If the team rebounds well—okay, let’s not get too carried away.
Needless to say, Boston has issues. But instead of letting this battle take part night in and night out, the team must take each strength and weakness and learn from it.
If they don’t, the Celtics shouldn’t expect a lengthy stay in the postseason.
Boston has had tremendous success with its shooting.
Boston has lived and died by the jump shot.
But more often than not, the team has lived quite luxuriously.
On the season, the Celtics have shot 46.2 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc. They rank No. 7 and No. 17 in the league respectively. The team also averages 96.2 points per game, while posting an offensive rating of 100.7.
Lately, those numbers have been even better.
Over the last 10 games, Boston has shot 48.5 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. The team has increased its scoring output to 97.9 points per game, while holding an offensive rating of 104.
The Celtics are finding open shots and making their opponents pay. More specifically, both Jeff Green and Paul Pierce are shooting the lights out.
During the same stretch, Green has shot 52.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown. On the other hand, Pierce has shot 49.6 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from distance.
But more on that later.
Pierce and his teammates haven't had much to smile about on the road.
They say home is where the heart is.
In Boston’s case, home is also where its talent is.
The Celtics are 13-25 on the road this season. They have lost two straight and seven of their last eight games away from home. So it comes as no surprise that the team currently holds the worst road record among the 16 teams currently in playoff positioning.
Boston does know that it’ll have to play a good chunk of its postseason on the road, right?
In 38 games away from home, the Celtics average 93.9 points and 21.9 assists per game, while shooting 44.8 percent from the field. They also have an offensive rating of 99.6 and a defensive rating of 104.6.
The team’s defense does not fare much better.
Opponents have averaged 99.1 points and 22.9 assists per game. They have also shot 45.1 percent from the floor and 36.2 percent from three-point range.
Compare that to what happens inside the friendly confines of the TD Garden.
In 36 games played at home, Boston has averaged 98.6 points and 23.9 assists per game, while shooting 47.7 percent from the field. The team also has an offensive rating of 101.9 and a defensive rating of 95.5.
Even the defense thrives at home.
The Celtics have held the opposition to just 90.8 points and only 19.6 assists per game. They have also limited opponent shooting to 42.9 percent from the floor and 31.2 percent from beyond the arc.
It’s amazing how much of an impact the venue has had on Boston’s play this season.
Luckily, only three of the team’s remaining eight games are on the road.
Pierce (left) and Green (right) have made life tough for opponents on both ends of the floor.
There is a difference between hot and white-hot.
Paul Pierce and Jeff Green are proving to be the definition of the latter.
With the season winding down, it’s about that time when one player steps up to lead the team for the postseason push. It seems the Celtics have found not one, but two worthy candidates.
Both players have had great campaigns thus far. However, they have been downright sensational lately.
Over the last 10 games, Pierce is averaging 20 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.1 blocks over 33.9 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range, while posting an offensive rating of 107.3.
Pierce has taken smart shots and been a key factor in getting other players involved in the game. His distribution skill has almost made the Boston faithful forget about Rajon Rondo. Almost.
On the other hand, Green has been averaging 19.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 blocks over 36.4 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from beyond the arc, while posting an offensive rating of 103.7.
The hesitation Green displayed with the ball earlier in the season has been nowhere to be found. He’s attacking the hoop constantly and hitting the outside shot when open. His dual-threat abilities have kept opponents off guard.
With the duo, the Celtics have found a recipe for postseason success.
At 36, Garnett can't be expected to shoulder the load alone.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link.
Unfortunately for Boston, the frontcourt is an area that the team has many to choose from.
On the season, Kevin Garnett has averaged 14.9 points per game. Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Shavlik Randolph and D.J. White have all combined for just 18.2 per game. Furthermore, the team has averaged just 10.6 points per game from the center position over the last five games—sixth worst in the league during that span.
Think the Celtics have missed Garnett’s presence over the last six games?
The news only got worst when it was discovered that Garnett has a bone spur in his ankle. (via ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullen)
Now is the time someone else needs to step up. However, Boston simply does not have the talent at the position.
While Bass has played a lot better lately—11 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in the last 10 games—he has proven to be far too inconsistent this season. The Celtics can’t depend on a player whose game plan essentially relies on standing around and hoping for an open shot.
The options after that are not any better.
Wilcox has only played worse with an increase in minutes, White simply has not seen enough court time and Randolph needs to discover the benefits of the weight room before he can find success on the floor.
This is not the cast of characters that will lead Boston to success in the postseason.
And to think, Kenyon Martin was available for more than half the season.
Bradley's hounding defense has been a boost for Boston.
Defense may win championships, but the Celtics have proven it can also literally drag a team into the postseason.
Boston has allowed opponents an average of 96.5 points per game on the year, ranking No. 11 in the league. The team also ranks sixth with a defensive rating of 100.1.
Strong perimeter defense by both Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee has made life tough for opposing guards. Paired with the Celtics' solid defensive rotations, opponents have difficulty finding open passing lanes and usually have to resort to forcing up ill-advised shots.
The defense has been so good that opponents have literally asked the team to slow it down a notch.
Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
Boston has limited opponents to just 44-percent shooting from the field and 33.7 percent from beyond the arc. The team ranks sixth and second in the categories respectively.
If the Celtics can continue their defensive prowess throughout the postseason, they will give themselves a chance to win every game.
Rivers has been frustrated with his team's play inside the paint.
If there’s one issue that has single-handedly caused havoc to Boston this season, it’s the team’s lack of success inside the paint.
On the season, opponents have pestered the team for 42.6 points in the paint per game—No. 19 in the league. At the same time, the Celtics have only scored 37.8 per game themselves—No. 27 in the league.
That’s a swing of 4.8 points from down low. Those points would have paid dividends in a conference where six games separate the fourth and eighth seeds.
Even when Boston gets an opponent to miss a shot, the team has generally failed to capitalize on the resulting rebound.
The Celtics have allowed opponents an average of 11.3 offensive rebounds per game. Furthermore, they rank No. 26 in the league, allowing an average of 14.2 second-chance points per game. Conversely, the team has averaged 7.9 offensive rebounds and just 9.6 second-chance points per game—both rank worst in the league.
In the playoffs, games tend to be won and lost inside the paint.
If that’s the case, the future does not look too bright for Boston.
All stats used in this article are courtesy of NBA.com’s Media Central