After suffering an opening night loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday the Boston Celtics went into the weekend looking for improved play on both sides of the ball. After a three day layoff the C's had back to backs against the Milwaukee Bucks in Boston and the Washington Wizards at Washington. The Celtics emerged with a 1-1 record for the weekend, as has been their wont in back to backs lately. However they way they achieved that 1-1 was not what most C's fans would expect. Boston laid a complete egg in their home opener, getting crushed by the Bucks 99-88. Boston bounced back with a 89-86 win over the lowly Washington Wizards, but if there is one message after three games it's that this Celtics team, with so many new faces, is still very much a work in progress.
The Celtics were really looking good at the tail end of the preseason. Back to back strong showings against the Brooklyn Nets convince many that the team was ready for the season to get going and were about to steamroll most opponents. Then they had a nine day gap between their last preseason game and their opening night bout with Miami, then three more days between that and the home opener on Friday. The C's, new and old, looked pretty well in sync by the conclusion of the preseason. On Friday they looked like a team that had never played together before. The entire team looked unsure of their defensive rotations and tentative on the offensive end. It may be that playing one game in 11 days was not exactly in Boston's best interest.
Chemistry Not Where it Needs to Be
Rust may have had a lot to do with this, but the C's clearly haven't all figured out how to play together yet. The starting unit is essentially the same with Courtney Lee holding Avery Bradley's place, yet the entire team looked completely lost on offense against Milwaukee, turning the ball over 18 times against a very average defensive team in the Bucks. The starters and the second unit were both completely out of sync all game. Things got better against Washington. Boston finally got out to a fast start, leading 17-2 in the first quarter, and bringing to turnover number down to nine. The Celtics still almost lost to a team that shouldn't even come close to beating them, but the C's found a way to win for the first time this year. It was good to get in the win column, but Boston's chemistry still is not where it needs to be. Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and Jared Sullinger are all still trying to find their way, and the hold overs from 2012 aren't faring much better. The talent is obviously there but the 2012-2013 Celtics are still clearly working out how to play together.
How About Some Defensive Intensity
Sometimes great offense beats great defense. This was not the case in Boston's first two games against Miami and Milwaukee. The Celtics are known as a tough defensive team, but for whatever reason their defensive intensity was just not there in either of their to losses. Lebron James and Brandon Jenning were getting to the rim for easy layups any time they wanted on Tuesday and Friday. Things were way better against Washington, as Boston held the Wizards scoreless for the final 2:35 after Paul Pierce hit a three to give Boston the lead, however teams are still getting way too many lay-ups. Last Celtics were the second best defense team in the league. When they hunkered down in the half court they were just really hard to score against. Things are a little different this year. They are trying to get out in transition more and find some more easy buckets, however they can't forget that defense is what made them great. Last year they gave max effort on every defensive possession. There were very few easy buckets. That same level of effort hasn't been there yet this year and the C's need to find it fast.
No KG No D?
The one guy who has been giving max effort on the defensive end every possession for the Celtics is Kevin Garnett. No surprise there. That's how he's wired. However an old problem from last season is cropping up again – when KG heads to the bench the D falls apart. The C's have gone small at times, bring Jeff Green or Jared Sullinger in for Garnett as part of the 5-5-5 plan. They have also tried going big with Darko Millicic and Chris Wilcox. Nothing has worked so far. It's as if every time KG heads to bench the opposing teams gets three or four easy baskets in a row. A lot of this is on the guards. They are letting opposing players penetrate way too easily. However the rotations as a whole, guards and forwards, have been slow. Whenever KG isn't on the floor the effort level on defense goes down. This has to stop.
Depth is There
While things haven't gone according to plan through three games the Celtics renewed depth does seem to be legitimate. They have had a double digit scorer off the bench every game thus far; Leando Barbosa against Miami, Jeff Green against Milwaukee, and Green and Jason Terry against Washington. The second unit hasn't been great as of yet. They are really struggling on the defensive end and they have turned to ball over a lot on offense. But they do at least have a lot of different guys who can score and that has shown up early in the year.
A Step in the Right Direction
Sure it was the Wizards, but after allowing the Heat to rack up 120 points, and the Bucks also nearly break 100, it was really refreshing to see Boston finally make life difficult for someone. The Wizards made a few runs. That happens in the NBA, but the Celtics at least weren't giving up dunk after dunk on Saturday. They actually held Washington to 43.6 percent shooting. Not a great number, but still way better than 54.4 percent by Miami and 46.5 by Milwaukee. The Celtics defense is clearly not where it needs to be, and this is largely due to a lack of chemistry, but it does seem to be improving.
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