We’ve covered the Disturbing Decline of the Celtics offense in-depth this month already. They’ve been trending downwards for years now and after an above-average start scoring in November, they’ve languished in the bottom of the league, ranking 27th overall in offensive rating since November 28th.
For some perspective, the C’s defense has actually been 6th in the league in defensive rating for the past two and a half months now. The C’s have expectedly been a bit worse on that end of the floor compared to last year, but they are still amongst the league’s best defenders. It’s the offense that has taken the sharp, unanticipated dip this season, despite the added talent.
Nights like Monday’s 95-90 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers demonstrate the heart of the problem for the C’s offense. The Cavs defense is awful, and that was before they lost center Anderson Varejao for the season. Coming into last night, they ranked 28th in the league in points allowed per possession. Their front line consists of Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson, two players who aren’t particularly known for their defense. That shows in their ability to defend the rim, as they allow opponents to hit 67.8 percent of their shots at the rim. That’s the second worst mark in the league overall.
Cleveland also allows opponents to shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc, putting them at 28th in the NBA at defending the arc. Between defending the rim and the 3-point line, you would think the C’s would have had two crystal clear areas to attack the Cavs last night.
Those objectives seemed to be part of the plan in the first half. Rajon Rondo attacked the hoop aggressively. Jared Sullinger had a few strong takes to go with his usual set of offensive rebounds. The Celtics posted 53 points and hung with the Cavs offensively despite a subpar defensive effort and an incredible outburst by Kyrie Irving (23 first half points).
Things changed however in second half as the Celtics wanted “the easy way out” as Doc Rivers would put it. In my estimation, the easy way out for this C’s offense is settling for the mid-range jumper even when it’s not falling for them. That shot is the least efficient shot in basketball. It’s the shot defenses want you to take. With that said, the C’s by and large are very strong mid-range shooters with countless threats on the roster. Still, against inept defenses like Cleveland, they are low percentage shots based on what an offense could create in opportunities closer to the rim.
Good offense leads to shots at the rim, layups, shooting fouls (Cavs allow 2nd highest FT rate in the NBA, 24.9 per game), and postups with ideal position around the basket. In the second half, the C’s were able to achieve almost none of this and were unwilling to turn away from the jumper when they got cold from mid-range.
How bad did it get from the C’s?
From the 10:55 mark in the third quarter to the 9:50 mark in the fourth quarter, the Celtics took 16 field goal attempts. All 16 of these attempts were of the jumper variety, the vast majority of which came from mid-range. Boston took six free throws during his 13 minute period, with four of them coming on takes to the rim by KG and Pierce, and the other two via the Cavs fouling Avery Bradley taking a jumper.
Looking at the entire second half, the Celtics attempted 31 jumpers overall, compared to just 10 attempts at the rim. 21 of those jumpers were of the mid-range variety and the results were not pretty.
Pierce 0 for 7
KG 0 for 5
Bass 2 for 3
Rondo 1 for 3
Green 0 for 1
Lee 0 for 1
Sullinger 0 for 1
For some counting at home, that’s 3 for 21 overall for the C’s or 14.2%. A look at how the C’s did on other parts of the floor
3 for 10 at the rim
5 for 10 from 3-point range
The net result was six points in the paint in the second half, 26.8 percent shooting, 37 points and another ugly loss for the C’s. The C’s also had below average free throw attempts (22) and 3-point attempts (17) for a Cavs opponent despite hitting 7 of those attempts. They also took just 17 shots at the rim, hitting 10 of them.
Nearly the exact same scenario happened against the Hornets at home last week and countless other times this year with no mid-range shots dropping. Doc Rivers needs to be put under the microscope here with the necessary caveats. Paul Pierce is slumping, Kevin Garnett will have games like this, but to be honest both guys look gassed right now, yet the entire offense revolved around them for the majority of the final 14 minutes of the game.
Garnett is slumping in other facets of the game as well (his defensive rebounding rate has dropped, and his plus/minus has taken a sharp dip in the past few weeks). Ideally, Doc could sit him down for a game here and there a la Tim Duncan, but given the team’s ugly record at this point, that’s not really an appealing option for everyone. Fatigue is probably an issue for Pierce too, but he’s also simply continuing to put too much on himself in the offense, (which I covered early this month as well.)
Going back to Doc though, you have to think there is a better offensive design for this team against bad defenses like the Cavs. I understand relying on accurate mid-range shooters against tougher defenses with tough centers defending the rim, but against the Cavs? There has to be a balance and a STRONG push from him to get this team looks closer to the basket or shots from beyond the arc. Given the team’s struggles with 3-point shooting, the former option is the more appealing one. How can they do it? A few simple ideas.
-Unleashing Leandro Barbosa and/or Jason Terry more often to create
-Post up an improving Jared Sullinger here and there
-Dust off Chris Wilcox and his 71% FG percentage and give him another shot in the rotation
-Not play Paul Pierce 35+ minutes on nights he is struggling
That last suggestion might be the most important one. Doc’s reliance on Pierce is hurting the C’s in the short term now as he struggles and likely down the line as well if he’s gassed by the time the postseason begins. You couldn’t even blame bench guys like Jeff Green and Jason Terry last night because they really didn’t get an opportunity to do anything besides take a couple jumpers.
If the C’s are going to make some trades in the next month, they are better off finding out what they have with the offensive talent they brought in on nights Pierce and KG don’t have it offensively. At this point, the offense can’t get much worse with the second teamers, while preserving the added wear and tear on the veterans.
All statistics in this article were taken from Synergy Sports, Hoopdata.com and NBA.com/stats