The Celtics are 4-4 over the last 8 games, and would be 3-5 without a 1-in-a-million heroic play by Terry Rozier against the Pacers.
What’s going on with them? Why are they struggling? Here are some possible reasons.
They are getting every team’s best shot
It’s simple competition. When average teams play top teams, it’s their Superbowl. It’s their game 7. If the Celtics decide to take a game off (Bulls), or if they don’t come to play hard (Jazz and Heat), they are not elite enough to still win. The Celtics, as currently constructed, can’t be lazy throughout the first half and then go on a 21 point run in the third quarter. They aren’t that good.
The Celtics were not as good as their early season record
They are not playing good basketball right now, but their early season record was not an indication that they were playing elite basketball. Starting the year 22-4 was exciting, but it was fool’s gold. They made a lot of timely winning plays in that stretch, but overall their offense was (and is) terrible. When other teams were trying to figure out their offense, the Celtics were aggressive on defense, which led to one of the best team defense beginnings to a season ever. They were playing more like an 16-10 team during that stretch, but they made timely plays. 4-4 is a rough patch, but it’s not that far off 16-10.
The Celtics are the 6th youngest team in the NBA
Four of the top five have losing records. The other one is hovering around .500. Its just not normal for young teams to win a lot of games. The fact that they still have found a way to 4-4 over the last 8 is surprising considering the success of other young teams.
The Celtics had huge roster turnover from last season
Every team has roster turnover. The players left from the Celtics roster last season were 3 rookie contracts who were trying to prove themselves and Al Horford, who had only been with the Celtics for one season. That means that everyone except Al Horford is trying to figure out their role on this team.
The Celtics have played more games than anyone
Some teams are tied with the Celtics, but no team has played more games than the Celtics. For instance, the Raptors, who have the second best record in the East, have played 5 less games than the Celtics.
That’s at least 5 more practice days to implement a system than the Celtics have had. This, in combination with the roster turnover, means …
The Celtics have one of the most basic systems in the NBA
Their offensive sets contain none of the off-ball wrinkles, elbow picks, or similar-slightly different actions from last year. Good teams can stall out the offense, which gives them momentum to make plays against our defense.
Coach Brad Stevens will add some complexity to the system when he gets practice days later in the season, but for now, expect struggle.
The Celtic roster was built around the concept of two elite play-makers playing next to Al Horford
Get well soon, Gordon. You have to rest Kyrie Irving sometimes. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier can do some pick-and-roll action, but they can’t be primary play-makers consistently.
Marcus Smart is shooting well
Smart shoots a career 35% from the floor and 29% from 3 in wins. In losses, Smart shoots 36% from the floor and 31% from 3. This year, Marcus is shooting 32% and 29% in wins and 37% and 41 in losses.
Stop making your shots, Smart!
The Celtics miss Marcus Morris
His toughness, consistency, and ability to create decent shots would help our stalled out offense.
Three of the losses came in revenge games (and one more is probably coming)
Avery Bradley got his revenge in the first Pistons matchup. Crowder got his revenge the first game of the year. Now Olynyk got his revenge by playing the game of his life.
Excuses, excuses, am I right? Maybe they are just losing because they aren’t good. I mean, all teams have excuses like the ones above (except maybe the Smart thing), but they find ways to succeed. Why aren’t the Celtics?
There are probably even tougher days ahead this season. If Kyrie goes down for a few weeks, those could be ugly offensive games. What if Tatum hits the rookie wall? What if Brown’s struggles at the line start impacting his confidence from 3?
If there is a coach who can figure out how to harness this team into wins, its Coach Brad Stevens. Pressure produces diamonds. Struggles are good, because it ultimately will develop players into tough-minded basketball players.