Following last night’s 95-92 to the New Orleans Pelicans, their third straight loss and sixth in seven games, the Boston Celtics find
themselves in a tough spot.
The team is about to open up a five-game West Coast trip in which they will face (in order) the 2nd place, 11th place, 4th place, 5th place, and 1st place teams in the Western Conference. The combined record of these foes? 111-56. The number of teams with a losing record the Celtics will face on this road trip? One – the Denver Nuggets. Chance the Celtics have of finishing this trip with a winning record?
Don’t make me answer that question.
So: with arguably the most difficult five-game stretch in their schedule this season, a killer span that could put the Celtics a full twelve games below .500 on the season, Boston finds itself in a difficult position.
Does this team attempt to swing a trade, in the hopes of bringing in someone who, coupled with the return of Rajon Rondo, can solidify this team in time for a second-half playoff run? Does it simply roll the dice with the team it has, effectively tanking without officially trying to tank? Or does President of basketball Operations Danny Ainge begin clearing some cap space by trading away his movable pieces, thereby committing to the upcoming draft and the free agent market of the offseason?
The Celtics’ current struggles perfectly illustrate the pros and cons of rolling with this current roster. This Celtics team isn’t nearly as bad as many of us thought it would be; they are within striking distance at the end of almost every game they have lost, as evidenced by the fact that five of their last six losses have been by less than 10 points. This roster has also bought into the importance of playing defense, as they hold opposing teams to 44.7% shooting from the field (13th best in the NBA) and make life absolutely miserable for their opponents behind the arc (32.5%, second-best in the league).
However, this team lacks the muscle or the length to contend with teams that have one of both of those attributes (Memphis and New Orleans, for example), and lacks either the talent, the killer instinct, or both to close out close games. Last night’s game against the Pelicans was entirely winnable, but putting up 20 points in the fourth quarter is not going to help Boston win many of the close games it continues to find itself in. Worse, every player on this roster has a glaring deficiency that is impossible to ignore. Jeff Green is as hot and cold as they come: last night was his second-straight 5-for-too much shooting performance (5-18 against Chicago, 5-12 against the Pelicans). Jared Sullinger wants to be a stretch-four, as his four shots from behind the arc will attest, but he has very little stretch in him, as the fact that he missed all four of those bombs and is shooting 27.2% from behind the arc proves. Jordan Crawford is doing an admirable job as a point guard, but lacks the vision and creativity of a true point guard, and often falls in loves with long-range bombs. Gerald Wallace has the body of a 200 year-old basketball player.
And so on, and so forth. I’m not trying to be overly critical -I love the fight and the spirit of this team, and think it could be good with a few tweaks and additions. But that’s my point: it may be nice to say “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” because we all love an underdog, but come crunch time, this team simply has too many weaknesses and not enough talent to compensate.
The Boston Celtics are a proud franchise, so it will be interesting to see in what direction Ainge heads. I know he has said numerous times that the Boston Celtics do not tank, which seems to imply he is not planning on having a fire-sale in order to make the tanking official, but standing pat with this roster is essentially tanking in an unofficial capacity. Hard decisions are in store for these Boston Celtics, but it might take the upcoming road trip to spur the team to commit to a course of action.