The see-saw of a season that we’ve seen from the Boston Celtics continues to teeter along with their next three games on the road.
In normal times, a stretch of road games for a team hovering around the .500 mark like Boston (15-14) is this season, would be seen as nothing more than an opportunity to right the ship.
While that’s true, there are reasons – four actually — for Celtics fans to be optimistic that this stretch of road games comes right on time for them to turn their season around and start playing closer to the promise that so many expected from them this season.
Celtics fans have seen their share of disappointing finishes to games this season, but none comes close to the epic collapse of the New Orleans Pelicans in their 132-114 home loss to Phoenix on Friday. The Pelicans had an 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter, only to see it completely wiped out in what would eventually become the biggest choke job in the shot clock era (no team in NBA history went into the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead before ultimately losing by 18 or more points).
The 18-point margin of defeat for the Pelicans was the largest in the NBA’s shot-clock era (since the 1954-1955 season) for a team that entered the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
So what does that mean for the Celtics?
They open their three-game road trip against a team that is the living embodiment of that old coaching cliché that no lead in the NBA is safe. And in the Pelicans, their struggles are due in large part because of their woeful play defensively. New Orleans’ defensive rating this season (115.4) ranks 29th in the league. The Pelicans are particularly bad coming out to start the second half with a defensive rating that’s a league-worst 121.8.
Throw in the fact that the Pelicans have also lost five of their last six overall and the Celtics are poised to kick off their road trip with a winnable performance.
From there they face Dallas and Atlanta, two teams that are at or below-.500 at home this season.
The four-time All-Star remains the wildest of wild cards for the Boston Celtics. His minutes have been limited due to left knee soreness all season. But when healthy, which he’s close to being right now, the Celtics are a different – and very dangerous – team.
Walker has played more than 31 minutes in each of his last two games, both wins for Boston. He has averaged 22.5 points and five assists while shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point line.
He’s unlikely to play in back-to-back games yet, which means he’s likely to not play against Atlanta on Wednesday (the day after Boston plays at Dallas). But with Wednesday’s game against the Hawks being the third time they’re seeing Atlanta in an eight-day span, that familiarity should be to Boston’s benefit due to them having a deeper team that’s starting to show signs of coming together.
ROTATION SETTLING DOWN
Brad Stevens has taken his share of criticism from fans on how he has used the team’s depth this season with complaints often centering around not playing Robert Williams III enough or Stevens’ desire to utilize a two-big lineup (Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson) frequently.
However, Stevens seems to have settled on a rotation that includes rookies Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, along with Williams and Semi Ojeleye. Of course, that will be tweaked when Marcus Smart returns to the lineup.
For the Celtics, the key to their second unit lies in their ability to impact the game defensively. According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics rank fourth in the NBA in bench points allowed (33.3) this season.
Danny Ainge is usually non-committal on his plans on the cusp of the March 25 trade deadline. But this year, more than any other, Ainge sounds very much like it’s a matter of when, not if, he’ll do a deal. Since Ainge spoke with the Boston Sports Journal earlier this week, the sense of “urgency” that Ainge has not seen enough of from the players, has been present at both ends of the floor. Since his comments, Boston has won two of its last three games.
In that span, the Celtics have shot 50.2 percent from the field which ranks sixth in the league. And their rebounding percentage of .519 speaks to how they are knocking down more shots while also controlling the glass and thus, dictating the tempo that they want to play which bodes well for a team entering a winnable stretch of road games that can go far in getting them back on course as one of the top teams in the East.