The post trade deadline Boston Celtics are 4-5 following last night’s 20 point loss to the Nuggets. This patchy run has seen the C’s drop behind the Wizards down to third in the East 2.5 games ahead of the fourth placed Raptors and a half game back from Washington.
The Celtics famously stood pat at the deadline not completing any roster moves despite being linked with Paul George and Jimmy Butler. This move has split the Celtics fanbase, all the more given the inconsistent form of the last fortnight.
The 17 time NBA Champions have picked up some signature wins against the Lakers, Pistons, Cavaliers and the Warriors. Four impressive and important wins coming against sides they will look to contend with for titles and the Lakers, their old nemesis. In the same period, they have dropped games to the Suns, Nuggets, Clippers, Raptors and Hawks. Aside from the Suns game which the C’s should have won, they were comprehensively beaten in those matches.
Why are the Celtics losing?
Two clear areas of weakness for the post-deadline Celtics are rebounding and slow starts in the third quarter. A source of discontent within the fanbase is the lack of rebounding and a perceived lack of help for Isaiah Thomas. In the last nine games, the Celtics have seen themselves out-rebounded 5 times, against the Hawks and Clippers giving up a double-digit deficit in the rebounding column.
Boston rank 27th in total rebounds in the NBA second lowest amongst teams in the playoff places (the Bucks are 29th) and give up the most boards of any side in a playoff berth. The truth is the Celtics are getting killed on the boards and this impacts their chances of winning games. Part of the Celtic’s woes on the boards are down to Brad Stevens’ game plan of prioritising mid-range and perimeter shooting, not attacking the paint or the glass.
The second and more important reason for the lack of boards is the personnel on the floor. The Celtics lack an outstanding rebounder, being led in total boards by Al Horford at 6.6 per game. Danny Ainge at the deadline was said to have a deal in the works for Andre Drummond, who is having a career year and is currently second in overall rebounds. Drummond would have been a great addition to the Celtics depending on what would have been given up as discussed in the deadline article.
As outlined earlier in the month the Celtics were in the right not to make significant changes to their roster in order to win now over long term sustainability. However, this is not to say no change can or should be made. The chance for roster additions seems to have also passed the Celtics by with free agents arriving on the market such as Andrew Bogut, before being snapped up by rivals. That leaves roster moves from within.
Celtics first round pick Guerschon Yabusele may be a solution for the future. The French 21-year-old has spent the season in China averaging 20.9 points and 9.4 boards may be joining up with the Maine Red Claws for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle during the final week of the Chinese regular season and will be assessed prior to joining the D-League outfit.
The Celtics’ top rebounder in the D-League is 25 years old Ryan Kelly with 9.9 boards per game. Whilst Kelly and Yabusele are putting up good numbers in their respective leagues it is highly unlikely that a promotion to the NBA for either of these players would see the C’s pick up more wins. Not this season at least.
One last player in the conversation as joining the Celtics is free agent Larry Sanders, formerly of the Bucks. Larry Sanders posted to Snapchat Monday a picture of himself in Celtics workout gear with the caption “work”. It is unclear whether or not Sanders is a realistic get for Boston or what he would bring to the club.
28-year-old Sanders is said to be in advanced talks with the Cavs and has been out of the league since being waved at the deadline in 2015. The 6’11 center averaged a career 5.8 rebounds per game, with a career-high 9.5 in 2012-13. The likelihood of Sanders joining the Celtics is slim, and the question marks for what he would bring loom too large for Ainge to make the move.
What now for the Celtics?
The Boston Celtics realistic ambition for this season should have been making the second round of the playoffs. This roster is more than capable of making the second round of the playoffs, assuming they can stay top 4 in the East. In order to remain in the top 4, ideally top 3, they need to pick up all the wins possible, especially against weak opposition such as the Nuggets and the Suns.
Brad Stevens is a great coach and this is a very solid roster. The Celtics as a whole need to up their effort on the boards and Isaiah Thomas needs more help carrying the load on offence, especially from players in the 4 and 5. Much more has been expected from Max salary Al Horford, but big Al is playing like big Al has always played if anything he’s played better. Whilst his boards are down his assists are up, and this is going to be down to the style of play demanded by Stevens.
All in all, this season has been excellent for the Celtics and their lack of trades at the deadline will still pay dividends for the foreseeable future. However, their form in recent weeks has been frustrating and could hinder their chances for immediate success. The solutions are not simple, but a start would be three fold.
Start with intensity, the Nuggets lead the whole game Friday. Help Isaiah with the scoring load, the King of the 4th is only useful if the rest of the team have helped keep it close. Get more boards, the Celtics are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league and as unglamorous, as rebounding is, it is vital to victory.
The Celtics fans and organisation of raising banner 18 and the bulk of this squad will be a big part of the process. Will their debut in the Boston Garden next year see them handing out rings? It is not impossible, but highly unlikely. And that is perfectly acceptable. This is year 4 of the rebuild, and the Celtics are in prime position to contend for years to come.