What Is Up With The Celtics?

Kurt —  January 30, 2010

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Oh sure, it’s easy to hate the Celitcs, that’s just an instinct of Lakers fans. But, one is better off when one knows ones enemy.

So, Zach Lowe from Celtics Hub and I have been busy. We teamed up with the Amazing Flying Kamentezky Brothers for a roundtable over at Land O’ Lakers you should check out.

Zach also answered a few questions for us (all before the Celtics lost to the Hawks again last night, the Cs are now 1-6 against Atlanta and Orlando this season).

1) Through the injuries and everything else, the Celtics defense looks like it is back to near (or at least on the path to) where it was a couple years ago. Is that accurate, or does it have a way to go?

That’s basically accurate. The C’s lead the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession), just a hair ahead of the Lakers. They defend the rim and the three-point shot very well; only Orlando allows a lower shooting percentage on shots near the rim (via Hoopdata.com), and only three teams allow a lower three-point shooting percentage.

That said, the defense isn’t as consistent as it was in 2008 or the start of last season, mostly because the team has gone from an elite defensive rebounding club to an average one. Other than health, this is the biggest internal threat the team faces going forward.

How healthy is Kevin Garnett? Is he expected to be 100% for the playoffs?

Nobody knows. KG hyper-extended his right knee, and the team insists that injury is unrelated to the bone spur and strained tendon in the same knee that kept him out of the playoffs last season. Just as you’ve stopped trying to understand what Phil Jackson might be thinking, I’ve stopped trying to parse out the truth about KG’s health, because I’m not sure anyone really knows–including the team. He labored against the Magic on Thursday, and then—on the second end of a back-to-back—put up 15-7-3 against Atlanta and generally looked decent.

He has to play himself back into game shape, but to do that, he has to avoid the nagging injuries that seem to strike every three weeks.

I should also note that a lot of Boston fans feel burned by the team after it failed to disclose the bone spur issue until well after the playoffs last summer. I personally don’t feel that way–it’s not in the team’s interest to be fully transparent about an injury KG might have been able to play through. But there is some distrust among the fan base, for sure.

How is Sheed working out? Is he fitting in the offense?

Sheed is working out exactly as I expected–he alternates between games in which he appears to be exactly what Boston needs off the bench and games in which he looks creaky and old. To his credit, he has dialed back the three-point shooting a bit; he’s jacking 7.4 threes per 36 minutes, the most on the team by far, but after 15 games or so that number was up at about 11—a number even Antoine Walker never sniffed. He remains (at times) devastating from the post, so you’d always like to see him park his (fat) butt down there more often, especially since he’s shooting 29 percent from deep.

But his presence on the perimeter does open up the floor for everyone else, especially Rondo. The plus/minus numbers indicate that the C’s offense has performed about as well as normal with Sheed on the floor, but that the defense has suffered. This isn’t surprising. Sheed struggles against quicker bigs and has had problems protecting the defensive glass.

Ray Allen’s numbers are off, both from three point range but also in the midrange shots. What are the theories as to the cause? Is there a Rondo effect at play (with him taking a larger role in the offense)?

The main theory is that Ray Allen is just getting old as a player. He’s the oldest of the C’s three 30-plus stars, and he has reached the age (34) at which shooting guards begin to see their accuracy drop. Ray keeps himself in great shape, eats well, etc., so he should hold up better than most.

I don’t think this has anything to do with Rondo taking a larger share of the offense. Rajon and Ray have a nice connection, and Rajon goes out of his way to find Ray for open threes in transition. Ray just isn’t making shots at the same rate. That’s really it. Even so, he continues to put up monster plus/minus numbers, both raw and adjusted, and the second unit plays much better with Ray as the lone starter than with Pierce in that role. That trend has been consistent since Ray got here, suggesting he adds something that is tough to quantify.

How much of creation of shots in the offense falls to Rondo now (both for himself and others)? Is that good?

More than ever. Rondo is taking 11.3 shots per game this season, up from about 9.5 last season, and his assist rate (the percentage of teammate baskets Rajon assists on while on the floor) is the third-highest in the league. It’s a good and necessary development. When Kevin Garnett is injured, the C’s lose one huge piece of their offensive foundation: the ability to run plays through KG in the post. More of the burden naturally falls on Rondo. As KG, Pierce and Allen all age, having someone else to lean on helps keep the offense moving.

The C’s offense has dropped off this season (all the way to 13th in efficiency), but that has less to do with Rajon than with the absence of KG, the tough season Ray Allen is having and the team’s overall drop in three-point accuracy (hello, Sheed).

What is with all the turnovers?

The Celtics have been turnover prone in each of the last three seasons, so it’s not shocking to see them ranked 29th in turnover rate. (They were 29th in each of the last two seasons). It remains amazing to me that a team that pays such maniacal attention to detail on defense can be so sloppy on offense. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are the main culprits. Rondo’s turnovers I (mostly) don’t mind, since he’s the point guard and his assist-to-turnover ratio remains one of the best in the league. But Perk commits far too many traveling violations and gets called for illegal screens at least once a game, it seems. That needs to stop. And Rondo has gotten into a bad habit lately of going for Brett Favre-esque passes in transition.

How much does this game matter to the team and fans?

These games always matter a little more. I think fans of these two clubs understand–perhaps more than any other fan bases–that regular-season games don’t matter all that much in the scheme of things. We’re not going to remember in 2015 who won the regular-season series in 2010, unless the same team wins by 30 in each game or something. But it’s the Lakers, there are some minor bragging rights involved and the games always feel special because there are only two of them each season and they are on national TV.

The C’s could also use a win against a quality team after losing back-to-back roadies against the Magic and Hawks. So this game means something extra in that sense, though it would hold that same importance if the C’s were hosting, say, the Cavs.