The Boston Celtics just went through a horrible weekend. They lost three straight and over the course of a week lost two games to a team not considered to be as good as them, the New York Knicks. Streaks like this shouldn’t happen to a team contending for a title this late in the season. Let’s take a look at how they got here.
It all started with Ime Udoka‘s suspension. Joe Mazzulla was hired as an interim coach a week prior to the the preseason. Mazzula had little NBA coaching experience as compared to Udoka who coached in the league for over ten years as an assistant including under Gregg Popovich. Udoka also played in the NBA. This isn’t to say Mazzulla will not be a good NBA coach. It may have been easier for him to fit in as a rookie coach with a team not having title aspirations.
I could never understand how a team with title aspirations could hire a coach with little experience. This happens often in professional sports. It’s a tough situation for the coach and the organization.
The Celtics got off to a 21 – 5 record culminating with a 27 point blowout of the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix and looked like the best team in the league at that point. Their next game against the Golden State Warriors, a nationally televised game, saw them get easily handled by Golden State losing by 16 points in a game they never were in. Since then they have gone 25 – 16. The Golden State game was instrumental in them losing their swagger.
Boston accomplished their great start without Robert Williams. He has since come back but to date he has only played in 28 games since his return on December 16th. The Celtics have played in 37 games since his return. Currently he is injured with a strained hamstring. Since he was injured last year the Celtics have not been able to count on him consistently playing. Last year he was instrumental in their surge in the second half of the season.
I have written about how teams are taking away his effectiveness by forcing Williams to switch defensively where he is guarding someone on the perimeter. His strength is protecting the rim and standing on the perimeter makes the Celtics more susceptible to the dribble drive. Mazzulla has not made any adjustments to keep him nearer to the basket. Perhaps having him playing drop defense on the pick and roll like Milwaukee does with Brook Lopez could help.
Long Range Shooting
The next problem has been their inconsistency in shooting the three. If you live by the three you can die with it. The Celtics have had some horrible nights shooting the three and because of this suffered some inexcusable losses. On February 3rd they lost to Phoenix 106 – 94. They shot 10 – 38 from three.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have not had great years shooting the three. Tatum is shooting 35% from three. Two years ago he shot over 38% from three. Tatum seems to have abandoned the mid range shot as his numbers have decreased on the taking of that shot. Brown is shooting 33% this year. Coming into this year he is a 36% career shooter from three. This isn’t to take anything away from the two stars at all and their lower percentages from three may be because of their extended minutes this year. Both stars are playing more minutes per game than any other season since they have been in the NBA.
The season isn’t over yet and maybe Boston can rebound from their rough stretch but in my experience in following the NBA not many teams with championship hopes have rebounded from this extended streak of slightly above average basketball to win a title.