Amir Johnson, PF25 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 6 PTS | +10 +/- Started a bit more spry tonight in the first half, especially on his alley-oop. Philly isn’t a great matchup for him – Okafor is too big, Noel is too athletic. Looked tired in the second half which left him a step or two behind, making it easy for Philly to grab some open offensive rebounds.
Jae Crowder, SF27 MIN | 3-11 FG | 2-5 3FG | 0-2 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | 0 +/- Boy oh boy, this grade would have been much lower if not for those last two minutes. The low point: Spending time yelling at a ref for a foul after a missed shot, allowing Covington to be wide open for a corner three at the other end. That’s Kobe level defense right there. Still, made the plays on both ends when it mattered. That’s good to see regardless of the opponent.
Jared Sullinger, C32 MIN | 4-12 FG | 1-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 15 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +11 +/- Did pretty well defending Okafor all things considered – I think it’s clear that’s just going to be a hellish matchup for anyone, let alone a 6’8 forward. Everyone on the team forced shots throughout the night, but Sully forced them inside the paint with Noel lurking, which seems particularly foolish. Great hustle on rebounding opportunities, almost as if he knew his teammates were going to miss…
Avery Bradley, PG37 MIN | 4-15 FG | 2-7 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +17 +/- The first time in a few games we’ve seen Avery come back to earth with his shooting. Seemed the least forced in the shots he did take – although there certainly were a couple of duds – so hopefully this doesn’t mean a permanent regression to the mean. Played some key defense on Philly’s point guards in the last two minutes which led to the steals.
Isaiah Thomas, PG39 MIN | 11-21 FG | 4-7 3FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 30 PTS | +17 +/- On a night where impactful offensive plays were in short supply, Isaiah seemed to be making the majority of them. The only Celtic to be productive in the paint, Isaiah made several difficult layups and finally seemed to regain his touch from deep (4/7). This is the kind of game you can make the case for IT being a star player – when no one else was making an impact with the ball, he took over and made things happen.
David Lee, PF5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4 +/- The few good moments Lee has had this year is when he’s been playing the 5. After a few minutes of watching him try to defend the monstrosities that are Okafor and Noel, it was pretty clear that wasn’t going to be an extended endeavor tonight.
Jonas Jerebko, PF8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9 +/- Jerebko has been fading into obscurity the past few games, which is not a positive development. The bench unit thrives when he shoots with confidence and takes slower bigs off the dribble; lately he’s been just a guy.
Tyler Zeller, C6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -4 +/- Zeller was fine in limited action; definitely looked more interested than most of his teammates. I wouldn’t mind him getting a little bit more run as the second-unit center if Jerebko’s nonexistence persists.
Kelly Olynyk, C14 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-1 3FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | -8 +/- It seemed like Kelly felt the bench unit letting things slip away and tried to overcompensate. A lot of his shots didn’t just look forced, they looked downright awkward. Dirk’s fallaways and turnarounds still have a pretty shot motion to them; if that’s who he’s trying to emulate, he needs to take his time and find more of an arc to his shot.
Terry Rozier, PG2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | 0 +/- He just doesn’t look like an NBA player right now. His response to a basic full-court press was to throw it directly to a Sixer while trying to give it to David Lee. I like his energy and demeanor, but there needs to be some skill to go along with it at some point.
Evan Turner, SG36 MIN | 6-18 FG | 0-3 3FG | 4-4 FT | 9 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | +1 +/- I don’t really care about the 16 and 9. The reason the Celtics almost lost tonight was they tried to take every Sixer they encountered 1v1 on almost every possession and pretty much failed miserably. Evan Turner wasn’t the only offender, but he was pretty much Patient Zero on that front. This team needs to move the ball to be successful on offense, and Turner’s gotten really sticky hands the past week or so. Recognize when your shot isn’t falling and try something else. Like tossing it back to Crowder for a wide-open three. Do THAT more.
R.J. Hunter, SG9 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -11 +/- Hunter was open a lot tonight and teammates just couldn’t find him *cough TURNER cough*. When he did get the ball his shot looked really strange, not his usual smooth self. Better days are ahead.
I almost want to give an ‘Incomplete’. Stevens is saying all the right things, it’s just not translating lately. I’m not really sure how much of that is his fault. I would say put a shorter leash on Turner, but no one else is really proving they deserve his minutes. If anything, the last week has shown just how much Smart means to this team in terms of, if nothing else, flexibility and focus. The Celtics need to get back to moving the ball around and finding open shots for an entire game, not for 10 minutes and then trying to create them from nothing the rest of the time.. At least the defense returned.
Marcus Smart will miss at least 2 weeks of action after colliding with Brooklyn’s Thomas Robinson during the fourth quarter of Friday’s win against the Nets. Boston went on to win the game 120 to 95.
According to ESPN’s Chris Forberg, the team initially reported that Smart had sustained a bone bruise before testing revealed he has suffered a”subluxation of the proximal tib fib joint”. Smart could miss anywhere from two to four weeks. Here’s the play for reference.
Amir Johnson, PF18 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -17 +/- Amir Johnson was brought to the Celtics for two things: defense and rebounding. Tonight resulted in a failure to contribute anything in either department, as the Nets managed to grab the few misses they did have and thrive on open mid-range jumpers for their bigs. On a night when everyone looked lethargic, Johnson looked the lethargickest…or something.
Jae Crowder, SF26 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -15 +/- A mediocre follow-up to an excellent night on Friday. Crowder’s D was OK, but he just didn’t make the same impact we’ve come accustomed to. With Smart out for a couple of weeks, he will probably need to be the one to step up as the instigator for the defense (Bradley too, but they need his offense, as well). Some sympathy points because that late offensive foul call was just lame.
Jared Sullinger, C30 MIN | 3-10 FG | 1-3 3FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | -10 +/- Sully kept the game close early with 3 offensive rebounds in the first to make up for the poor shooting. After that, he really just kind of disappeared. Lopez seemed to have his number.
Avery Bradley, PG40 MIN | 9-20 FG | 7-14 3FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 27 PTS | -2 +/- A solitary diamond among a heaping pile of Celtics dung. Lights out from deep, multiple highlight reel defensive plays (RIP Thad Young), and seemed to be the only one for most of the night who really cared. With Smart out, keep an eye going forward on the balance he strikes between sparking the offense and being the go-to lockdown defender on the perimeter. Tonight, the Nets’ penetration was too frequent for my taste, meaning they probably need to ask more of AB.
Isaiah Thomas, PG31 MIN | 8-19 FG | 2-8 3FG | 9-11 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 27 PTS | -6 +/- A positively electric third quarter made up for a subpar first half. I know his defense is never going to be stellar, but guards can’t get into the paint THAT easily. Weird early trend: IT is shooting 31% from deep so far. That has to improve as the season goes on…right?
David Lee, PF7 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -10 +/- No significant offense created, no real resistance on D, the receiving end of a RHJ highlight block, benched in the second half. It has been a, shall we say, “inconsistent” start to David Lee’s Celtic career.
Jonas Jerebko, PF18 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 2 PTS | 0 +/- The effort was there for Jerebko, just not the results. I’m pretty sure one stretch in hte second quarter had JJ going miss-turnover-turnover-miss. On a related note: never try to run a fast break by yourself again, Jonas. I still like the idea of him as a stretch 4, but this game didn’t help his case.
Tyler Zeller, C7 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +9 +/- It’s tough to see a fan favorite from last year relegated to scraps, but the scraps Zeller had tonight were actually pretty productive. Took full advantage of Lopez in the paint while also doing a decent job of covering midrange jumpers, his efforts were part of what created the run to close the gap in the third.
Kelly Olynyk, C19 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-3 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -1 +/- It’s nice to see Kelly become more confident with his offensive game this year. I’d just like to see more of these Dirk-leaners and turnaround midrange jumpers go in; 39% from the floor thus far isn’t going to do it. Glad a couple of threes fell.
Terry Rozier, PG5 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -7 +/- This was a rough situation to throw Rozier into with little prior experience. That said, in the 5 minutes he was out there, he couldn’t handle running an offense of any kind, and Shane Larkin did pretty much whatever he wanted. Welcome to the big leagues, rook.
Evan Turner, SG32 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-3 3FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +1 +/- Another stat-stuffing boxscore, but I really wasn’t a fan of how Turner handled the offense, particularly late in the game – too much iso-ball for a team that runs best with lots and lots of ball movement. I get that’s part of his schtick, but it didn’t help tonight.
R.J. Hunter, SG8 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +8 +/- He didn’t take a single shot and yet he still provided a bit of a spark during Boston’s comeback. Would really like to see him get a bit more consistent run here, especially with Smart out. He’s a smart player, he could use the reps.
I get the general strategy of forcing midrange jumpers on defense, but “forcing” implies there would be a modicum of pressure on said jumpers. The Nets’ awful point guards looked like legends, the bigs looked unstoppable, and the teams in general looked like they switched uniforms over the weekend. Some credit is due for getting back into it with some changes (bit of zone, trusting Hunter and Zeller, etc.), but this was not a good effort.
One Thing We Saw
All of this said…let’s not get so punchy over it, eh? Legit comments I came across over the evening: “Cut Johnson, he’s done.” “Cut Lee, I’d rather have Wallace.” “Is it time to wonder if Brad Stevens is actually a good coach?”
…Are you serious? We do remember this team just won a game by 25 and tore up OKC and Houston, right? It was a bad night, but in the grand scheme, this means very little. Ben Simmons is still very much in play. Relax.
Crowder could not have been better on either end. He’s a menace on the defensive end, and when he can get his shot going, he becomes a highly valuable two-way threat. The Celtics should look to find him wide open looks for his first shot as often as possible — he swished his first 3-pointer and seemed to have a solid rhythm afterward.
Jared Sullinger, C19 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +21 +/-
Not a huge night for Sullinger, but he wasn’t really needed. As Tommy noted on the broadcast, Sullinger kept getting great position on Brook Lopez, only to have the monstrous Lopez pluck the ball away from over the top.
Thomas started off cold, but even when he wasn’t shooting well, he was solid, dishing out several assists in the fourth quarter and getting Boston’s offense going in half-court sets.
Marcus Smart, PG21 MIN | 2-5 FG | 1-4 3FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | +3 +/-
A bruised knee limited Smart’s minutes (and gave everyone watching a scare). When he was in, his defense was predictably excellent.
David Lee, PF17 MIN | 5-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | +6 +/-
Lee contributed nicely off the bench, finding cracks in Brooklyn’s defense that rapidly became fissures as the game progressed. I’m notably not that big on Lee’s skill set (nothing against Lee, I just prefer the small-ball lineups) but uh…it’s hard to argue with 100 percent shooting from the field.
Jonas Jerebko, PF19 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-2 3FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | +8 +/-
And…maybe tonight was an argument against how much I love the small-ball lineups. Jerebko did not have his best night, but I refuse to give anyone less than a C+ in a win like this one.
Not sure how long Stevens plans to stick with the Bradley-off-the-bench experiment (by the sounds of his pre-game comments, it might be a long-term thing), but it’s been great so far. Bradley caught fire tonight, and bringing him off the bench for Smart pretty much ensures that the Celtics will always have a ball-hawking wing on the floor.
I tweeted this, but heaven help me, I’m starting to buy in on Evan Turner. Everyone loves 3-pointers (including me!), but it’s pretty easy to see how valuable having a mid-range scorer is when they are becoming more and more rare around the NBA, especially when Turner can handle and distribute the ball as well as he can.
We wondered how Stevens would work with the lineups on this team, and everything seems to be coming together nicely. Boston has a ton of good players, but Stevens’ starting lineup and second unit make sense. On a team that’s this even up and down the board, that’s pretty high praise.
A lot has been made recently about the Celtics’ defense, and rightfully so. They currently sit fourth in defensive rating and put in some quality work against the offensive juggernauts in Oklahoma City and Houston (to be fair, both teams were missing key components – OKC: Kevin Durant, Houston: a soul). This is a very promising sign for a team that lacks a pure rim protector, or a true center of any kind, really.
Boston has been accomplishing this through pure chaos. They jump passing lanes with reckless abandon. They attack ball handlers to, at a minimum, disrupt the rhythm of set plays. They slap and poke and grab and claw and maim and eviscerate and disembowel – well, you get the idea.
Opponents are committing almost 20 turnovers a game against the C’s, tops in the league by a wide margin. They’re also shooting 27 free throws a game, behind only the even more physical Jazz and the turnstiles that are the Knicks. Boston doesn’t care – they going to punch you in the mouth and see if you can’t get back up.
This strategy, in general, makes a lot of sense for this team as currently constructed for a multitude of reasons. They have, as previously mentioned, below average rim protection, but their perimeter defense is great, perhaps even elite. Allowing the likes of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart to pursue guerilla warfare on opposing set plays helps keep the pressure off their big men.
It also, in a way, makes sense for their current offensive situation. Despite improvements in the offseason, this is still a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to scoring (19th in offensive rating as of today). Most of the team can’t shoot, and even the assumed positives like David Lee and Isaiah Thomas are having a rough go from the field to start the season. One of the best ways to make up the difference in shooting percentages is to generate more attempts. Coupling turnovers with offensive rebounds (3rd in the league! Even with a huge size disadvantage!), Boston is doing just that.
Amir Johnson, PF28 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -16 +/-Blah. Johnson had a great first quarter helping out on drives, corralling ball handlers near the sidelines, and closing out hard on Dirk Nowitzki without biting on pump fakes. It didn’t last. The Mavs did a good job of swinging the ball over to the weak side and having Dirk dart over for side pick-and-pops while the defense scrambled into position. The Celtics ICE’d these screens (ICE-ing a screen is when the big drops to take away the drive and the on-ball defender forces the ball handler away from the screen, toward the baseline), and Dirk chowed down on a healthy diet of wide open midrangers. Next time, the Celtics will have to deviate from their base defense to stifle this action.
Jae Crowder, SF35 MIN | 4-9 FG | 2-3 3FG | 4-4 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -1 +/-Crowder played well tonight. He canned a pair of semi-contested triples with the shot clock winding down and buttoned up on the defensive end, per usual. Dirk posted him up a few times, and Crowder handled the spotlight admirably, save for the one possession in the fourth quarter when he gambled for the wraparound steal and conceded an uncontested lay-in.
Jared Sullinger, C30 MIN | 7-19 FG | 1-3 3FG | 3-4 FT | 12 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | 0 +/-Sully’s offensive rebounds are very productive. He has a deceivingly quick second jump and puts the ball back up before the defense even comes back to the ground. The Sullinger-Zaza Pachulia matchup––the game’s most entertaining subplot––was a wash, disappointing since Sully has been so good this year. I know, I know, it looked like Pachulia flopped his way to a couple of bogus trips to the charity stripe. But here’s the thing: There was contact, and Pachulia sold the call. Selling legitimate contact is different from flopping––which I define as contorting one’s body when no foul actually occurred. It’s annoying, sure. But it’s smart.
Isaiah Thomas, PG33 MIN | 7-16 FG | 1-8 3FG | 4-6 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +10 +/-Shot selection. That’s been Celtics fans’ biggest gripe with Thomas this season. Tonight, he shot 1-for-5 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter and was once again a liability on defense during crunch time. More than once in the final period, Deron Williams took him to the block, drew a double team, and whipped a pass to a cutting Mav for an open shot. Some of that’s on Stevens. At 5-foot-8, Thomas clearly has his limitations. He started out both halves checking Chandler Parsons and, to his credit, fought tooth and nail for every inch on the block. At times, though, he runs straight into ball screens and gets caught too far behind the play. Usually, the good outweighs the bad––Thomas had another brilliant first quarter tonight, scoring 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting––but things didn’t shake out that way down the stretch against the Mavericks.
Marcus Smart, PG26 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -10 +/-Yeesh. Smart’s shooting struggles continue, especially from deep. One thing I will give him credit for: Smart has done a remarkable job of controlling his emotions after horrendous foul calls this year. He had a few questionable ones go against him tonight (Tony Brothers might be a worse official than Joey Crawford at this point), but he zipped his lips, kept his head down, and plowed onward. His maturity is impressive.
David Lee, PF15 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 3FG | 6-6 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | -1 +/-During the game, Celtics Hub bossman Brian Robb astutely pointed out that Lee’s offense was keeping the Celtics afloat early in the fourth quarter––he was indeed a catalyst, tossing home both a righty and lefty jump hook from the left block and making smart dives to the hoop around other action. But the Celtics were Swiss cheese on the other end, and Lee wasn’t helping. On two consecutive possessions, he was late on a rotation to the rim and conceded an offensive board which led to a Wes Matthews three-pointer. When he really focuses on these things, his defense is passable. It was suspect tonight.
Jonas Jerebko, PF5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2 +/-Meh. Nothing good, nothing bad tonight from the Swede.
Kelly Olynyk, C13 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | +13 +/-Olynyk got shafted by the officials tonight on at least two separate occasions. (Side note: So did the Mavericks.) That didn’t necessarily swing the game in Dallas’ favor, but it was frustrating to watch as an indifferent spectator. He had a nice little stretch late in the third quarter, knocking down a triple in the corner and shoveling off an interior pass to David Lee after blowing by his defender out on the perimeter.
Avery Bradley, PG31 MIN | 7-17 FG | 3-7 3FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 18 PTS | +4 +/-Bradley came out red hot off the bench in the first quarter, starting off 5-of-7 from the field and canning a pair of triples. Though he only converted on two of his final 10 shots, I liked Bradley’s decisiveness from behind the arc. He’s so much better when he catches and pulls the trigger right away. Like always, the defense was spectacular, but he failed to adjust to the officials’ tight calls and fouled out at the end. Young players have to learn that Tony Brothers is Satan on the whistle––for both teams.
Evan Turner, SG24 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 6 PTS | -17 +/-After joining the hardwood cherubs and seraphs on high for a five-game stretch, Turner has returned parachuted back down to earth (“crash” would be too strong a word here). Tonight, he was virtually anonymous. I miss Evan the Archangel.
It’s the regular season, and Boston only had one day off between the Rockets game on Monday and tonight’s matchup with the Dallas. Naturally, the Celtics couldn’t draw up some master plan to neuter everything the Mavs offense would throw at them. Furthermore, teams usually don’t scrap their base defense during the regular season to try out new schemes they haven’t practiced. Stevens probably could have gone with more versatile defensive lineups tonight to switch those side ball screens instead of ICE-ing them. For instance, I’d have liked to see more of Crowder at power forward. On a positive note, he drew up some terrific action out of timeouts. With under four minutes remaining in the game and Boston trailing by five, Stevens scribbled a play that yielded a wide open triple for Sullinger at the top of the key. Stevens might be the best in the business with off-the-cuff X’s and O’s.
Two Things We Saw
You probably noticed that no one got below a C-. Yet the Celtics still lost to a Mavericks squad that, though they’re now 8-4, isn’t really all that special. When you don’t have a star, C+ performances from everyone won’t cut it. At least one or two guys need to step up big every game for this steam engine to whistle, and that didn’t happen tonight. No one played particularly poorly (OK, fine, Smart’s neither created nor shot well on offense), but nobody grabbed the moose by the antlers either. Hence, the loss.
The refs didn’t blow the game for the Celtics. Their fourth-quarter defense did. Wesley Matthews banged home two triples after offensive rebounds in the final period, and the help side rotations were sluggish/tough covers. Officials seldom are so flagrantly bad as to swing the outcome of the game.
With a fantastic win over Houston Monday night, the Celtics secured their third straight win. They are now 6-4 on the season overall, good enough for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
It is far too early in the season to make any definitive statements about the team, but Boston has played enough games that we can start to make some reasonable assumptions. For example, through the first ten contests, these Celtics have played excellent defense, continuing on the good habits that drove their playoff push at the end of last season.
Here are a few trends that have emerged early for the C’s and things to look out for moving forward.
Their offense is built on speed, as the statistics show. As of Tuesday, the Celtics ranked fifth in the league in pace factor, sandwiched between two jet-fueled squads, Golden State and Oklahoma City. The Celtics are also tied for second in field goal attempts per game (88.9), just one tenth behind the champion Warriors. This team loves to run, which has been a key to the early success, but to bring things to another level, they have to learn to appreciate the small breaks in the action that the free throw line provides. Read the rest of this entry »
Amir Johnson, PF22 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +20 +/-Active hands. Lightning quick rotations. Second chance opportunities. Strong rolls to the rim. That’s why the Celtics paid Amir Johnson $12 million this summer (a bargain for the C’s, I might add). Tonight, he delivered, tipping a handful of passes in the third quarter alone. A monster block on Dwight Howard at the rim in that same period was the exclamation point.
Jae Crowder, SF28 MIN | 7-10 FG | 1-3 3FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +24 +/-Crowder put up his best offensive numbers of the year tonight, and––I hate to admit it––it was more a product of Houston’s shit defense than his own skill. He got three uncontested layups on cuts to the basket because the Rocket guarding him apparently forgot Crowder existed mid-play. Still, he had a pair of and-ones and locked James Harden away in a dungeon for the night.
Jared Sullinger, C25 MIN | 4-9 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +20 +/-Sullinger has the most deceivingly quick feet of any big man in the league, and he was spot-on again tonight defensively. He had a blah shooting night from the perimeter and missed both his midrange jumpers, albeit one was a step-back fadeaway as the shot clock was ticking down. Still, teams are learning that if you leave Sully open, he’ll sink it. Creases are beginning to open up all over the floor when he pops after setting screens.
Isaiah Thomas, PG24 MIN | 9-12 FG | 4-7 3FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 23 PTS | 0 +/-Buried underneath the second, third, and fourth quarter defensive dominance was Thomas’ brilliant first quarter, which kept the game in reach for the Celtics. Tonight, defense was the Celtics’ best offense, and Thomas, the game’s high scorer and assist getter, was an afterthought. Basketball is weird.
Marcus Smart, PG30 MIN | 1-11 FG | 0-6 3FG | 2-4 FT | 9 REB | 6 AST | 5 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 4 PTS | +30 +/-Marcus Smart shot 1-for-11 from the field, rocketed two threes off the backboard, and coughed up five turnovers. And yet, each of his five steals led directly to transition layups, catalyzing the Celtics offense and energizing the defense on each subsequent possession. If Smart’s defense had been even average, he’d have earned an “F”––no question. Instead, he was the second-best player on the floor, straight up ripping the ball out of the hands of Terrence Jones and Trevor Ariza in the third quarter like a lion tearing away the flesh of its freshly caught prey.
David Lee, PF5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -6 +/-Apparently someone erased my memory Men in Black-style because I have zero recollection of David Lee’s five-minute stint in the middle of the first half. Totally forgettable performance.
Jonas Jerebko, PF14 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +7 +/-It’d be easy to do the whole “Another day, another Charlie Hustle award for Jerebko” thing tonight. But watch out for something the next time you tune in for a Celtics game: When Jerebko sets ball screens in the flow of the half court offense, he does a really good job of mixing in hard rolls, slips, and pops to the three-point line. Keeping the defense on its toes is key, and Jerebko does a good job of forcing his defender to be hyper-aware. His footwork is still shaky on smaller dudes––he turns his hips too much when opposing drivers make lateral moves––but the results are still passable.
Tyler Zeller, C14 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | -18 +/-There’s the Zeller we all know and love. He had a little trouble early on keeping Dwight Howard off the offensive glass, but he made a confident spinning hook shot in the second quarter that seemed to snap him out of a long slumber.
Kelly Olynyk, C23 MIN | 3-11 FG | 1-6 3FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -4 +/-Don’t let the crappy shooting numbers and negative plus-minus fool you––Olynyk played great defense tonight. Like Amir Johnson, he got his mitts on a number of passes and disrupted Houston’s offensive flow on multiple occasions, especially in the pick-and-roll. Olynyk only got credited for one steal, but he forced a couple others that were scooped up by a teammate.
Terry Rozier, PG6 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -13 +/-With the Celtics up by 20 late in the fourth quarter, Rozier handled Houston’s defensive pressure with poise, quickly got his team into its half court offense, and had prudent shot selection. Now take everything I just said and re-write it as the exact opposite. Rozier and the garbage time unit looked like a 16-seed pissing itself against Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Avery Bradley, PG20 MIN | 8-14 FG | 4-7 3FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 21 PTS | +18 +/-Bradley drained two threes at the end of the third quarter to solidify the Celtics’ lead, smothered Harden like sawmill gravy on a biscuit, and drained midrange shots off dribble handoffs. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t back in the starting lineup on Wednesday against Dallas.
R.J. Hunter, SG11 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9 +/-It was a rough night for Hunter. Very rookie-ish. At one point in the second quarter, he airmailed a three pointer over the rim and off the backboard, and then committed the world’s weakest foul on Terrence Jones for an and-one. A literal slap on the wrist.
Evan Turner, SG18 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-2 3FG | 3-3 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | +11 +/-Turner continues to impress on defense, fighting over screens and staying between his man and the basket. Off the ball, he’s been much more attentive this season than in years past.
The Celtics didn’t do anything funky to hold Harden to only 10 field goal attempts. They just played their asses off. Bradley picked his pocket for a layup in the third quarter, and Marcus Smart did an awesome job of cutting of his driving angles without using his hands. Stevens was smart to ride the stingy Smart-Bradley-Crowder-Sullinger-Johnson lineup to end the first half. After the Rockets took a timeout with 2:43 remaining in the second quarter, five of their final seven possessions ended in turnovers, including three straight live-ball giveaways leading to Celtics baskets. Is it fair to credit the coach for that? Probably not, but he drew up a game plan to limit Harden’s effectiveness, and it worked.