Celtics fans, we have hit a crossroad, this could either end very well or very badly. Coming off of 2 straight losses (and 3 in their last 5 games), the Celtics tonight will have the Stephen Jackson-less Golden State Warriors in town tonight for a chance to get this season of high-expectations headed back in the right direction.
Last week I took the time to run through endless numbers that eventually led to us realizing that rest is the key for this team and that it has been working out well. With the Big 3 being able to average just above 33 minutes per game each (mostly due to Allen and Pierce since KG has played 50 less minutes – or slightly more than one whole regulation basketball game – than his counterparts through 11 games), the Celtics have been able to rely on a powerful bench thus far. Led by Marquise Daniels and Rasheed Wallace playing 18-22 minutes a game, the subs have done a great job in keeping the pace going and allowing the starters to rest.
However, it seems like in the last week, something still has not worked out as planned for these Celtics. With three games in the last week against Utah (home), Atlanta (home), and Indiana (away), the C’s went 1-2, approximately four months earlier than Mr. Celtics himself, Gary Tanguay, predicted they would lose 2 in a row (tough West Coast stretch in March). The strange thing is that someone could look at that schedule and the results and say “I can kind of see it. ATL and UT aregood teams” but no, UT ended up being the easy matchup of the week and the rehabilitating Pacers took advantage of the opportunity to play a successful team at home.
The Celtics outscored the Jazz by 19 points with a 105-86 final score and another healthy 3rd quarter where they scored 30 points. They then had the Hawks in town on Friday and lost a tough one by 11 with the high quarter being the 3rd with 28 points. On Saturday, the second of back-to-back games and on the road, the C’s had a tough time in Indy losing by 9 with their high quarter being the second with 34. Obviously scoring isn’t a problem but does it come back to rest the maybe?
I think it does.
Looking at the breakdown of these last 3 games, there are obvious differences from what we saw in the first 8 games. In the first 8 games, the Celtics were giving up an average of 84.4 points per game whereas last week they gave up an average of 98.7 ppg. 14+ points is a pretty huge difference and it definitely was not a talent issue.
The big kicker that I found was the second half. Once again, the rest is an issue as the second half is when the legs start to get tired and teams have to grind it out and it is certainly worth noting that both the Hawks and Pacers are very young, very quick teams that keep the pace of the game moving in their favor. As I posted last week, the Celtics quarterly point differentials looked like this:
Now look how that fares against the Celtics’ quarterly point differential this past week:
See it?! It’s RIGHT THERE! The Celtics have gone from a team who scores 10 more points on average in the second half through the first 8 games to a team that is scoring 8 LESS points on average in the second half through these last 3 games. The only upside is that they went from an average of +4.25 in the first half to an average of +6.67 but that’s neither here nor there (I always swore I would never use that term but it seems to work best here).
So are the Celtics finding themselves beat up come the second half of the game against these “young whipper-snappers” (heh)… I think so. And the pressure on this team right now could really create this early date in the season to be the ultimate turning point for them.
In an article posted just this morning on Boston.com, Kendrick Perkins is highlighted as saying, “I think our energy’s been high, [but] these past few practices haven’t been good, I don’t think… They haven’t been our best practices. We’ve been turning over the ball, just being sloppy the last two practices.” Perkins also confirmed what we suspected in last weeks post, that the Celtics “were taking lesser teams lightly” and playing with a tenacity to match their opponent, which seems defensible for a team trying to rest anywhere they can.
The Celt’s are truly at a crossroads only 11 games into the season. Coming off of 3 losses in 5 games and 2 straight, this team needs to remain focused if they are going to turn it around. Tonight and this weekend are clearly going to be the defining point in what will surely be a long season if they don’t succeed. The schedule this week will once again allow for rest as they play tonight coming off another 3 day rest against a 3-7 Warriors club, a tough game on Friday at home against Superman, Vince Carter and the 8-3 Orlando Magic and finish out the weekend on Sunday in New York against the ever-struggling 1-9 Knicks.
It will be tough, however, for this team to remain healthy and rested should they drop any of these games as their practices will need to become more grueling and the Big 3 will certainly see their minutes go up. With rumors starting to swirl about possible involvement in trades (since denied thus far), the Celtics may be interested in moving some of their dispensable parts for another solid option off of the bench while they wait for the return of Glen Davis.
Either way, the C’s better get to doing something and doing it quickly because as long as questions are out there about this team that came into the season as the hands-down favorite, rest will not be an option and that almost always ends tragically with injury leading us back to where we were last season, vacationing in June rather than playing for banner #18.