Three positives and three negatives from the Celtics first three games

If you looked at the Celtics schedule before the season, a 1-2 record through three games would seem just about right. However, the record only tells a sliver of the story.

Despite being only three games in, we've already seen some interesting story-lines develop. With that in mind, I thought I'd come up with "three up and three down" for the first three games. Let's get to it.

Three up:

1. The Celtics' rebounding

- Through three games the Celtics are grabbing 76.1% of all defensive rebounds (9th in the NBA), and a ridiculous 31.5% of all offensive rebounds (4th in the NBA). This is particularly impressive defensively, as the Cs ranked just 19th in the league last season in defensive rebounding. Watching the games, it's been really impressive how well the Celts have rebounded on the offensive end, especially in the second half last night when they grabbed 14 (!!) offensive rebounds, helping them cut a 31-point deficit all the way down to 1 before they lost to the Mavs.

Somewhat amazingly, the Celtics leading rebounder (by a whopping 2 boards per game) is Rajon Rondo, who is grabbing 8.7 per game in the early season. Not bad for a 6'1" dude.

2. The Celtics' interior defense has been better than expected

- There's a major caveat to this that we'll get to in the "three down" section (basically, the Celtics are getting torched from three), but early on, the Celtics interior defense has been much better than expected.

To this point, the Cs opponents (Brooklyn, Houston and Dallas) have shot just 51.3% on two-pointers, giving the Celtics the 8th best defensive shooting percentage against twos so far this year. And while it seems like the Celts are giving up a ton of trips to the line, they're actually only 19th in the league in defensive free throws allowed, which isn't terrible. So they're holding teams to a low percentage, and they're also not allowing a parade to the line. That's a good combo. These numbers are especially impressive when you consider the Celtics have already played two of the top eight offensive teams from last season in the Rockets and Mavericks, meaning if anything these numbers should be skewed towards the negative for the Cs..and they're not.

3. The Celtics are playing at a crazy fun pace

99.7. That is how many possessions the Celtics are averaging per game, and if you like up-and-down basketball, that's a beautiful thing. For years we watched the Pierce/KG/Ray Celtics plod along under Doc Rivers -- and for good reason. They were one of, if not the best half-court team in basketball, and they were also one of the oldest teams in the league. Playing slow was the way to go..and it worked. But that era is dead, and in it's place we have the 7th youngest roster in the NBA, and a point guard who the capability to run-and-gun with the best of them.

The Celtics are currently playing the second fastest pace in the NBA, and that has led them to averaging 108 points per game (3rd in the NBA) and allowing 109 PPG (29th in the NBA). Considering their roster type (young, deep, little top end talent besides their point guard, no real interior presence, flush with three-point shooters (even if those threes aren't going in yet..more on that in a moment)) -- this is how this team will compete this season. No, they won't win as many as they lose, but playing this fast should help them neutralize some of the better teams in the league, as very few of those teams want to play as fast as the Celts are currently playing.

Honorable mentions:

- Avery Bradley is playing really well offensively

- Rondo looks like Rondo (minus his ability to finish at the rim)

- Good Jeff Green showed up last night, and was really, really good

- Marcus Smart plays as hard as anyone in the NBA, and is a blast to watch

- Few minutes for Tyler Zeller, but when he's played he's been really good

Three down:

1. None of their threes are going in

- Slight exaggeration, but it has been incredible how awful they've been from deep. Overall, they've launched 78 triples, and only 20 have gone in. That's a 25.6% success rate on 26 threes per game, the 6th worst number in all of basketball. The good news? This is mostly a small sample size problem stemming from their 1-25 shooting against the Rockets. While the Celtics surely aren't as good a shooting team as they showed vs the Nets in Game 1, they're also not horrible. In fact, I think they have the capability to be at least an average three-point shooting team, as their roster is filled with guys who have the range. With that said, you do have to wonder about the confidence of a guy like Jared Sullinger, who is just 1-8 from deep after shooting a horrendous 26.9% last year. At some point, his threes either need to start going in, or stop being taken.

2. All of their opponents threes are going in

- Ok, you got me again, slight exaggeration. But 42.3% of them are, meaning the Celtics are allowing the 5th worst opponents three-point percentage in basketball. While some of this is simply bad luck/small sample size, the Celtics should be playing much better defense around the perimeter considering their roster construction. Again, it's tough to call anything a distinct trend only three games in, but against good offenses in Dallas and Houston, the Celts were allowing way too many open looks. Open threes have become the single most valuable asset in the NBA, and if the Celtics keep giving them up at this rate, it's going to be an incredibly long season.

3. Rondo's finishing ability

- Rajon Rondo is the first player since Magic Johnson in 1983 with at least 35 assists and 25 rebounds in his team's first three games. That's pretty good.

However, it hasn't been all good for Rondo, as there is a disturbing trend continuing over from last year for #9. Namely, he's not finishing like he used to.

Pre-ACL injury Rondo shot 61.3% at the rim, routinely ranking among the best point guard finishers in the game. He also shot 50% overall from two-point range, which again, was among the best in basketball. He could never shoot from three, but he was always efficient from two, and deadly at the basket.

Post-ACL injury Rondo? Well that has been a different story. Since the ACL injury, Rondo has shot only 54.5% at the rim, including only 42% so far this year. Yes, it has been a small sample size. But did you see Rondo around the basket last night? The explosiveness wasn't there at all, and he missed two layups and had a third one blocked in the fourth quarter. There's no way that happens to the old Rondo.

So what's the issue? Well I don't think it's the actually health of the knee, as it's been 20 months since surgery, and Rondo looks 100% healthy. But mentally, I do wonder if there is some sort of hesitation, especially because his injury happened when he tried to make an explosive move at the rim (he passed the ball but not before a a stutter step and a quick pivot). There appears to be something holding him back when he gets by the basket, and until that goes away, we won't see the real Rondo. Because we can live with the Rondo that can't shoot, but we can't live with the one that can't shoot and can't finish at the basket, even with his phenomenal passing and rebounding skills.

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