With four preseason games under their belt, the 2013-14 Celtics find themselves midway through their preseason schedule. Brad Stevens has deployed various five-man units, including a unique starting lineup for each contest thus far. Last season, injuries forced Doc Rivers into using 21 different starting lineups, the most for the green since 2006-07. Stevens may have to surpass that number with all of the players that he is currently juggling.
No matter what group is on the floor, the Celtics are trending in a direction that their fans have not seen for a decade. During Rivers’ nine years in Boston, his teams attempted only 16 shots per game from 3-point distance, which on average ranked 20th-most in the league. However, a new team philosophy and a mostly fresh cast of characters could mean a 3-point barrage from the Celtics. When a team’s only legitimate center has already attempted three shots from downtown in four games, we know that Boston is ready to reestablish itself as a team that takes a lot of 3-pointers.
Back in the Jim O’Brien era, the Celtics perennially put up the most 3-pointers in the league at more than 22 per game. Part of the reason was Antoine Walker’s propensity to jack up the occasional shot from deep. Well, it felt like the early 2000’s with the Celtics attempting 27 shots beyond the arc on Saturday night in New Hampshire. The last time they accomplished that feat in a game that did not reach overtime was November 25, 2009. The 3-pointer can be the great equalizer for weaker NBA teams, so it is possible the Celtics could settle with living and dying with that shot this season.
I cannot believe I actually talked about the 3-pointer that long without mentioning Jordan Crawford, who has made seven of his 12 this preseason. He is making quite an impression as he battles for the starting shooting guard position. In addition, last night, Crawford made three 3-pointers for the first time in a green uniform. With him also grabbing a team-high seven rebounds, Celtics fans have to be proud of his beginning to 2013-14.
Another guard that has impressed is rookie Phil Pressey. In his first game, he led an impressive fourth-quarter comeback that fell just short. Although it was against the end-of-the-bench Knickerbockers, he led the team in points and assists that night. The man who set an unprecedented number of Missouri Tigers records in assists also showed his passing skills in the NBA Summer League. If he can continue to get to the free-throw line and keep up his hard work on defense, it will be a pleasure to have this man as the backup point guard.
In 66 minutes played, Pressey has 11 free-throw attempts. In 93 minutes, Jeff Green has five. Let me reiterate, so that this can sink in: the Celtics’ No. 1 scoring option has played all four preseason games, and he has stepped up to the line on just three different occasions. This is infuriating because Green averaged almost five free-throw attempts per game in the 17 contests he started last regular season. Then, remember Game 6 of the first-round series against the Knicks? Well, we all can recount the Celtics’ furious comeback that almost forced a Game 7. Another part of that night was Green taking 14 free throws, more than double of any other player that evening in Boston. Unfortunately, Green’s shooting is also subpar thus far. His 11-of-40 shooting and his shot selection are not going to cut it. One hopes that his shot and aggression (Oh yeah! Six rebounds in four games!) will be coming soon. He is just getting all these games out of his system, right?
Everyone saw Green’s potential in the second half of last season, but Courtney Lee’s success did not receive as much attention. Each of these players stepped up their shooting after the All-Star break with both shooting 44 percent on their 3-pointers. Lee came to the Celtics for his defensive toughness and outside shot, but Celtics fans did not see him thrive much on last year’s team. His 2-of-9 shooting from distance and 8-of-24 overall in almost 100 minutes on the court this season does not give an indication he can continue his shooting from the last few months of 2012-13.
However, we are only talking about a handful of games here. Green and Lee have four more preseason games to find their respective strokes, and there is time to develop for some of these five-man units. Patience will be important with this team, as success is not right around the corner. The new era is here, and we should all be ready to see the development of this team.
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