HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Boston Celtics are 14-13 and haven’t won more than two games in a row since Nov. 14. If it weren’t for their cross-country rival Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics would be the most disappointing team in the league thus far. Many thought they were the clear No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve been far from it. Tuesday’s win in Brooklyn put them in second place in the Atlantic Division, but they still trail the New York Knicks by six games.
As we always do with the veteran Celtics, we look at the defensive end of the floor to see if they’re on track to being the team they want to be. They had the fifth-worst offense after the All-Star break last season, but went 24-10 because they were ridiculously good defensively.
This season, the Celtics started out slow defensively, ranking 16th on that end through November. When the system started becoming second nature for the new faces and the defense started to turn the corner in early December, the offense went in the tank. And then the defense was terrible again on a mid-month trip through Houston, San Antonio and Chicago.
Tuesday’s win in Brooklyn, where the Celtics were strong on both ends of the floor, may have been a breakthrough. But with the way the Nets (3-10 in December) have been playing, maybe it wasn’t.
We’ll get a better idea of where the Celtics stand as they hit the West Coast for three more road games in four days, beginning with Thursday’s TNT game against the red-hot Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET), who have both the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense in December.
The Celtics rank 24th offensively and eighth defensively this month. And despite Tuesday’s performance, Boston’s defensive numbers have been much worse on the road (104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they’ve been at home (97.8). Before the win in Brooklyn, the Celtics had lost five straight and seven of their last eight away from the TD Garden.
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald takes stock of where the Celtics stand as get ready for the Clips…
In the very nice win over the Nets on Christmas, the Celts did a very good job of pressuring the ball and showing (then recovering) on traps. And though it did seem the Nets were more than a little complicit in their own demise, it was the kind of active defense that gives the C’s a better-than-average chance to win against anyone.
It was the kind of defense for which Rivers and defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi beg every night, yet generally see only in stretches. Which explains the 14-13.
Out here, the Celtics will be tested even more heavily. The Clippers have a point guard (Chris Paul) who can score and create, and a passel of strong finishers led by Blake Griffin.
But the Bostonians’ fate will not be decided by out-highlighting either All-Star, but rather what they do to prevent to them and their friends from getting a running start to the launching pad.
There’s a prevailing thought that the Celtics can cruise through the regular season and flip the switch come April. But this is a new team that does need to prove to itself at some point in the regular season that it can consistently get stops, no matter where they’re playing.
Avery Bradley‘s eventual return will obviously help, but there’s no time like the present for Boston to show some grit on the road.