Although the win column doesn't show it, the Celtics have slowly improved as a team recently.
The Boston Celtics aren’t exactly knocking down the door as they inch closer to their sixth-straight postseason appearance. The team has won just three of its last 10 games, while suffering even more setbacks due to injuries.
However, any opponent that chooses to underestimate the Celtics is only gambling with its postseason life.
Sure, from the outside looking in, there’s not too much about this team to be optimistic about. Boston is just 39-36 on the year, likely to play the hottest team in the league—the New York Knicks—in the first round and probably couldn’t win a game on the road against a Div. III university.
Furthermore, the team has lost Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger. Not to mention, Kevin Garnett is dealing with an ankle injury that has caused him to miss the last seven games.
And this is the team that is supposed to keep opponents on their toes?
You bet it is.
While unfortunate, the adversity the Celtics have dealt with this season has only battle-hardened them for the playoffs. It has also allowed head coach Doc Rivers to learn many new things about his team.
More specifically, it has given several players on the roster an opportunity to emerge out of the shadows and become key role players for Boston.
Believe it or not, these setbacks could have been the best thing to happen to the team.
Bass Down Low
Brandon Bass has been an enigma for much of this season.
Through 75 games, he’s averaged just 8.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks over 27.4 minutes per game. Bass has also shot 47.3 percent from the field—his lowest mark since his rookie campaign. It’s a noticeable decrease in his production from last year—12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds over 31.7 minutes per game.
But when all hope of a productive season was lost, Bass has seemingly turned things around.
In seven games without Garnett, he has averaged 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.6 blocks over 31.4 minutes per game. Bass has also shot 54.3 percent from the floor.
Surprisingly, he has been one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA lately, averaging 1.067 points per play over his last nine games according to Synergy Data. It’s an average that would rank in the top 15 in the league if he kept it up.
Now that’s more like the Bass the Celtics thought they were re-signing this offseason.
But what has stood out even more is Bass’ performance on the defensive end.
Thus far, he ranks eighth in the league with 0.761 points per play allowed. But in the last nine games, Bass has allowed just 0.685 points per play (via Synergy Data).
In comparison, teammate Avery Bradley leads the NBA, allowing just 0.695 points per game.
Then consider Boston's improvement with Bass on the floor.
Since March 25, in 187 minutes with him on the court, the Celtics post a defensive rating of 100.9. In 101 minutes with him off the court, that number skyrockets to 112.
With only seven games left in the regular season, Bass has chosen a perfect time to regain his confidence.
Due to injuries, Boston has had to turn towards several new players for support this season.
One of those players—Jordan Crawford—might just prove to be the x factor for the team come playoff time.
Although his shot selection still remains questionable, Crawford has been productive off the bench for the Celtics. He has averaged 10.9 points, 3.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game over the last seven games.
Boston knew it was getting an aggressive shooter—Crawford averages 10.4 field-goal attempts per game. But what the team didn’t know was that it was getting a player who also possessed the ability to distribute the basketball and rebound well for his size.
To put it simply, Crawford is a game-changer.
He proved as much during the Celtics' matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies on March 23.
With the Grizzlies leading by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter, Crawford got to work. Shot by shot, he helped lead a Boston surge, netting 14 of his 21 points during the final period. He capped it off by drilling a three-pointer to 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.
Summing It All Up
It’s no secret that the Celtics aren’t having the best year. In fact, they’re on pace to finish with their worst regular-season record since 2007.
But like they say, “what don’t kill you makes you stronger.”
It’s a mantra Boston will have to live by from this point out.
With every passing game, it seems a new player steps up. Whether it’s Jeff Green, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry or Terrence Williams; every player on the roster is giving their 110 percent to ensure the Celtics earn a victory.
Sure, the wins haven’t come as of late. But does that mean the team hasn’t improved? Not at all.
Boston’s best basketball of the season is still yet to come.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Unless otherwise stated, all stats used in this article are courtesy of NBA.com's Media Central