“We’ve got to find ways to score, and no matter how great a defensive team you are, you still have to score enough points and sometimes, that’s been our biggest challenge.” – Danny Ainge
As a Celtics fan, watching the C’s-Nuggets game last night was a painful endeavor. You had a defeated team, emotionally drained after being blindsided by the trade of one of their brothers just hours earlier. And yet as the undermanned roster fought valiantly through the challenging circumstance, it was an all too familiar scenario that left them on the short end of a 89-75 defeat. A six minute scoring drought to end the game as the Nuggets went on a 16-0 run to end things.
Now before we go any further, let me reiterate I’m well aware of the countless disadvantages the C’s had going into that contest in Denver. They had every excuse in the world not to win that game, all extremely understandable ones I might add.
Yet, the lack of scoring punch last night was just an example of a much bigger problem this Celtics team has faced for the past couple years: an inability to consistently put the ball in the basket when it matters.
That need to score and in turn, upgrade this team’s offense, to me, was the main motivating factor in this team’s trade of Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. There were obviously several factors that went into this deal (future contracts, big man depth, etc.) but the need for offense stands out the most.
You see, the Celtics have been a middle of the road offensive team for about two years now. Things were different once upon a time. Back in 2007-08, the Celtics were a top 10 offensive squad (110.2 points/100 possessions). The C’s had their big three, a developing Rajon Rondo, and flanked them with outside shooters named James Posey, Eddie House and eventually Sam Cassell.
That formula, combined with some young studs who could do the dirty work down low (Leon Powe, Glen Davis) and a big man with range (P.J. Brown) allowed the Celtics to bring home Banner 17.
It was a team effort and historians will point to the this squad’s tremendous defense for its success and while the D was a critical component, the team’s offense in the playoffs (109.4 points/100 possessions, slightly below a top 10 offense) wasn’t shabby either, highlighted by the offensive explosion in game six to clinch the title.
Make no mistake, the defense was phenomenal, but the offense was a pretty big player throughout that playoff run as well, and without it, that team would have come up short.
Now let’s fast forward to last season. The Celtics sleepwalked their way through the second half of the regular season, mostly thanks to injuries. Compared to 2007-08 though, there was a fallback on the offensive end. The team reverted to and average team in offensive efficiency, posting 107.7 points/100 possessions, (15th in NBA), yet still remained a top five defense.
As we all know, this squad began to get things together and made a historic postseason run to game 7 of the NBA Finals. Many point to the absence of Perk in that final game as the team’s fatal flaw as the Lakers grabbed rebound after rebound over the shorthanded Boston front line. A closer inspection of the C’s point total in that game (79) and in that series as a whole revealed a larger issue for this team: the offense.
Game 1: 89 (L)
Game 2: 103 (W)
Game 3: 84 (L)
Game 4: 96 (W)
Game 5: 92 (W)
Game 6: 67 (L)
Game 7: 79 (L)
As the C’s faced elite defenses, they regularly ran into trouble putting the ball in the basket. In fact, for that entire playoff run, Boston posted a anemic 104.8 points/100 possession, three points below their regular season average and five points below the team that made the title run in 2008.
The defense during that 2010 playoff run? It was even better, at least statistically than the 2008 NBA Finals team in the playoffs with a stingy 101.7 points allowed/100 possessions, two points below the team that won the title two years earlier in its run.
So, you may be sitting there and wondering 600 words or so into this article…..what the hell does this have to do with dealing Kendrick Perkins? Follow me out on this folks.
Here’s a shocking bit of news for everyone. This year’s team, numbers wise, is worse offensively than last year’s squad, even after it “rested” through the second half of the regular season. It’s only a slight dropoff (107.7 to 107.1 this year in offensive rating) but that’s still a stepback.
Obviously there have been a lot of mitigating factors here, including a bevy of injuries to the team’s roster. Through it all though the team’s main offensive weapons (Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) have been healthy and putting up tremendous numbers. Yet this team remains a middle of the road offensive squad, that has to work incredibly hard for its offense.
Danny knew this and knew he had to try to upgrade this team’s bench. I believe he really explored every avenue he could to do this without trading Perk. The problem was, as we will know, he had no assets. Nate Robinson’s value dropped off the face of the earth with his shooting this year, as he became an overpriced and undersized guard.
Semih Erden had promise, but had multiple injuries. Luke Harangody was, well, Luke Harangody. Avery Bradley, well there’s a guy you could make an argument about, but he’s cheap labor and only 20 years old so Ainge wanted to hold on to him.
So what was Danny left with? The move he probably had in his back pocket all along, but didn’t want to make unless he had no choice. Take away from your team’s defense and rebounding, while significantly upgrading the offense with a James Posey-esque player who can space the floor and take some scoring onus off the starters.
He also managed to shed a bad contract (Nate) while grabbing a serviceable center, who is a real offensive upgrade and spaces the floor well (44 percent shooting from 16-23 feet).
Now is this move a home run? Absoutely not. It could easily blow up in Ainge’s face. A full judgment can’t be made until the team fills out the rest of the roster with buyouts, but it’s safe to say a lot now rides on the fragile legs of the illegitimate O’Neal brothers.
Taking Perk out of the locker room and messing with a team’s chemistry that was 40-15 and at the top of the Eastern Conference 99 percent of the time isn’t a wise choice. The continuity factor the C’s starting lineup had playing together for four years is gone. That’s critical too. There are plenty of real issues to go with this, along with the fact that Glen Davis is perhaps getting the biggest vote of confidence with the move and his ability to guard big men like Dwight Howard one-on-one.
The thing Danny was trying to do though was be proactive. Not for next year, but for the playoff run. He needed offense, and in order to get the level of help he thought he needed, he took a significant piece of the defense away, though someone who did not play for the final five minutes of most games anyway.
I’ll let Ainge explain it the best here, in his appearance on CSN last night:
“Our problem, we’ve been a very good defensive team, we’ve had great success, I think the challenge we’ve gone through the past couple years and we go in these offensive droughts, and basketball is played on both ends of the court. We’ve got to find a way to get easy baskets.”
Are Green and Krstic and the Celtics to-be-named later the guys to get those easy baskets? That remains to be seen. For now though, the realization has to be that the desperate need for offense was the underlying motivating factor for this move against a revamped and offensively explosive Eastern Conference.