With Playoffs Looming, Celtics Guards Must Step Up

The believed strength for this Boston Celtics’ roster coming into the season was their depth in the backcourt. Now with just four games remaining until the playoffs begin, questions surround the guards’ ability to produce consistently.

Jason Terry has been unpredictable all season long, but has continued to claim that he will show up for the playoffs. Terry is still averaging double-figures this season, but his 10.2 points per game is the lowest since his rookie season in 1999.

Of course Terry is playing fewer minutes with the Celtics, and making a transition to a new team. It is still hard to believe though that this is what Danny Ainge expected when he chose to sign Terry for the full mid-level exception this offseason.

Fairly or unfairly, Terry was brought in as the replacement for Ray Allen. While Terry’s 3-point percentage is still a respectable 37.5, Allen is hitting 41.9 percent from behind the arc with the Heat.

If the Celtics meet the Heat in what seems like an inevitable playoff rematch, Boston is going to need the 2011 Dallas Mavericks’ Terry, rather than this forgettable regular season version. His championship experience could be crucial in closing out fourth quarters.

Another disappointment as of late is the “Pitbull” pair of Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley. Following Rajon Rondo’s midseason injury, Lee and Bradley were the defensive catalysts behind Boston’s resurgence.

While Bradley has never been known as an offensive force, he’s in the midst of a terrible slump. In the last 10 games, Bradley is shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor. Bradley will make his impact on the game defensively, but the Celtics will need more from their starting point guard in the playoffs. If defenses don’t have to account for Bradley, he’ll receive the same treatment as Rondo.

Team’s will sag off him completely, daring him to take a jump shot and using his defender to clog up the lane and double-team others. As demonstrated in numerous playoff series before, that makes it harder for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to operate in the paint.

Lee’s recent poor play may be explainable. He suffered an ankle injury in a March loss to Dallas, and since returning to the lineup hasn’t looked the same. When Lee went down he was the starting shooting guard. He now finds himself coming off the bench.

He’ll quickly need to adapt to his new role, as he’s an important piece to this team’s success. Lee’s combination of athleticism, perimeter shooting, defense, and size is unique to the Celtics’ backcourt, but if he can’t start producing consistently, it will leave Doc Rivers with few options.

Finally, one of the newest Celtics’ additions has yet to find his role with this team. Jordan Crawford was brought in at the trade deadline with the hope he would be able to provide instant offense off the bench. While he’s shown flashes of that offensive potential, he’s as likely to shoot Boston out of a game as he is to keep them in it.

Crawford has taken seven shots or more in 14 games for the Celtics. He’s shot above 45 percent in just five of them. It’s unlikely he can be relied upon on a consistent basis in the playoffs. He takes too many difficult shots, and often tries to make the tough play rather than the simple one.

Despite that though, the Celtics will need him to come up big in several games. He has the potential to take over for a quarter, or even a half. Celtics’ fans have seen Stephon Marbury and Nate Robinson come off the bench and spark the Celtics’ offense on route to deep playoff runs. Getting the same from Crawford would go a long way toward another Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

Pierce and Garnett remain the driving force behind the Celtics’ playoff chances, but without improved play from their backcourt mates, Boston will be making an earlier exit than anticipated at season’s start.

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