The all-star break is here and with it, a chance to zoom out at the league and look at how the teams stand. The Celtics come into the break with the best record in the league and in the closest championship position they’ve had in some time. Before jumping the gun, however, here’s what the Celtics need to work on to avoid disappointment.
Clutch Play – Continuing Celtics Basketball In The Big Moments
On paper, the Celtics were the better team coming into last year’s NBA finals. This year, they’re deeper and better than last year’s squad. However, over the last few years, last year’s playoffs and parts of this regular season included, the Celtics have tightened up in the big moments.
Missed free throws, untimely turnovers, and suddenly cold shooting have, at times, come back to bite the Celtics – less so this year, but especially in last year’s playoffs. The Celtics play a sustainable style of basketball this year. They’re deep and have shown the ability to win with a shell of their usual lineup. They distribute the ball well without being careless and have the second-best assist/turnover ratio in the entire NBA. Furthermore, they’re great from three and have shooting threats up and down the roster.
When it comes to the biggest moments, however, they’ve had some issues closing games. Multiple times, double-digit leads have turned into close wins, and sometimes even losses. The team has only won 57% of their close games (which still is a huge improvement from last year) and are 4-5 in overtime games. The fourth quarter against Indiana tonight was another example of this, where the Celtics finished a very topsy turvy regulation period by blowing a nine-point lead and then committing multiple turnovers in what could have been game-winning possessions. While they ultimately won, it shouldn’t have been close.
In last year’s playoffs, for every impressive win, there was a loss from some inexplicable combination of poor decisions. Truly, however, with the way they’ve played this year, they just need to return to Celtics ball in the big moments and they will be just fine.
Second Chances – Creating More Opportunities With Offensive Rebounds
When it comes to rebounding in general, Boston isn’t a bad team on the glass. Particularly in terms of defensive rebounds, they’re exceptional at reducing second chances for their opponents. While they don’t have any players with tremendous size, between Tatum, Brown, Robert Williams, Horford, etc… there are a lot of rebounding threats on the roster, and the Celtics have the best defensive rebounding percentage in the entire NBA.
However, their lack of a player with the size to dictate any matchup is costing the Celtics on the offensive glass. The Celtics are well in the bottom half of the league when it comes to offensive rebounding percentage and second chances. Despite their excellent shooting season, therefore, there’s more to be had in terms of the Celtics’ offensive output.
There’s no reasonable fix to get Boston all the way to the top of the league here, any investment in a superstar big could come at the risk of critical pieces on the roster. Utilization of the current rebounding bigs – Williams, Kornet and Griffin (who needs his potential drawn out more) – in generally larger lineups could be a good change of pace for Boston. Furthermore, their new big Mike Muscala has significantly overachieved in his first few games as a Celtic, and he could be a useful source of key rebounds.
An offensive rebound here and there could decide a game, a series, or even a season. Boston experienced this very positively tonight against the Pacers. The Celtics don’t need to top the league in every statistical category, but here, they need to at least be competitive and need to give themselves more second chances, because the shots won’t always fall.
The Bottom Line
The Celtics are almost there, so many aspects are in line. Arguably, they’re closer to a championship level than any other team in basketball. However, there’s still work to do, and this is the perfect chance for the Celtics to do that work without elimination being on the line.
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