Giving teams life: Assessing poor Boston Celtics performance since the All-Star break

The Boston Celtics have not played their basketball since the All-Star break -- and Hardwood Houdini assesses why that's been (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
The Boston Celtics have not played their basketball since the All-Star break -- and Hardwood Houdini assesses why that's been (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

Since the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics have looked out of character. The team with the best record going into the hiatus has gone an uncharacteristic 3-4 including back-to-back overtime losses. From Grant Williams’ consecutive missed free throws to win the game in Cleveland to Robert Williams III’s injury news, things are not going the Cs way at the moment.

In the past three games, Boston has blown a 28-point lead, a 15-point lead, and a 14-point lead, all at the TD Garden. That ability killer mentality to put away teams is simply not present with this ball club right now. Whether it is giving up late-game offensive rebounds or allowing Immanuel Quickley to get to his spot far too easily, this is a reality check for a team that found life in the NBA pretty simple through the first few months of the season.

Since play resumed in Indiana with 23 contests left in the season, the Boston Celtics have posted the 16th best offense, and the 19th best defense leading to a net rating below zero. Before the association turned its eyes to Salt Lake City, Joe Mazzulla’s men possessed a top-five offense, and defense while holding down the NBA’s best net rating.

Jaylen Brown had an honest assessment of what the Cs have to do with a road trip on tap beginning at the end of the week.

For a team like Boston even with several of its starters out, an 11-point lead with under five minutes remaining is one that a championship contender should be able to hang on to. Once Lamar Stevens snatched an offensive rebound between three Celtics that led to a Darius Garland 3-pointer, it was inevitable Cleveland was going to come back to win. Complacency seems to be creeping into the Boston Celtics play. Good teams know how to put the inferior ones away. These leads show the potential this team has, but none of it matters if you cannot dig deep and hold on to it.

Tenacity on the defensive glass needs to be addressed if Boston wants to get back to winning basketball. Prior to the February break, the Cs had allowed the fourth-fewest offensive rebounds per game in the NBA. Since, Mazzulla’s men are in the bottom 10 in the league in that particular category.

With a team running in transition, there is no excuse that the Celtics should be giving up a rebound with numbers back. The lack of size with Robert Williams III or Al Horford is an issue, but in the majority of these situations, it is effort.

Defensive rebounding, and a higher level of defensive intensity are critical for Boston Celtics to get back on track

In the first quarter of the OT loss to the Knicks, both Jayson Tatum and Al Horford stood watching as Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson collected two straight offensive rebounds that concluded in a Robinson dunk. Those are the kinds of plays that can add up In total, the Boston Celtics are allowing the fifth most offensive rebounds of any team post All-Star break. If Boston wants to compete with the likes of the Bucks in the postseason, this has to change.

Defensively, the Cs need to get back to the team it was during the first half of the season. Boston’s identity at the moment seems to be its proficiency from beyond the arc. When that is not working, there does not seem to be an answer. If this ball club can lock in defensively, like during the run to the Finals last season, scoring the ball would be much less of a concern.

Tatum needs to get back to competing on both ends of the floor. Not only are the Celtics allowing over 118 points per game since the break, but many of the player’s defensive ratings pre and post All-Star break are staggering. No Boston player that had played any significant role in the first half of the season had a defensive rating higher than 111.1.

Since play resumed, Tatum, Smart, and Horford have posted defensive ratings larger than 118. All three of them have a negative net rating over the past seven contests. In four games played since the break, Boston’s regular starting lineup without Derrick White has a defensive rating above 130 in 52 minutes on the floor. How can a team with Horford and Williams III be that poor on the defensive end? In truth, it takes everyone to lock in for success on this side of the ball to happen.

Boston’s identity to win the chip cannot simply be shooting the three ball. You either live by it, or die by it. Defense is something the Celtics can lean on consistently. Given what a lot of these players have gone through during their careers in Boston or with other teams, they know how to deal with this kind of adversity.

It is not about pushing the panic button just yet, it is more about getting back to the way the Cs know how to play the game of basketball. The postseason is near, and as it continues to get closer, Boston needs to be playing that relentless kind of basketball where leads turn into even larger ones.

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