Something is missing from the Boston Celtics and the team’s All-Star point guard senses it too.
After the Celtics were embarrassed by the Bulls and Heat, both games on national TV, Rajon Rondo admitted that his team is not the same battle-tested unit that flipped the switch during last season’s playoffs and made it back to the NBA Finals. “We’re a completely different team. It’s not the same team,” Rondo told the Boston Globe. “We’re not going to be able to turn it on like we did year. I don’t know what we’re waiting on but these types of games [against the top teams] we have to find a way to win. It’s a roller-coaster and right now we went back down today.”
Rondo also believes the Celtics are not playing with enough urgency, and they need to wake up before it’s too late. Is he right? Maybe so. But Rondo’s claim is probably not the real reason why the Celtics have struggled since the All-Star break. And not having center Kendrick Perkins, who is now in Oklahoma City, is only one aspect of the team’s recent slide.
The biggest reason why the Celtics are not playing at optimum level is simple: they have trouble scoring points.
Despite giving away Perkins, who may be one of the best low-post defenders in the Association, the Celtics’ defense has remained stout, limiting teams to under 90 points per game and 43% shooting from the field. However, the same can’t be said on the other end of the floor. Boston is currently 22nd in the league in scoring (96.6 points) and averages only 75 field goals per game, which is the fewest in the league.
Because the Celtics don’t hoist up a lot of shots, this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on their defense to keep the games close and each offensive possession is magnified. Even though the team shoots 48% from the field (which is the best in the league), the Celtics have to be near perfect on offense each game, and puts a tremendous burden on older players like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Rondo is absolutely on point when he said the Celtics are “not the same team.” But it’s not about getting the new players such as Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Troy Murphy and Delonte West into the mix. It’s more about The Big Three have declined and could be on their last legs.
During their championship season in 2008 and the season after that, head coach Doc Rivers used to rely on Pierce to create offense and put pressure on the defense by drawing fouls. But Pierce’s game has declined the last two seasons. His scoring has dipped from 20.5 in 2008-09 to 18.8 this season. He is also not getting to the foul line as much, attempting only 5.7 per game compared to 6.1 last year and 6.8 in 2008-09.
Allen’s numbers has also declined the past two seasons, as his scoring average has dipped to 16.6 from 18.2 two seasons ago. And despite a major rebirth this season, Garnett’s scoring average (14.8) is a full point lower than his PPG from 2008-09 (15.8).
One of the reasons why GM Danny Ainge decided to trade Perkins was to upgrade Boston’s second unit and get more scoring. Although Green is an upgrade from Marquis Daniels at small forward, he’s only giving Boston 9.4 points per game off the bench which is only two points better than what Perkins was averaging (7.3) before the trade.
Rivers is not about to waste Pierce, Allen and Garnett during the regular season, but all signs point to a major struggle to produce points once the playoffs begin with very little help from the supporting cast.