On the Underachieving Celtics
A quarter of the way into the 2018-19 season, and the Boston Celtics have a .500 record. This is a pretty remarkable outcome, given that the team was the assumed standard-bearer for the East.
Instead of building off of the team’s Conference Finals appearance from last year, the C’s have struggled to play anything more than mediocre basketball. The club has performed well on defense, but has been uninspiring scoring the ball. Likewise, head coach Brad Stevens has yet to nail down his best five-man line-up.
Let’s explore a little more deeply what exactly is at the root of Boston’s underachieving.
The Boston Celtics might have one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, but the team rarely overpowers opponents on the offensive side of the ball. Defense is this team’s bread and butter, but that doesn’t mean scoring woes can be ignored. Monday’s road win against the Pelicans was an encouraging outing, but just one side of what has been a very back-and-forth pendulum.
As the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported, one of the critical issues for the C’s is the type of shots their offensive scheme is generating. Boston settles for mid-range jumpers and ugly, low-yield looks far too often. As KOC noted, small adjustments could help overcome this problem.
At the same time, the Celtics aren’t maximizing their talent effectively. Too often we see Jayson Tatum or Kyrie Irving going one-on-one late in the shot clock. The team has plenty of shooting and play-making, both of which are being underutilized.
Al Horford, one of the most important pieces on the team, has not been at his best. His prolific three-point shooting from last year has largely waned this season, cutting into one of Boston’s most reliable offensive threats.
Because Boston has been so inept on offense, it's margin for error on defense is all the smaller. Working to create better, easier scoring opportunities is a small but critical step the Celtics have failed to take so far this season, and their 11-10 record reflects this.
Some of Boston’s issues are bigger than pure Xs and Os. Basketball is a very emotional game; chemistry and mood dictate outcomes quite often.
The Celtics’ incredible depth may be its undoing. This is especially true of Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown.
Both of these players played key roles for Boston’s deep postseason run last year and have seen their minutes and roles severely reduced with the return of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Now, Brown and Rozier are taking errant shots and wild risks, fighting through apparent frustration.
Should these problems persist, the Celtics will be without two of the team’s most essential supporting players. Instead of one of the most lethal bench groups in the league, Boston could instead be stuck nursing bruised egos.
Problematically, neither of these players has played particularly well. Jaylen Brown has been a disappointing fit among the starters. And Terry Rozier has been erratic and far less effective than Marcus Smart off the bench. These sorts of problems have made it hard for Stevens to nail down any sort of rotation.
There’s a lifelessness that comes when you watch a Celtics game. I think losing and bad habits have melded with poor attitudes and a bit of a tense locker room. Boston’s got a funk, one that could be alleviated some winning.
Home court and easy wins
The Celtics usually take care of business against inferior teams. A loss to the Knicks a few weeks ago is more of an outlier than anything.
Between now and Christmas, Boston has a string of winnable games, especially at home. The C’s usually do well to defend TD Garden.
The above is a 48-win pace. The Celtics will have to fight hard to make up for this awkward early season struggle. Monday night was encouraging, as five players scored in double-digits for the C’s. It is worth noting that Jaylen Brown was out with an injury. Take that as you will.
By making a few changes to the offense and working to address concerns and upset feelings, Brad Stevens may be able to help his team get over this hump.