Celtics Struggles Continue; Face Tough Stretch This Weekend
The Boston Celtics finally showed what they were capable of in their 93-76 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas. Unfortunately, they fell right back into their routine of losing a game after the Los Angeles Clippers crushed the Celtics, 106-77, on Thursday night.
Throughout the first two months of the 2012-’13 NBA season, the Celtics have played well in spurts, but they have not been able to seize consistency. They have taken one step forward and two steps back. Their longest win streak has been three.
This team has relied too much on Kevin Garnett’s defensive intensity, Paul Pierce’s scoring, and Rajon Rondo’s playmaking ability. Their complementary players such as Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Bass have struggled. Green has improved over the course of this month which was highlighted by his 15-point output in the win on Tuesday, but he hasn’t seemed to put his whole package of skills together on a game-to-game basis. Lee seems to be losing confidence with his outside shot. He appears to be attempting to take the ball to the basket frequently without much success. Bass’s shot is not falling and his defense has suffered. This is part of the reason why Doc Rivers moved Bass to the bench while starting Jason Collins (Collins is better at setting screens and improves the Celtics interior defense). Collins is also a 7-footer while Bass is an undersized power forward at 6-8. Jared Sullinger has shown he is a great rebounder when he is on the court and he has a niche for making plays in the paint, but he has been plagued by foul trouble. Sullinger leads the team with 85 fouls and he only averages 17.7 minutes per game. He needs to adapt to the NBA and it doesn’t help that the officials know he is a rookie so he will not get the benefit of calls.
The Celtics are also playing with a shortened rotation. Before the game against the Nets, the Celtics signed Jarvis Varnado. Varnado was drafted 41st overall by the Miami Heat in 2010. He was playing in the NBA Development League for Sioux Falls. Varnado, who played college ball at Mississippi State, is 6 feet, 9 inches. He provides the Celtics with frontcourt depth after Darko Milicic left the team to tend to his ailing mother in Serbia and Chris Wilcox was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb. Wilcox is expected to be out for at least three weeks. This left Collins as the only true center on the roster. Avery Bradley did not travel with the team and he is expected to make his season debut on January 2nd against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The work ethic that the Celtics displayed in their win over the Nets was missing on Thursday night. They failed to bring that intensity to Los Angeles. The Celtics perimeter defense was atrocious. Matt Barnes had 21 points and he was 5-9 from beyond the arc. Most of those shots were of the catch-and-shoot style with nobody contesting his shot. Barnes looked like he was in the 3-Point Shooting contest. The Celtics sure could have used Bradley’s lunch-pail defense. There were occasions when Blake Griffin had a clear path to the basket because Celtics defenders were a step slow in clogging the paint. On one possession, the Celtics rotations were so bad that Rondo was covering Griffin with no help from anybody else. Rondo was able to strip Griffin when Griffin went to the basket and attempted the shot. The Celtics let the Clippers have their way with them all night.
On this road trip, the Celtics will be playing three games in four nights. On Saturday night, the Celtics travel to Oakland to take on the Golden State Warriors These are not the same Warriors who played under Don Nelson who liked to spread the defense out with multiple shooters. Mark Jackson is in his second year and he has these Warriors playing with an improved defensive effort. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry have been veteran leaders for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and rookie Harrison Barnes. David Lee (19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game) is playing at an All-Star level.
On Sunday, the Celtics will go head to head with the Kings and even though the Kings currently sit in last place in the Pacific Division at 9-19, they cause havoc for the Celtics. Last year in their only meeting, the Kings laid a 120-95 whipping on the Celtics. This will mark the second game on back-to-back nights. Based on the Celtics recent history, they have not performed well on the road in the back end of playing on consecutive nights.
The Celtics did not play well in their last swing through Houston, San Antonio, and Chicago. They got off to a great start with the win in Brooklyn and they would like to string together some wins on this journey, but it will not be easy, especially if they continue to play like they did on Thursday night.