Despite a Celtic season filled with inconsistency – and for a reason I “felt” more than “thought” – I did not doubt the outcome of last night’s game in Hot’lanta for a single second … not trailing by 16 early or by 10 late in Q3, with or without the services of Marcus Smart.
The Hawks came out fired up, playing crisp and opportunistic ball, likely as well as they are capable – shooting 52% (25-for-48) and parlaying six second chances into nine “Follow-up” points in the first half. But reality set in after the intermission – nine second chances begat but two points; for the second half, FG shooting dropped to 34% (15-for-44); and the C’s had more Q4 Offensive Rebounds (six) than Atlanta had Q4 D-boards (four).
Above and beyond Atlanta’s inevitable implosion, my “hunch” regarding the outcome of this game was bolstered by the Boston coaching staff’s decision in the last three games (dating back to the Toronto victory and the return to action of Aron Baynes) to utilize a shortened (playoff-like?) playing rotation of nine guys.
Starters Irving, Horford, Tatum and the Marci, supported by Baynes, Brown, Hayward and Rozier (who was getting a fair bit of run alongside Kyrie). Hayward’s minutes last night were absorbed by Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theiss. (Robert Williams would seem to have been deemed unready for meaningful minutes.)
Jaylen Brown’s recent aggressiveness in pushing the pace and attacking the goal shows in Boston’s +13 in Free Throw attempts over the last two games – yet I can’t help but think he’s playing through some sort of hand or wrist injury … seems tentative “gathering” the ball in a crowd.
Of course, our depth – are you ready, Brad Wanamaker? – will be put to the test with the impending suspension of our not-so-Smarty Pants.
A Change in Philosophy?
I break down the NBA season’s 168 playing dates into 24 “Weeks” and track “weekly” data.
In each of the last two weeks, Brad Stevens’s Mad Bombers have attempted FEWER 3FGA’s than their opponents – Week 12 (109 – 114), Week 13 (132 – 144). [During Week 5, opponents also took more 3FGA’s, 125 – 131.]
BTW, for those seven games, the Celtics out-shot their opposition .382 to .310 from three-point land.
First of all, there is no team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference – our Celtics included – who can lay claim to the trait “Playoff Seasoned” – NONE.
Toronto added the savvy of Leonard and (perhaps even more critically) Danny Green – but are still led by a notoriously un-clutch point guard and rookie coach.
Philadelphia, for all their star-power, seem still to be “un-learning” how to lose – and doesn’t it seem that Brad’s guys just seem to “have their number”? Their one and only road playoff victory last season came at the expense of the “Processed” Sixers.
The Pacers seem at the stage the C’s were when they ran into Al Horford’s Hawks not so long ago.
Milwaukee seems as solid and deep as Boston … but have yet to “make any bones” beyond Income Tax Day.
And then there’s the Celtics …
I’ve been preaching all along that simply maintaining their 2017-18 level of achievement (which had exceeded expectation by light-years) would constitute “Progress” – however counter-intuitive that may sound at first.
This team is on a pace to again win 50+ games and land a Top-Three seed in the Eastern Conference.
The true Test of Contendership kicks off in mid-April.
The team that emerges from the East will be the guys who figure out how to control Q4 in the other guys’ gym.
Abacus Revelation for the Road
Last night in Atlanta, the C’s out-converted the homeboys 14 – 8 in the final 12 minutes.