Just three games, all of which were in Boston, made a light week for the Celtics. A Monday night loss to Detroit, the second best team in the Eastern Conference, started the week on a sour note. The Celtics bounced back with two wins over the 76ers and Suns later in the week. Losses are starting to pop up more frequently for the C’s, but they are still beating the teams that they are supposed to beat. Let’s take a look at the Ups/Downs from Week 7 of Celtics basketball!
Marcus Smart Is Finding His Form
Smart has been having a terrible shooting season. While his impact on the court has still been a net positive, the scoring numbers and empty shot attempts were a problem. But maybe things are starting to come around. A pep talk from Al Horford seemingly worked, and Smart has been a much better all around player since. In three games this past week, Smart averaged 13.6 points and seven assists on 52/53 percent shooting from the field and three-point line, respectively. The numbers won’t jump off the page, but this level of production is exactly what the Celtics need from Smart. Score when he can, take quality shots (he scored 41 points on just 25 shots), and run the offense for the second unit.
Aron Baynes Back in the Starting Lineup
The Celtics’ versatility is always going to be a plus. They have the ability to match-up with pretty much any lineup that an opponent throws at them. Moving Baynes back to the starting lineup had as much to do with who the Celtics were playing as anything else. Brad Stevens has not been shy about changing Baynes’ role to try to match him up with opposing bigs, but the numbers suggest Baynes should be starting regardless.
A starting unit with Baynes, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kyrie Irving has been their most used/best defensive lineup all season. A +11.5 net rating is the highest of any Celtics lineup with at least 30 minutes played, and their 90.4 defensive rating is near the top of the league for any lineup with more than 99 minutes played. Baynes anchors the defense and works the glass at an alarming rate. Boston plays better with Baynes in the starting lineup, and moving Marcus Morris to the bench for some extra scoring is an added bonus. #StartAronBaynes
Jaylen Brown Bounces Back
Brown had one of the worst games of his career against Philadelphia. He had just four points on 1-6 shooting, and a team-high four turnovers. He played just 22 minutes and had a plus/minus of -9, the only Celtics’ player in the negative. A performance like that could shake a players confidence, but Brown turned things around against the Suns. A 17-point outing tied him for second on the team in points, and his shooting splits (4-8 from the field, 3-5 3PT, 6-8 FT) were unusually efficient. Brown is young (21 yrs), but the Celtics need him to perform beyond his years. A bounce back outing like this is an encouraging sign.
The Defense Is Starting to Slip for the Celtics
Before you jump down my throat, the Celtics are still first in the league in defensive rating (98.9). But the team’s defense has been trending in the wrong direction since the 16-game winning streak ended. In five games after losing to Miami, the Celtics are ranked 16th in defensive rating at 108.2. The offense has been getting much better, but to be elite the Celtics still need to defend at a high level. They aren’t a good enough offensive team to let their defense slip, so the recent trend is troublesome.
Celtics offensive and defensive ratings, cumulative, since start of the season.
Offense is surging while defense declines. pic.twitter.com/A2JQlgqNfI
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 2, 2017
Too Many Turnovers
The Celtics are normally pretty good at taking care of the ball. They average the seventh fewest turnovers per game (14.3). Against Detroit, turnovers were what cost Boston the game. Seventeen turnovers led to 25 points for the Pistons. The turnovers also allowed Detroit to take eight more shots than the Celtics. Clean up some of those turnovers and maybe Boston gets the win.
Free Throws, Again
Do I even need to say anything at this point? Boston shot just 57.1 percent from the free throw line against Detroit. THEY MISSED NINE FREE THROWS! That’s basically the difference in the game. Over the last three games the Celtics are shooting 71.9 percent from the free throw line. That ranks them 25th in the league. Boston can’t afford to leave a handful of points at the line each game. It says a lot when Andre Drummond can knock down more late-game free throws than your team can.