Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Over the past eight games (one-third of the season) the Celtics have the sixth-best offense in the league (scoring 111 points per 100 possessions) which has helped to catapult them up to the 12th best offense for the season. The defense has dropped off lately (Saturday was another ugly performance), but the C’s are still the top ranked defense in the NBA, and more importantly, are finding they can win games now with their offense as well. The scoring lulls have become fewer and even the bench unit has been providing a spark at times, as was seen in the second half, when they led a 18-2 run.
Boston Sports Journal (subscription required): The Celtics are quickly morphing into an elite offense
With their 116-111 win over the Suns on Saturday, the Celtics have now shot 50 percent or better in each of their past four games. Previously, they had not reached that mark all season.
After this win, Stevens said that Boston’s offense is catching up with its top-ranked defense. But he also acknowledged that is partly because the defense has not been quite as formidable.
“The good news is I think you have to be able to score the ball, and you have to get better scoring the ball for us, from where we started the season,” Stevens said. “And we’ve shown ourselves capable on defense. Today was not one of our better defensive performances.”
During the 16 game winning streak, the Celtics offense was… not great. Their offensive rating was 104.0 (16th in the NBA) with an assist percentage of 59.1% (9th) and a team true shooting percentage of 54.5% (19th).
Since the streak ended, though, the Celtics offensive rating is 112.3 (6th in the NBA) with an assist percentage of 62.3% (10th) and a team true shooting percentage of 60.1% (5th).
The team is moving the ball and shooting better. However, the defense has taken a big step backwards.
During the win streak, the Celtics defensive rating was 94.7, they were averaging 37.9 defensive rebounds (82% DReb Percentage), and giving up 40.6 points in the paint. Those stats were first, first, and eighth in the league respectively.
Since the streak (starting on November 22), the Celtics defensive rating is 108.1, they are averaging 30 defensive rebounds (71.4% DRreb Percentage), and giving up 48.3 points in the paint. Those stats are 18th, 24th, and 24th in the league respectively.
The post-streak numbers come from a much smaller pool of games but difference on both ends of the floor is quite stark. Where is all of this coming from?
On the offensive side, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier have been much better on the offensive end. Each has increased their true shooting percentage by more than 20 points since the streak. Smart’s true shooting is 60.7% in six games since the streak ended (and the Al Horford pep talk). It’s a ridiculous number for a guy with a career 47.6 true shooting percentage. Tito is up to 64.3% post-streak, and significantly higher than even his best season last year’s 49.7 TS%.
Marcus Morris is also playing a bit better. He’s struggling with his shot a little bit but his offensive rating is up to 109.5 and his net rating is actually slightly positive since the streak ended. His assist percentage also jumped (9% to 12.3%). It’s not much, but he’s passing more… which is significant.
And Aron Baynes has been pretty good as a starter and he’s the one guy whose defense hasn’t suffered much because of it. During the streak, only one guy (Morris) had a defensive rating above 100. Since then, Baynes is the only guys whose defensive rating is below 100. Meanwhile his true shooting percentage has jumped 18.4%. Baynes’ shooting is more sustainable because he’s making shots he’s made his entire career. His post-streak TS% of 64.3 is closer to his career 56.2. He’ll probably regress some… but he doesn’t have the same potential to crash like Smart.
So the role players are doing more to help the team. Maybe the new combination of players is helping unlock some offense, but my bigger concern is the overall drop in defense.
Again, Smart and Rozier aren’t going to shoot this well all the time. The Celtics aren’t getting down by 15 and climbing back like they did during the streak. They are also giving up a lot more points, which has the potential long-term effect of adding unnecessary minutes for some guys who could rest.
Of course, part of this is the simple fact that a 94.7 defensive rating was simply unsustainable. This team still relies on a lot of young guys who, after a bruising schedule and lack of practices, are probably wearing down a little. The added focus on the offense inherently drags down some defensive performance so some of this regression is to be expected.
Still, there’s a lot to clean up and the Celtics have the personnel to snap out of this. The high-energy switching defense is still the blueprint for defensive success. And the good thing is the Celtics are still winning as they figure this out. If they win four of every six games remaining, they’ll end up with about 58 wins, which would be amazing after losing Hayward almost right away.
The Celtics offense is looking better, thanks to a lot better play off the bench and their stars doing star-quality things. The defense is suffering right now but, hopefully, the pendulum that constantly swings throughout the season will settle in a comfortable area where the Celtics offense runs smoothly while the defense remains really good. Time and, eventually, a calmer schedule will allow them to clean up some of the slippage and get the rest they need to figure this out.
Page 2: Don’t expect Morris to be a full-time 6th man
The forward has looked great in a bench role lately, but won’t always stay in one. Stevens indicated he intends to keep toggling between Morris and a center (usually Aron Baynes) in the starting lineup depending on matchups.
“It doesn’t really (sway me one way or another),” Stevens said of Morris’ recent stretch, after the Celtics held off the Suns, 116-111. “Starting or when they play doesn’t really matter. So, he’s still going to start when we feel like the matchup is right.”
The matchup Saturday called for Baynes in the starting lineup, probably to match up with Suns center Tyson Chandler. But after Greg Monroe hurt the Celtics in the first half, Stevens turned to Daniel Theis to start the third quarter. By making that switch, Boston stayed relatively big on Chandler while letting Baynes match up with the burly Monroe in the second unit.
This is another thing that will take some time to figure out.
Is Morris just better off the bench? It sure seems so, and the mounting evidence suggest he’d be better there full time. However, I can understand how certain matchups would dictate a change in the lineup.
You do NOT want to start Baynes against Golden State or Houston. And since they’re the models for NBA offense, it’s obvious that the Celtics need a guy like Morris to match up in those situations.
So on the one hand, it’s nice to have that luxury… toss All Of Australia at a guy like Greg Monroe or Andre Drummond (not that it helped much, but still…) and have Morris check the speedier modern-NBA bigs. Occasionally, depending on the game flow, you can flip it to get Baynes in for rim protection if the guards are getting torched or have Morris spread the floor against a big whose defending his own rim exceptionally well.
On the other hand, though, players love routines, and having the “you’re starting today but not tomorrow” thing might be tough for certain guys to handle. If the Celtics, and Morris, keep finding success this way, he’ll just have to get over it because, in the end, he’s playing a key role with good production for a winning team. Demanding to start is just an ego thing.
And let me just say that “ego thing” isn’t necessarily all bad. Basketball players are taught from the beginning that the best players start. It’s basically the first lesson they learn as kids. The better kids start the games and you have to work harder to become a starter if you want to play more. It’s hard to flippantly say “he needs to get over it” when, as a player, starter=better player is one of the first things burned onto your brain.
We’ll see how it shakes out. This is where I’m really happy Brad Stevens is the coach because he has connections with these guys where he connects with guys like adults. If he does, indeed, make Morris a full-time 6th man, I’m sure he’ll lay it all out on the line for Morris to explain why this is the best thing for the team. Players can not like decisions made by the coach, but if they respect the decision, then they will continue to perform.
Tatum is averaging 4.4 points in the fourth quarter this season, a mark that’s second on the Celtics behind only Irving, who is fourth best in the NBA at an average of 7 points in the final frame.Narrow to clutch time — the score within 5 points in the final five minutes — and Tatum’s exploits are even more remarkable. After Saturday’s win, he was tied for ninth in the NBA in clutch points (33) while shooting 63.2 percent, the highest rate among the top 20 in clutch points.
If the ball isn’t in Irving’s hands late in games, the next best option might be a teenager.
This is an amazing development for a couple of reasons. First, he wants the ball in that situation. You see him calling for it. He’s not afraid of a moment like that where he can give his team a two possession lead with 46 seconds left. Secondly, he’s proven that he needs to be guarded in those situations. The “prove it” portion of his season is over. Defenders need to respect his shot or else they’ll give up key threes.
This kid is cool under pressure and he’s 19 years-old.
Why would any team make a trade with Danny Ainge anymore?
Related links: NBCS Boston: Early start leads to more late heroics for Tatum
The rest of the links
MassLive: Kyrie Irving’s cutting has surprised Brad Stevens, Jayson Tatum continues fourth-quarter scoring | Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving a big fan of Devin Booker: ‘He already has that mentality of being a killer’ | Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics outlast Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns, 116-111
Herald: Celtics are first NBA team to 20 wins this season with 116-111 triumph over visiting Phoenix Suns | Bulpett: Ex-BC star Jared Dudley joins list of those impressed by Celtics’ transformation | Celtics notebook: Suns rookie Josh Jackson explains cancelled pre-draft workout with Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and Co. | Bulpett: Brett Brown, for one, welcomes a new Celtics-76ers rivalry