Boston Celtics Must Learn from 2012-13 Season to Reinvent Team Identity
The Boston Celtics valiant attempt at a 3-0 series comeback against the New York Knicks fell short, as the team lost at home 88-80, despite Jeff Green pouring in 21 points and a 15-point, 10-rebound effort from Kevin Garnett.
The 4-2 series loss ushers in an offseason for the Celtics filled with more questions than answers as the team will be forced to assess the future of Paul Pierce and Garnett and see whether or not Rajon Rondo is ready to take hold of the keys to the franchise.
In order for Boston to move forward from a staggeringly inconsistent 2012-13 season and the team's lone first-round loss since KG joined the fold, it needs to take a long look at the successes and failures of this past 41-40 campaign as Doc Rivers and company try to reinvent themselves for 2013-14.
Jason Terry is Not a Point Guard
The main problem that Jason Terry had in his first season with Boston was that he never quite found his role until the end of the postseason. The Celtics have plenty of depth at the wing positions, so Terry was often miscast as a backup point guard, a role that he can play but not naturally.
He finished the regular season averaging just 10.1 points, two rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor. His numbers remained down in Boston's opening-round series against the Knicks in Games 1 and 2 until Rivers began playing Terrence Williams (who we'll discuss in a bit) at the point and moving JET more off of the ball.
Without having playmaking responsibilities, Terry was able to fill his role as a scorer off the pine, knocking down three-pointers at a high clip, finding some success with his mid-range jumper and stepping up in big moments.
He finished the postseason averaging 12 points, 2.2 rebounds and two assists while shooting 44.1 percent from three-point range, proving he worked better as a catch-and-shoot scorer.
In the final four games of the series, he averaged 15.8 points and hit 12-of-23 three-pointers, providing a much needed spark off the pine.
A healthy Rondo will again create a backcourt logjam for the team to deal with, but Terry has made it clear that his role for these Celtics is not as a ball-handler.
Shavlik Randolph and Terrence Williams Might be Keepers
After seeing their roster decimated by injuries, Boston signed Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams and D.J. White to provide some much needed depth.
While White barely played during the regular season and was a non-entity in the playoffs, Randolph and Williams actually managed to carve out decent roles for themselves. Randolph saw time as a strong rebounder and Williams' handling ability and athleticism earned him minutes in the playoffs.
On the year, Randolph averaged 4.2 points and 4.4 rebounds and shot 58.3 percent from the field, while Williams posted 4.6 points (49.5 percent shooting), 1.8 boards and 1.6 assists and was a key contributor in Boston's Game 5 win at New York.
Neither are starting-caliber players, and Williams likely will never live up to the hype he received during his time at Louisville, but both have proven that they belong on an NBA roster and both provide particularly valuable skills to this Celtics team.
Boston needs a rebounding presence alongside Garnett, and while Randolph is not much of an offensive player, he can make his presence felt on the boards in 14-18 minutes of playing time.
Williams gets a little bit three-happy if left in too long, but he bought into Doc Rivers' defensive system and committed himself to playing the point guard role. Another year in a veteran-filled locker room could do wonders for him as an overall player.
The Celtics will need to sign some bargain free agents this offseason, and they could do a lot worse than keeping these two in green for next season.
Jeff Green is a Must-Start
This one shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, as Green's stellar play as a starter has been well documented. He spent most of the season coming off the bench but began starting regularly at the end of the regular season and did so in the playoffs.
In the six postseason games, he averaged an impressive 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists, shooting 43.5 percent overall and a sparkling 45.5 percent from three-point range.
Green spent a little too much time handling the ball for the C's, but besides that, it is hard to fault how he played in the postseason.
Matched up primarily with Carmelo Anthony, Green played top notch defense against one of the league's best offensive players, making him work for every look he had.
On the offensive end he attacked the basket strongly, shooting 7.5 free throws per game, and made his presence felt in the paint. Though he took some questionable shots, Green stayed confident and was a huge reason the banged-up Celtics pushed the series to six games.
Whether Green is the future at small forward or power forward remains to be seen, but if this team wants to make the playoffs in 2014, they are going to need him to build on his excellent close to the year.
The Offense Can't Run Just Through Pierce
Boston's offense in the playoffs was borderline unwatchable; they scored only 82.3 points per game, dead last among the 16 teams in the postseason. They also shot a mere 41.3 percent from the floor and just 33.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Their offensive execution wasn't terrible, but players like Green, Terry and especially Pierce missed open looks all series long. Turnovers were a huge problem for the team as well, as they averaged 17.3 per game, a good number of which were unforced.
With Rondo sidelined and the tandem of Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee floundering as ball-handlers, Rivers put the ball in Pierce's hands on the majority of the offensive possessions, allowing him the freedom to create for himself and his teammates.
Pierce scored well enough, averaging 19.2 points, but he shot just 36.8 percent from the floor and 26.8 percent from beyond the arc. He also turned the ball over an unacceptable 5.3 times per game.
Frequently in the series, Boston would try to have Pierce post up on Raymond Felton around the foul line, a move that did not work. Instead, the ploy allowed the Knicks to clog up the paint, and generally produced the kind of low-percentage shots that even Pierce sometimes has trouble making.
The team found more success in the Pierce-Garnett pick-and-roll play, but Pierce still struggled with his decision-making. He was harassed consistently by Iman Shumpert, and at this point in his career, is best used playing more off of the ball than he did out of necessity in this series.
Make no mistake, Pierce is still a top-notch scorer in this league, and I fully believe Boston needs his one-on-one scoring ability to succeed, but the reality is he cannot run the offense with the same success that he did in his younger years.
When Boston had their greatest success offensively this season, both in the regular season and the playoffs, it was because they ran a more pass-and-cut heavy offense, which involved more motion and cutting instead of isolation plays. They moved the ball well and created consistent, high-percentage looks, something that will almost always beat an "iso" offense.
No Matter What Changes, Kevin Garnett Needs to Return
Look, we've all heard the rhetoric about KG a million times by now. We know that he's older; he's showing signs of his 18 years in the league and multiple deep playoff runs, and he is not capable of taking over games like he used to.
That doesn't really matter, though, because he's still one of the league's best defensive players and the kind of leader this Celtic team needs to keep around, no matter how much Danny Ainge may want to turn things over to the young guns.
In the playoffs, Garnett averaged 12.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 50 percent shooting. He posted an 18-rebound performance in the pivotal Game 5 and his unbridled intensity is what helped keep the team afloat when it were down 3-0.
His midrange jump shot is still automatic; he's an underrated post passer, and he remains an excellent one-on-one defender and communicator, even if he is not quite as strong in the help and shot-blocking departments as he once was.
Beyond just what he does on the court, Garnett simply embodies the personality of this era of Celtics basketball, and to trade him or see him walk away when he still has a few quality years left would be an outright shame.
This team is not going to land a marquee center through free agency, and they need Garnett to mentor Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger, all of whom have improved their play and gained a considerable emotional edge under The Big Ticket's tutelage.
Even heading into this postseason, boasting a 41-40 record and their star point guard on the bench in a suit, no one counted out the Celtics because of the "never say die" attitude that KG instilled in them.
It doesn't matter that he isn't the player that he once was, Garnett is still a top-notch player in this league, and Boston needs to turn its efforts to making sure he returns for 2013-14.
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