Fatal Flaws That Sunk Boston Celtics' Season
An NBA season can be a puzzling thing. The Boston Celtics finished their 2012-13 campaign when they lost to the New York Knicks in a six-game conference quarterfinals match. That's been considered a failure to most fans.
But six months ago, even making the playoffs would be considered a huge success.
With a record interchangeably hovering above and below .500 most of the season, Boston looked hopelessly committed to the looming concept of rebuilding. Injuries and age reared their ugly heads, and new acquisitions failed to live up to their supporting roles.
In a miraculous turn of events, the Celtics found a spark during a roller-coaster ride of a stretch. Avery Bradley returned from a shoulder injury. Rajon Rondo partially tore his ACL. Rookie big man Jared Sullinger had back surgery. Leandro Barbosa, Rondo's backup at the point position, also tore his ACL. But Boston started winning games.
First, the Celts won seven straight. Then they won 14 of 18. They catapulted themselves from early draft hopeful to seventh-seed locks. It wasn't always pretty, but they got to the dance.
But after the first opening-round exit in the KG era, many people now question what went wrong with this Boston team, and at what points in the season. Could key moves have been made, or avoided, to ensure short- and long-term success? The following list highlights the fatal flaws of this heavily flawed 2012-13 Boston Celtics squad.
All statistics compiled using NBA.com and ESPN.com.
Neglecting the Void at Center
Celtics Nation has known it all along: president of basketball operations Danny Ainge egregiously neglects the center position. This year was no different, with Kevin Garnett starting in the middle for the majority of Boston's games.
KG was once again admirable in his role, leading the Green with 7.8 rebounds per game and second only to Paul Pierce with an average of 14.8 points. The “Big Ticket” earned his 15th (and self-proclaimed final) All-Star Game while anchoring the defense during Boston's second-half explosion.
That's all good and well, except for the fact that he's a 36-year-old power forward with ankle problems being asked to play 30 to 40 minutes a night at center.
If Boston recognized its issues down low earlier, it might have pursued Knicks center Kenyon Martin more aggressively. Instead, it rolled the proverbial dice and ended up losing Sullinger to an unsurprising back problem which required February surgery, leaving Garnett practically alone in the middle.
On March 1, Ainge made a great pickup in center Shavlik Randolph, fresh from leading the Chinese Basketball Association in scoring. In limited minutes, Randolph provided a significant low-post presence, with solid defense and an outstanding 22.4 percent rebound rate.
However, Randolph was still treated as a 12th man, leading many Celtics to wonder if Ainge has some kind of predominant bias against centers.
Maybe he got blocked one too many times in his short-shorts career on the parquet. Regardless, the void down low led to 4.5 team blocks a game (22nd in the NBA) and 39.3 team rebounds (second worst). Boston grabbed an unfathomably awful 8.1 offensive boards per contest, dead last with the San Antonio Spurs.
Celtics fans may have to start a movement if they want a legitimate answer at center next year. Many likely hope that answer is Utah Jazz free agent and former Celtic Al Jefferson.
Never Replacing the Backup Point Guard Position
When Rajon Rondo went down in late January, almost everybody counted the Celtics out completely. However, they maintained quality team basketball and figured out a way to actually score better and more efficiently than while he was playing.
When backup point guard Leandro Barbosa went down with a similar ACL injury, Ainge played with fire.
Despite the fact that Boston had no true point guard on its playoff-contending roster, he picked up two shooting guards in Jordan Crawford and Terrence Williams, and entrusted Avery Bradley with the floor.
Bradley proved late in the season, and during an abysmal postseason, that he has no place taking the ball up the floor. He failed to make crisp entry passes, he exhibited little to no leadership and, toward the end, he basically just looked lost altogether.
Pierce was expected to pick up the slack in the passing game, acting as top scorer and top passer simultaneously. While he led the post-Rondo Celtics in assists per game, he also saw his turnover ratio skyrocket to 13.1 after the All-Star break and 17.5 in the playoffs.
To keep the team-oriented chemistry and offensive rhythm going, Ainge needed to grab a veteran point guard like Derek Fisher or even the washed-up Mike Bibby.
Anything would have been better than running with a team containing no point guards and a 35-year-old point forward it calls its go-to guy.
Drafting Fab Melo
Not to hammer the point to death or anything, but yours truly will never be on Fab Melo's fan list. Plainly and simply, the guy cannot play professional basketball.
Just consider his 36 minutes of play with the Celtics this season. He couldn't make a defensive stop, he struggled with his hands and footwork down low, and he jogged up and down the floor listlessly.
In fact, Melo played so poorly that he spent most of the season with the D-league affiliate Maine Red Claws, where he displayed equally unimpressive progression.
The Celtics should have made a bigger play to trade up and draft Tyler Zeller, a 7'0” center with a big body and a high basketball IQ. Zeller ended up getting drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, then immediately traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As a result, the Cavs have a player who averaged eight points and 5.7 boards in 26 minutes a contest. The Celts, meanwhile, have a player who seems destined to be the next top center prospect in Croatia.
Not Starting Jeff Green Sooner
One of the highlights of the Celtics' strong run from late January to early March was the emergence of swingman Jeff Green.
Green's inside-outside scoring ramped up after Rondo and Sullinger went down, providing Boston with just the kind of aggressiveness it needed. His confidence grew with every jumper he hit or dunk he slammed down, and everyone slowly realized what Ainge saw in him years ago in the Perkins trade.
But as many readers recognized throughout the second half of the season, Green was getting the cold shoulder from Doc Rivers—who opted to stick with the lackluster Courtney Lee.
Despite the fact that Green logged 17.3 points, five rebounds and 2.7 assists per game after the All-Star break, it took Rivers until April 5 to realize he should be starting games.
Green registered a plus-5.9 points differential in the 41 wins he participated in this year. If given more playing time, it seems inarguable that the Celtics would have won more games and therefore locked a better playoff seed.
Instead, the Celtics finished seventh, forced into a tough series with a Knicks team that had Boston's number throughout the year. Things probably would have gone much different with the Indiana Pacers (No. 3 seed), Brooklyn Nets (No. 4 seed) or Chicago Bulls (No. 5 seed) as the opening-round opponent.