The Boston Celtics need to change things up in order to avoid these disastrous first quarters
For the second game in a row, the Boston Celtics have put forth absolutely pathetic displays in the first quarter. Both the Denver Nuggets and the Washington Wizards have blown the Celtics so far out in the opening frames that they have not been able to get a game within single digits. They are falling flat and are allowing their opponent to do and get whatever they want.
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It should not come as a surprise that the Celtics are struggling. Almost half their starting lineup has been lost due to the injuries to Jae Crowder and Al Horford, and their already weak depth at those positions has been exposed in a painful way. Jaylen Brown had one strong outing against the Cavaliers, but has looked like a rookie since then. The bigs that have been replacing Horford, simply should have no place on the starting unit.
Amir Johnson does not have the size to do it on his own and Tyler Zeller has been attacked and abused. The Celtics are giving up 15+ offensive rebounds on a regular basis, and they are allowing every team they play to shoot lights out.
The perimeter defense has not been generating steals like they did last year, and injuries have left their front court defense one of the weakest in the NBA. As per rebounding , there is little doubt that the Celtics would be beaten by any team in the NBA in their current state.
With Horford stuck in the concussion protocol and Crowder expected out for around another week, it is time to switch things up. Brown and Zeller have started every game since the injuries to Crowder and Horford, and it is time to change the approach. It is safe to say that the Celtics cannot get worse on the boards. They have a freedom in going further undersized, because they have been getting blown out in an embarrassing way and both these last games were entirely lost in the first quarter.
It is time to get Marcus Smart in the starting lineup, and giving Jonas Jerebko an opportunity beside Johnson could also be beneficial. The Celtics have already proven that they are comfortable with three guard lineups, and they need their three best players, Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Smart, on the court together right now. Without Horford and Crowder the Celtics cannot afford to have such an important player coming off the bench. His impact would be too valuable to a staring unit, and his defensive versatility has made him comfortable at the three in the past.
Also starting Jerebko may be taking the small ball too far. Not having a single player taller than 6’10 could take time to get comfortable with, but they really cannot get any worse than how they have opened up these last two games.
This will not fix their rebounding problems and teams will still be able to attack them in the interior. Those problems cannot be properly addressed until Crowder and Horford are back in the lineup. That being said, the Celtics are not contesting shots like they have been, and they need to generate turnovers more than ever.
Crowder has been the team leader in stealing the ball, but all three of those guards have proven that they are capable of having an impact in that area. The Celtics need to get their defensive production from the relentless pressure of the back court, and they need to make up for the second chance opportunities given up, by generating more opportunities for themselves with steals.
The Celtics have been better than expected on offense. But they have truly collapsed in the interior, and they have not been doing as well as last year in making up for that deficiency.
Basketball is also a streaky game. The Celtics have dealt with an onslaught of shooting, and a lot of that has to do with opposing teams finding their rhythm right away. The problem is that the Celtics are not making things as uncomfortable as they did last year, and they need Smart with the starting unit to get back to that.
The three guards can feed off each other, and the Celtics need their two best defenders in Bradley and Smart on the court if they have any chance of making up for their interior.
Stevens can use similar rotations. Smart has been getting a lot of time with the starters in three guard lineups, they just need a spark to change what has been happening to open up games. The Celtics have created two insurmountable deficits in two first quarters, and changing that needs to be the top priority right now.
The Celtics are at the point where they cannot stop any of the bleeding in the interior. They need to stack the areas where they can still be strong, and that requires getting Smart in with the starters. Getting Jerebko in that lineup could also shake things up, but he has been a weakness on both ends so far this year.
The Celtics need to fix whatever has been going on in these first quarters, and the quickest way to address that with these injuries is giving Smart the start. He has played in that role before, and there should be little to no downside. With the return of Kelly Olynyk, the second unit should be in an overall better state. Their depth has been a weakness this year, but Olynyk can carry a lot more of the second unit, allowing for a better transition without having Smart with them.
The Celtics were holding their own through these injuries, then everything starting falling apart in these last two games. Consistency has always been a problem for this team and that will continue as long as Crowder and Horford are out. That being said, the Celtics will not accept these kinds of performances and will be looking to adjust.