How Far Could the Celtics Fall?

Mar 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watches from the sideline as the take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watches from the sideline as the take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics have lost three straight games and have fallen down to the fifth seed in the East

Everyone knew that there were going to be problems once Jae Crowder went down with a high ankle sprain. The Boston Celtics looked flat in the first half and managed to look even worse in the second half of their loss to the Houston Rockets once Crowder left with an injury. Boston followed that up with a loss to the Indiana Pacers, and then got demolished by the Oklahoma City Thunder a day later.

Kelly Olynyk has returned to game action, however, he struggled in his first action as many people expected. He shot 1-7 from the field in 22 minutes and recorded eight points and four rebounds. As far as the starting lineup, Marcus Smart has taken Crowder’s spot in the starting lineup as Brad Stevens has decided to roll with a three guard lineup.

While Smart’s defensive intensity has made the Celtics not lose a beat with Crowder out, his lack of offense has raised a lot of concern. Smart scored 12 points in the Celtics’ loss to the Pacers, but only shot 1-8 from behind the arc. He then shot 1-10 from the field in their loss to the Thunder yesterday, recording only two points. Smart’s desire to continue to shoot multiple threes a game is a discussion for another day, but it’s clear that the Celtics are missing Jae Crowder more than most people expected.

In a matter of two days, the Celtics have fallen from the third seed in the Eastern Conference to the fifth seed, no longer owning home court advantage. They’re tied with the Atlanta Hawks at 39-29, but only own a half game lead over the Charlotte Hornets, who are the sixth seed. The very close Eastern Conference has all of a sudden gotten a lot closer, especially for Boston.

The Celtics are currently on a three-game losing streak, something they haven’t experienced since the beginning of January, and with the Toronto Raptors up next, the pastures aren’t looking greener on the other side for the Celtics. Crowder is expected to be back in a couple of weeks, which makes it reasonable to believe he could miss the rest of the month. If not, he won’t be able to make an actual impact until April, as Kelly Olynyk showed. It takes players time to get their legs and shot back after returning, so getting him back a couple of weeks before the playoffs start is key.

Right now the Celtics have seven more games in March, and realistically will go 3-4 the rest of the way. With two games against the Toronto Raptors (one home, one away), and away games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers, a 4-3 record seems desirable but 3-4 seems more likely. The Celtics also travel to Philadelphia and Phoenix and host the Orlando Magic. If Crowder isn’t back by April then he will miss when the Celtics travel to the bay to take on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

A 3-4 record would put the Celtics at 42-33 on the season, however when looking at the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat‘s schedule, they are projected to go 6-2 and 5-2, respectively, the rest of the month. The Charlotte Hornets should go 5-2 and the Indiana Pacers are projected to go 6-2.

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The standings would then look like:

3. Miami Heat 44-30

4. Atlanta Hawks 45-32

5. Charlotte Hornets 43-31

6. Boston Celtics 42-33

6. Indiana Pacers 42-33

While there could obviously be upsets or injuries, it doesn’t seem crazy to assume Boston could fall to the sixth or seventh seed.

It has only been two games but it doesn’t look good for the Celtics. It was well-known that Crowder had arguably the biggest impact on the team, however, it is just now being seen. It’s clear that they don’t look the same on either side of the ball, which is expected when you lose someone who is third on the team in points and minutes per game.

Brad Stevens is still trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if Smart moved to the bench following his two disappointing games. Stevens is also trying to get the young guys some run, with Terry Rozier playing 12 minutes against Indiana and James Young playing 22 minutes against the Thunder.

Related Story: Crowder's Injury Opens up Minutes for Younger Players

When it comes down to it, there is no way for this team to replace Crowder. As solid as Evan Turner has been off the bench, him and Crowder have totally different styles. Kelly Olynyk’s return should help, but doesn’t help their small forward depth.

Jae Crowder is right, they are one superstar, but it works because they have a specialist in every area. Boston saw the struggles once Olynyk went down, and there will be even more with Crowder out. Obviously starting out against two playoff teams, and a third coming up, isn’t what Boston wanted right after the injury, but they’re going to have to get used to it.

Rozier, Young, or Hunter all should see minutes, but none will be the difference maker in the long run. James Young proved this during his 22 minutes of action when he shot 0-3, scored 0 points, and sported a -5 plus/minus rating.

Next: Scouting Report for the Toronto Raptors

If Brad Stevens is able to find a rotation that works, then it will once again prove his greatness. In my mind, the downward spiral has only begun. Hopefully Crowder comes back in time to get back to 100 percent by the playoffs, but the main goal for the Celtics right now is to stay out of the seven seed and away from the top two teams in the East.