If there is one thing the Boston Celtics have been in the early going of the 2012-2013 NBA season it's inconsistent. Unfortunately that trend continued over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday as Boston suffered a very bad 112-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, but followed it up with a strong win over the defending Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder 108-100 on Friday. The Celtics still have a lot of problems that need to be addressed – their defense, particularly in transition, has not been even close to their lofty standards. They aren't executing their own transition offense well enough, and they are still getting killed on the boards. However they have also shown a propensity for eeking out close wins this year, and have also made it clear that, when their bench comes through, they are as deep as any team in the NBA. The Celtics are still searching for their identity as the half court defense that defined them last year has been mysteriously absent thus far. But there have been hopeful signs in the last few days.
Difference Makers on The Bench, But How Much Will it Help?
Through 13 games this year the Celtics have had one of their subs score in double digits in all but two games. One of them was the loss to the Spurs in which no reserve was able to give Boston the boost that they needed. However in Friday's win over OKC Jeff Green poured in 17 off the bench against his former club. One of the concerns in the offseason was that the Celtics needed more scoring depth. They were leaned too heavily on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2012 and needed other players to pick up some of the scoring load. This has happened as the Celtics really haven't had much a of a problem scoring this year thanks to their loaded bench. In fact they have already gone over 100 in six games this year. The problem is not been scoring, it's that teams are outscoring them, and until Boston can stop other teams from getting easy baskets it wont matter how much of an offensive boost their reserves give them.
JET In Full Flight
Ask Jason Terry about crunch time and he will gush about how much he loves the game's big moments. Yet for all his mouthing does anyone back up his talk more than the JET? Terry came to Boston with a rep for making big shots (Exhibit A). Not everything has gone according to plan thus far this year. To start with the JET is starting when in an ideal world he'd be coming off the bench. He also has had his fair share of cold shooting nights. However he has definitely delivered on his reputation for taking and making big shots. Having already hit a number of big crunch time buckets Terry did it again on Friday, burying the Thunder with a three from the left wing with 37 seconds remaining after OKC had clawed back to within five. Not only that, Terry also nailed a three at the end of the first half, allowing Boston to take a 48-45 lead into the locker room. Things haven't come easily for any of the Celtics new arrivals, however Terry's knack for making big shots did not stay behind in Dallas.
Points in the Paint
There are a lot of problems with Boston's defense, however problem number one right now is their inability to keep teams away from the rim. For proof just look at Thiago Splitter's line from Boston's loss to San Antonio – 23 points on 9-11 shooting. With all due respect to Splitter, who is a solid player, there is no way a guy like him should be lighting the Celtics up off the bench. Most of his shots were completely uncontested, and he hasn't been the only one this year. The Celtics are giving up a ridiculous amount of points in the paint. They yielded 58 to San Antonio and weren't much better against OKC when they gave up 46. Opposing guards are penetrating into the interior of Boston's defense with minimal effort forcing the Celtics bigs to help, thus breaking the defense down and leading to layups for guys like Splitter. Boston's defense has been breaking down way too easily this year. It was horrid against the Spurs and wasn't a whole lot better against the Thunder. Those are two very good offensive teams, but Boston still needs to do a better job of not giving up easy shots.
There was a lot of buzz after the loss to the Spurs about how Boston almost became the first team since 1950 to not record an offensive rebound (Brandon Bass saved them the embarrassment with a tip in late in the fourth quarter). However coach Doc Rivers is not that concerned saying that offensive rebounded is "the least of our problems" after the game. He has a point. Hitting the offensive glass really isn't part of Boston's game plan. They prefer to get back on defense and stop teams from getting transition hoops. In fact, if you forget about the offensive boards, their rebounding isn't actually that bad. They snared 24 defensive rebounds against San Antonio while only giving up six offensive boards. Not a great rebounding percentage but not a terrible one. The real problem was that the Spurs shot 58 percent so there weren't that many defensive rebounds to be had. Against the Thunder the were better, giving up eight offensive boards but grabbing 28 defensive ones. They still need to do better. Kevin Garnett cannot handle the defensive glass all by himself, and when guys like Brandon Bass and Paul Pierce aren't helping him out (Bass grabbed just two defensive boards against OKC) the Celtics will struggle. However while second chance points are still a problem for Boston the boards aren't as big an issue as some would suggest.
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