The Boston Celtics’ postseason life hangs in the balance.
Significant changes are necessary if the team hopes to stage a comeback. Otherwise, a first-round exit is imminent.
It didn’t take an expert to see this one coming.
Following a crushing 105-103 loss to the Miami Heat on March 18, the Celtics haven’t quite been the same. It’s almost as if head coach Doc Rivers figured his team could simply roll into the playoffs in cruise control.
One month later, Rivers probably wishes he could have a mulligan.
Since the Heat game, Boston has stumbled to a 5-12 record. Furthermore, the team is just 1-10 against opponents with a winning record.
Sure, resting key players heading into the postseason is always a wise move. But whether or not it’s in the best interest of the team is a different story.
For a team already short-staffed due to injuries, the Celtics required all the help they could get every night—no matter who they were playing. So, by sitting out Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Rivers had to know he was essentially damning his squad to defeat.
In the playoffs, it’s all about “What have you done for me lately?” The hottest teams coming in tend to have the most success.
That can only mean bad news for Boston.
Luckily, time still remains to make the necessary adjustments.
Establish Kevin Garnett Early
Garnett anchors the Celtics defense.
Without him, the team becomes completely vulnerable inside the paint and the entire defense collapses. Even defensive phenomenon Avery Bradley can’t do anything about it.
Although Garnett was active during the first two games of Boston’s first-round series with the New York Knicks, his play would suggest otherwise. He’s averaged just 10 points on 8-of-21 (38.1 percent) shooting over 30.5 minutes per game.
Garnett has also been taken advantage of on the defensive end, picking up five fouls in each contest. It’s the first time he’s picked up that many in consecutive games since 2010.
But then again, the 36-year-old hasn’t been himself for a while now.
Dealing with foot inflammation, Garnett missed 10 of the Celtics' final 13 regular-season games. Furthermore, in the three contests he did play, he was pretty much ineffective—12.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists over 23.3 minutes per game.
There’s no denying that when Garnett is at the top of his game, Boston is a much better team.
In 1,946 minutes with him on the bench this season, the Celtics have posted a defensive rating of 104.6 while allowing opponents 100.7 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting. On the other hand, in 2,022 minutes with him on the court, the team has a defensive rating of 96.2 while allowing opponents just 89.1 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting.
The difference is certainly sizable.
It’s all the more reason to try to get Garnett going early on.
Rely on the Bench More
A team is only as strong as its bench.
In Boston’s case, there wasn’t much to worry about. The team ranked 16th in the league with 33 points per game from its reserves. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it wasn’t to be ignored, either.
But with how they closed out the season, the Celtics bench looked to be one of the team’s strongest weapons heading into the postseason.
Over the final 10 games, Boston’s reserves averaged 37.7 points per game. They topped the 30-point mark eight times during that span.
However, the playoffs have been a completely different story.
During the two games, the Celtics bench has been pretty nonexistent, averaging just 11.5 points per game on 7-of-25 (28 percent) shooting. That includes a Game 1 performance where they failed to hit a single field goal, only scoring four points on free throws.
In comparison, the Knicks have averaged 30 points per game from their reserves.
One possible reason could be the recent promotion of Jeff Green into the team’s starting lineup. Green averaged 12.8 points per game during the season but took his game to another level during the second half.
In his absence, the leadership role off the bench falls to Jason Terry. Unfortunately, the 35-year-old is having one of the worst years of his career.
Through 79 games, Terry has averaged just 10.1 points and 2.5 assists over 26.9 minutes per game. He’s also shooting just 43.4 percent from the floor and 37.2 percent from beyond the arc.
But if you thought those numbers were bad, take a look at his month of April.
In six games, Terry averaged 8.5 points and 2.7 assists over 25 minutes per game. He also shot 37.5 percent from the field and just 29.2 percent from downtown.
Against New York, Terry has been even worse, averaging just 4.5 points per game on 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) shooting. Furthermore, he’s only managed to score in two of eight quarters.
In what’s quickly turning into a rather disappointing season for Boston, Terry just might be the biggest one yet.
Summing It All Up
Down 0-2, the Celtics are definitely feeling the pressure.
In NBA history, when the home team wins the first two games of the series, they’ve gone on to advance 94.4 percent of the time. In general, only 15 teams have ever come back from such a deficit.
However, history was made to be broken. Boston, of all cities, should know that.
The team needs to focus on its positives—holding the Knicks to under 42-percent shooting in both games—and work to improve on its shortcomings.
But most of all, the Celtics need to believe they can win.
It was just last year when the Heat took a 2-0 advantage into Boston in the Eastern Conference finals. Not only did the Celtics win both home contests, but they also snuck away with a Game 5 victory in Miami.
Who’s to say history can’t repeat itself?
Right now, Boston is its own worst enemy.
All stats used in this article are courtesy of NBA.com's Media Central (subscription required).