The New Look Celtics and Other Thoughts on the Atlantic

Last Sunday Celtic fans were delivered the news that All-Star point guard Rajon Rando would miss the remainder of the season, all but ending the teams chances of a second half turnaround and championship run….or did it? In this Atlantic Division Roundup, I’ll focus on the less talented, but more focused group in Boston, while also giving a few quick thoughts on the rest of the division.

KG continues to be the HEART of this team

There is no doubt that this is not as talented a group of players as it is with a healthy Rondo, but the style of play as well as the overall attitude has changed dramatically in Beantown. A more balanced attack with increased ball movement has led to plenty of good looks for this team.  We are seeing the point guard by committee thrive by receiving outlet passes and trying to get a good look before the defense is settled.  We are seeing Jason Terry finally look comfortable with an offense that spreads the ball around instead of one player dominating the possession and we are seeing Jeff Green finally start to show the aggressiveness he has lacked in his tenure in Boston.  But as much as I’d like to gush over the offense, it really is not as good without Rondo. We saw this yesterday as the team struggled down the stretch for offense in half court sets making turnovers without a pure point guard to control the rock. The biggest difference for me yet, in the teams’ 4 wins, is their lock-down constantly switching looks defense.

The KG era in Boston is off course known for its smothering defensive rotations and shutting down the pick and roll.  This season we just hadn’t seen the type of all out, lock-down  gritty defense that we had become accustomed to. Since Rondo went down, we are seeing the energy level, the hustle, the overall effort increase to a point where Celtic fans aren’t ready to write this season off.  In the 4 games post Rondo, the team has forced 18 turnovers per game and limited opponents to just under 42% shooting.  That 42% also includes the near 51% shooting the Clippers shot, with much of the damage coming the second half of that game. The Celtics are throwing out different looks to opponents too in an effort to keep the offense guessing.    Either way, having KG at the back-end of any defense makes it formidable.  Overall, it just looks like the effort level has increased top to bottom as the players no longer have the security blanket of Rondo to get them out of holes.

 A Few Takeaways from What I’ve seen:
 1) Paul Pierce and Jason Terry are great together as they are the two best individual perimeter scorers on the team.  While Terry certainly does not play the on-ball defense that Lee or Bradley does, he is crisp in defensive rotations and he stretches the opposing teams defense so that it opens up driving lanes for others. Terry has been on a nice roll of late, shooting 55% over his last five games.  He is a significant part of the offense moving forward.

2.) Brandon Bass, who had a really solid year last season, is just not getting it done.  A lot of his defensive mistakes are masked by playing with Kevin Garnett and the starting unit, but he seems to have trouble in all forms of defense (both individual and team help defense).  He also has shown hesitation on offense, something we just didn’t see last season.  Everyone wants Bass to confidently shoot any mid-range jump-shots he gets, but when he starts pump faking and jab stepping, I lose all hope in a bucket that possession.  Against the Clippers yesterday though he was actually playing better making extra passes and crashing the boards.  The next step is for him to have confidence in that jump shot again.  He has the lowest plus/minus of any player on the team by almost 100 points.  He is a -148 for the year.  The closest to him is Rondo at -56. With a very thin front line, the C’s need big production from Bass moving forward.

3.) Jeff Green could be a star.  He has all of the athleticism and skills (shooting ability, driving ability, defense) necessary to do so, but he just doesn’t have the killer instincts; the aggressiveness to go get buckets whenever he wants. We have started to see him turn it around in the last 4 games with increased production, could he be the biggest difference maker post Rondo and Sully? He just oozes with potential. I know this has been said about Green a thousand times, but it’s just the truth.  If he wants to be a star, he can be.

4.) Lastly, and it’s obvious, but KG is still an elite player and a force on both ends.  He just makes his teammates better by making smart plays and playing amazing defense.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a tipped pass or an off ball screen, but he does everything well. I would not trade KG or Paul Pierce this year, I think they team can compete not only this season, but for the remainder of KGs contract.

The C’s have some good tests coming up against the new look Raptors Wednesday, Lakers Thursday and Nuggets Sunday.  These will be excellent barometers for Danny Ainge as he decides what to do with his roster going forward.  This team was thought dead by most just a week ago, but you can’t put a value on heart and the know-how to win.  This team is still dangerous, just differently, than it was with Rondo.

Other Notes around the Atlantic:

The First Place Knicks are only .5 games behind Miami for the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They continue to play well despite Carmelo shooting the ball poorly recently, which is a testament to their depth.  As long as Melo is healthy and draws the attention of opposing defenses, this team will be in the thick of it in the East.

Brooklyn has shown little consistency recently, coming out red-hot one night and flat another.  While Brook Lopez is steady on offense, neither Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, or  Gerald Wallace is giving them the production they need yet.  Johnson is averaging 13 a game on sub 40% shooting over his last 5 while Williams has mixed in 2 good games with 3 stinkers in his last 5.  They can still be great, but they need to bring it every night.

Toronto’s new lineup of Lowry, Derozan, Gay, Johnson, and Valanciunas/Bargnani will be really good offensively.  Wednesday against the Celtics should be a fun test for both teams.

I have nothing to say about Philadelphia.

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