The Boston Celtics' NBA Playoff Performance: Fact vs. Fiction
Many storylines came out of the Green's hard-nosed fight against the New York Knicks, turning an 0-3 deficit into a near-spectacular comeback to force Game 7.
While some players stepped up for the Celts, others seemed to completely miss the mark, leading to a bevy of question marks pertaining to 2013-14 and beyond.
The following slideshow highlights some of the prevailing questions following the tough opening-series loss, analyzing whether certain postseason stories were one-time occurrences or signs of the future.
One by one, storyline claims will be verified as conclusive fact or debunked as untrusted fiction.
Jeff Green Is the Boston Celtics' Next True Star
Perhaps one of the best silver linings of Boston's 2012-13 season, Jeff Green's second-half emergence revealed the worth Danny Ainge recognized. However, many still find him too inconsistent and tentative to end up the next big star in Celtics' green.
The postseason proved those doubters wrong. Green served as one of the only go-to scorers for Boston, staying aggressive on the drive and knocking down jumpers from the post, wing and three-point line.
During the six-game series against the Knicks, Green averaged 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He shot 43.5 from the floor, an incredible 45.5 percent from three and 84.4 percent from the line.
He had some troubles with turnovers, but that can be partially blamed on the listless offense around him.
Green also exhibited quality defense on Carmelo Anthony, a great sign for a player not previously known for making key stops. He averaged 0.7 blocks and posted a Kevin Garnett-like 99.8 defensive rating during the series.
And like KG, to this point, the Celts need Green to succeed. In Boston's two wins, he shot five percent better from the floor, six percent better from three and 12 percent better from the line than he did in the four losses.
It's plain as day: Jeff Green is the future of the Celtics, and the next true star of the Atlantic Division.
Avery Bradley Can Play Point Guard
One of the most exciting parts of the regular season was Avery Bradley's return from injury. He delivered a huge impact for the Celtics, especially after point guards Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa each fell to ACL tears in January and early February.
The young guard played lock-down man defense on all parts of the court. His quick feet and even quicker hands completely disrupted opposing offenses, creating fast-break opportunities for Boston.
Even better, he improved his ball-handling skills and further developed his jump shot.
But the playoffs proved what many already knew: AB cannot be relied upon to run an offense. In 31.9 minutes per game, he averaged a measly 1.3 assists while turning the ball over 1.8 times a game.
He scored 6.7 points per contest, and finished 2-of-8 from three. He registered a minus-20 point differential for the series, including minus-27 in losses.
Bradley's porous offensive contributions left Celtics Nation scratching their heads—but it was his defense that really disappointed. Nobody expected Raymond Felton to be the unofficial MVP of the Knicks-Celts series, but it happened. And it happened on AB's watch.
The third-year Celtic got absolutely smoked by the stocky Felton, six years his senior at 28 years old. There were cross-ups, pull-up jumpers, crisp dishes in traffic and just about anything else you can imagine when you think of “total domination.”
ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg further detailed Bradley's implosion recently:
Bradley led the NBA during the regular season by allowing a measly 0.697 points per play (among those with at least 475 total defensive possessions), according to Synergy Sports data. That number leapt to 0.919 points per play in the postseason. His offensive numbers (0.727 points per play) might have been even more of an eyesore.
Felton turned out to be the kryptonite, and Bradley played like Clark Kent without a payphone. Save for a great run in the third quarter of Game 6, in which the Celtics nearly mounted an impossible comeback, he was better off in street clothes.
Before everyone shuns him out of Boston, let's remember a couple things. He's a 22-year-old. He came off a half-season-long shoulder injury, and somehow helped his squad to the postseason despite playing out of position. There's still a lot of time for AB to redeem himself in the hearts of Celtics Nation.
It just won't be at point guard.
The Celtics Need a Big Man
Avery Bradley can't take all the blame, even for the Raymond Felton explosion. Nobody was meeting Felton at the rim after he blew by AB. If a guy standing 6'1”, 205 pounds finishes at your rim, your front court has issues.
Celtics fans have recognized this for a while. President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge tried to alleviate the problem by drafting Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. Sullinger's season got cut short by February back surgery, and Melo never showed signs of significant NBA promise.
Long story short, Garnett played at the center position most of the year. If any 36-year-old, undersized veteran is going to attempt to man the interior, it should be him. Still, he doesn't stand a chance to hold down this position another 82-plus game season.
Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin largely had their way with Garnett throughout the series, until he absolutely blew up during Game 3.
KG finished with 12 points and a remarkable 17 rebounds, then went on to grab 35 boards to go with 29 points over Boston's next two wins.
Those numbers are amazing, and he deserves credit. But he cannot do it alone. While the Celtics rather successfully got out-rebounded by a mere 238-234 margin, the failure came on the offensive glass. Boston grabbed only 31 offensive boards. New York had 69.
Not one Celtic finished the series with double-digit offensive rebounds. Tyson Chandler had 22, Kenyon Martin had 14 and Iman Shumpert had 11 for New York. Raymond Felton, the 6'1” guy this article keeps going back to, had seven—one fewer than Brandon Bass, and two fewer than KG.
Sorry to overstress the point, but the Celts shot themselves in the foot by allowing second-chance opportunities to a three-point shooting team. Not only that, Boston's big players failed to rotate on penetration, allowing blatantly open opportunities near the hoop. New York is not known for scoring points in the paint, but Boston often made them look like the 1989 Pistons.
So, while it's been said before, the fact remains that Boston needs help down low. The New York series served as a bold, double-underlined reminder that something needs to be done about interior defense and rebounding.
The Celtics are Better Without Rajon Rondo
Watching his team in on-again, off-again self-destruct mode must have been difficult for Rajon Rondo. Knowing that the “better without Rondo” banter was being buried in a shallow grave, however, must have been gratifying.
The Celtics' abysmal moments proved that Rondo's absence was indeed a negative, just as true Celtics fans understood all year. The play-making, hustle, and defense Rondo brings to the table cannot be matched by Bradley, Courtney Lee or Jason Terry.
Rondo is a star who shines brightest under the biggest and most dramatic of lights. He carried the Celtics during last season's playoffs run that nearly steamrolled the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston clearly missed his fiery play this series
If nothing else, they certainly missed his passing game. Rondo's league-leading 11.1 assists per game during 2012-13 would have greatly improved the Celtics' chances at offensive creation.
Pierce led the squad in the postseason with 5.3 dimes, but also turned the ball over 5.3 times a game. KG's numbers were similar, averaging 3.5 assists and 3.2 turnovers. Jason Terry led all guards with two assists per game.
Rondo's assist-to-turnover ratio might have been a bit high (2.84) this season, and the argument can be made that he cares too much of getting assists. But nobody can deny that he is the best player on the Celtics, and the proven leader now and for years to come.
Paul Pierce Will Be Back
One of the biggest storylines from the opening round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs was Paul Pierce's Game 6. The 35-year-old captain started the most important game of the year 1-of-10, struggling mightily with his jumper and also with his dribble.
This came two days after Ainge told Comcast Sports Net New England that “it's probably going to be very hard” to decide whether to buy out Pierce's contract this offseason.
The Celtics have the option to retain Pierce for $15.3 million, trade him, amnesty him or buy him out for $5 million. CSSNE Celtics sideline reporter Greg Dickerson tweeted after the game that he spoke with sources close to Pierce who said “they are certain he's played his last game as a Celtic.”
“All good things must come to an end,” he quoted the anonymous sources with saying.
Unfortunately, it's a sad but probably true report. Pierce has been very vague, saying he just knows he definitely wants to play somewhere next year. And Ainge already seems to be leaning towards building around Rondo, Green, Bradley and rookie Jared Sullinger. Pierce, who will turn 36 later this year, and Garnett, who turns 37 soon, would make up nearly $28 million of Boston's 2013-14 payroll.
Eliminating Pierce's contract means saving $10 million. It would also probably force KG to think long and hard about retiring. Garnett said earlier in the year that he “bleeds green” and will retire a Celtic. And after Game 6, he told Boston Globe writer Gary Dzen that Pierce will be a factor in his decision to return.
“I demand a lot of myself, both in intensity and my skill level,” said Garnett. “I'd be lying to you all if I said Paul didn't influence that decision.”
Dzen said Pierce and Garnett left the TD Garden together after the game. That's probably the last time they'll ever do that.
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