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.

Kurt

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21 responses to What Is Up With The Celtics?

  1. This one’s for Warren… and I don’t even know who that is!

  2. Great post.

    btw, yea, can someone explain the whole Warren thing?

  3. Back during the playoffs a couple years ago, Warren was almost always the first commenter on every post, and when he was the Lakers had an incredible record. So, it became the tradition to let Warren get the first comment. Now, he just gets salutes with the first comment (although this is not the tame thread, that goes up tomorrow).

  4. We should put tab explaining the origin of the Warren comments along with the origin of the name Forum Blue and Gold.

  5. Warren still comments on this blog. He lives in the Philippines and this may explain why he often got in 1st on game posts. A couple of years ago those posts were done late at night on the Pacific Coast and he was on-line at that time.

  6. Charley Rosen did an analysis of the last Celtics-Magic game ( http://msn.foxsports.com/nba/story/orlando-magic-and-boston-celtics-have-problems ). His conclusion was that the big 3 were showing their age, and the younger guys weren’t getting better (particulary Rondo’s shooting).

    And really, the way those two teams are looking, I’m starting to hang my hat on Atlanta as the team most likely to slow down the Cavs in the East.

    Maybe the Celtics rest everybody and drift into the play-offs in fourth or fifth (it is the East, after all) so they can pull out all the stops against the Cavs, but I don’t think a Lakers/Celtics post-season match-up is very likely at this point.

  7. Nice preview Kurt, there is an unknown factor with this team due to how they have been playing lately but you can guarantee they will be on their game tomorrow since the Lakers are their biggest rivalry.

  8. lakersfansincemagic January 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I want to see Bynum muscle the bigs down low like he did in the Phillies game. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen him that aggressive down low!

  9. well, expect to see at least one of em’ what’s wrong with that team posts.

    hope enough unwarranted complaining has been done and enough of winning keeps them shut.

    that said, sunday is the perfect time to start peaking…ron feels great, the bench is more or less intact and doing what it can, bynum can turn it on when fire is lit under him and kobe is just bruce willis unbreakable…

    nice to hear some classy boston fans..

    GO LAKERS!

  10. lakers are going down!!! how u like that 39 point loss in the finals??? we still havent played with our full squad at 100 % once we do the league will be ours!

  11. like Mama always said: better the devil you know than the one you don’t know.
    Plus it should be a great game with both full line-ups in tow!

  12. That 39 point loss card again? Hehehe.

    Anyway, welcome to FB&G good sir.

  13. There is nothing in the world like Lakers vs. the Celtics. The NBA wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for these two teams. It is NEVER just another game when the play. I am looking forward to it and hope to see the guys really show up. They should need no extra motivation to get for playing Boston at the Garden.

    Also, congrats Kurt. I know its late. I think you will do great at the next level.

  14. @Lil Pau and don – we do it on gameday threads, (especially) one that reads:

    Preview and Chat: The Boston Celtics

    @Kurt – I believe up until we won the chip last season, the personal record was about 11-0. The phone-ins (props to chris h) was about as incredible and unbelievable as well.

    Then again, we could also make a case that Pau Gasol has come over to LA since then ;)

    @Zephid – lets just make it secret tradition – not written but never forgotten.

    @CraigW – right sir, back in 07-08, gameday posts come up at 1-2am Philippines time and I am usually still up at those times. I have since given myself curfew that I do not go beyond 2am except on nights when I go out for Mahjong.

    @Celtics – “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.”

    – Sun Tzu

  15. “…We’re not going to remember in 2015 who won the regular-season series in 2010…”

    What? Oh please… both fan bases know exactly who beat whom every year.

    As a matter of fact, they are still living the 2008 Finals as if it were yesterday!

    Personally, I went to every home game against Boston all those years that they were terrible just to enjoy their misery!

    Tomorrow means an awful lot. My group of guys are playing ball early so we can all get in front of the TV and not miss a second of the game.

    Come on Lakers, beat ‘em by 40!

  16. KG’s decline was something that many people predicted it would happen, but surprised that it happened so drastically. Of course, the main reason is the knee injury, and he is nowhere near the player he used to be. Sheed is so out of shape that it’s just too funny. Coupled with the fact that he just loves to live beyond the arc just makes me smile more and more. Still, the Celts are a dangerous foe, as they know how to play the game and they are very PROUD. They will not give the win to us tomorrow or in the playoffs. We’ll still have to take it from them. That said, it’s not like it will take Herculean effort. I think smart, intense basketball will do it for us. As long as we deny Ray Allen wide open looks and limit Pierce to under 30, we should be okay on defense. However, the x-factor will be Rondo. If he goes for 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 14 assist or more, we’ll be in trouble. Farmar and Brown will need to step up and make it difficult for Rondo to get into the lane. If he gets in with a full head of steam, our big men rotation can’t get there in time to challenge his shots or force him to make tough passes.

    We knew that the day the Celts beat in the Finals that our team would getter, but the Celts would get worse because of the age. Now, it’s really showing it. Before age catches up with our team, we need to squash these Celtic maggots mercilessly. I hope we rip their heart out with a double digit win and make their crowds groan everytime Kobe hits a turnaround jumper or Bynum and Pau score inside off a brilliant interior passing.

    Go Lakers!

  17. Yeah, Warren is right, tommorrow is the post that we need his first comment (there needs to be some communication here folks). You know what? I remember those days in the past a couple of years ago, and it did not hit me until maybe 8 wins in a row that every single time he got the first comment the Lakers won the game that night, you could set your clock to it. Kurt, I hope we win so that you can go out with a bang, a Lakers victory in your last week against the C’s.

    Also a good post talking to someone who knows their team.

  18. Great post, a smart move also, to keep people level headed, since our otherwise introvert ways make us overemphasize any Laker-problems.

    If KG and Ray really are loosing their legs and Rasheed is beyond the reach of any fitness coach, then Celtics have fundamental problems that they will just have to live or die with.

    I dont believe Fisher is any worse than last year, and that leaves us with a lag of outside shooters and Kobe´s health as central issues… Id trade for those problems if I was in charge of the Celtics.

  19. @15. My take on how to stop Rondo is to put Kobe on him. Not only in crunch time but for all the game. Then having our PG on Allen.

    The key would be Kobe floating Rondo denying him the penetrations and ready to help, bothering the cuts and passing lines. He’s fast enough to flash and and recover to Rondo to prevent his penetration. Rondo isn’t confident enough to punish from the midrange, the Lakers should aim to make him a shooter.

  20. We are the team to beat, therefore, let’s make them adjust to US.

    Let’s hope:

    Pau shows up and doesn’t let KG punk him out;

    Bynum uses his “length” and size against an undersized Kendrick Perkins;

    Ron Ron shows us what a healthy stopper actually looks like;

    Kobe plays like Kobe in both halves;

    Fish doesn’t get beat too badly every time down the floor and forces Rondo to his left;

    Lamar bucks his daytime blues habit and gives us some offense and plays good defense against whatever “mobile” BIG he guards; and

    The “Bench Mob” makes more than a cameo appearance.

    Lastly, lets hope for a Laker victory. Even though I am one of the main ones saying it, let’s hope we shed the “SOFT” label.

    Thanks Kurt, I hope we send you out a winner!!!

  21. Kurt – thanks for the last (?) post. I know Darius will do a great job keeping the FB&G tradition going. Just like our team, when we lose one great player, we find another. It’s tough to replace the legend that is Kurt, but I doubt he will ever truly leave. Let’s remind the Cs and the league why we’re the champs. Our win there last year galvanized our team and was arguably the best game of the regular season. Let’s go full throttle on them this year. Go Lakers!