A constant fixture in the playoffs for the past half decade, the Celtics are perhaps facing their first year in which they won’t have homecourt in the 1st round. Doing so without their best player might be a bit of an uphill battle for this team if they want to advance in the playoffs. This team is going to face many challenges in their remaining 25 games should they want to avoid a 1st round matchup with Miami or Indiana.
Their biggest hurdle going forward will most likely be winning games on the road. Currently the Celtics hold the 9th worst road record (9-18) in the East, Worst among East playoff teams. On the Road the Celtics have a net rating of -5.1 as opposed to their +5.4 net rating at home. Not to help matters, 13 of their remaining 25 games happen to be on the road(only 5 against current playoff teams.
The key to the Celtics success as of late and going forward into the stretch run lies within the hands of the Celtics most reliable backups, Jason Terry and Jeff Green. Since Rondo’s ACL Injury those two have posted the two of the three best Net Ratings of the Celtics bench players who have played at least 10 games in that stretch. It’s been Green’s play of late which has really impressed me. No longer are we seeing the passive Jeff Green who shied away from posting up smaller defenders or from attacking the rim. He’s taking guys off the dribble,posting up and making the kind of quick decisions that we all expected at the beginning of the season. He’s also developed a very dependable corner three point shot(shoots 50% from the left corner,38% from the right per NBA.com/stats). Jeff’s defense has also been a very nice addition to his game this year as he’s gotten used to the rotations and is using his length to his advantage. Here is Jeff’s shot chart this season.
Defense, a very familiar word in the Big 3 Era has been the Celtics’ greatest weapon in trying to stay afloat during this stretch without Rondo. Even before Rondo’s absence the defense was stifling and it’s really mostly because of the presence of Avery Bradley. Since his 1st game of the season(January 2nd, 2013) the Celtics have only allowed 92 pts per game with a defense rating of 96.7, the league’s 2nd best defense during that stretch according to NBA.com/stats. Earlier this year I wrote about Avery’s presence on the defensive end and how his pressure defense really negates the lack of rim protection of this team. Needless to say it’s easy to see how much Avery has improved this defense from before(The Celtics allowed 97.9 points per game before Avery came back). While the odds may be stacked against them at least their stingy defense is still their greatest weapon.
Right now the Celtics have a great shot at beating any team besides Miami or Indiana.The Celtics matchup pretty well against New York’s shaky defense, Brooklyn and Atlanta’s inconsistencies plus lack of previous playoff success shouldn’t be a huge mismatch for Boston and Chicago’s putrid offense without Derrick Rose makes for a stereotypical 1st round bust. Miami and Indiana are the two teams who seem destined to meet in the conference finals.
The Celtics signed Terrence Williams and acquired Jordan Crawford in hopes to bolster a bench decimated by season ending injuries but odds are they won’t make a meaningful impact come playoff time. The Celtics hope for any meaningful playoff run hinges on the play from their vets and avoiding the top 2 teams in the East as long as possible. A hope that could become reality should they continue to receive great play from the reserves and continue to play great defense. They’re also probably going to need some assistance from Atlanta or Chicago whom the Celtics trail both by 3 games.
For a team that has suffered major struggles on the road it is imperative that Boston tries garner homecourt advantage(unlikely that they catch Brooklyn for the 4th spot but possible) or at least move up into the standings to get a favorable matchup if they want to avoid their first Round 1 exit in the Big 3 Era.It seems almost impossible that a team with such a heavy reliance on veterans and one that can’t win on the road could win a playoff series but only time will tell with Boston.
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