Your Morning Dump… Where the Celtics need to shift gears to fix their clutch problem

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics

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.

Halfway through the 2020-21 season, the Celtics have played a league-high 25 crunch-time games — score within 5 points in the final 5 minutes. That’s three more clutch games than any other team in the league. […]

The Celtics are a meager 11-14 in those clutch games, a tough look when you consider the teams with the most crunch-time wins are Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia 76ers (15-5) and Brooklyn Nets (14-7). Even the Hornets (12-5) and Heat (12-10) have more crunch-time wins than Boston.

One of the hallmarks of Celtics teams has been an ability to win close games in the Brad Stevens era. Entering this season, the Celtics were 107-72 in crunch-time games over the past four seasons. The defense wasn’t always perfect in those situations but Boston always seemed to be able to get a must-have stop when it needed it most and Stevens used his whiteboard to put the Celtics in position to escape with wins. […]

Boston’s offensive rating of 101.6 in crunch time this season ranks 25th in the NBA. That’s 11 points per 100 possessions lower than the team’s offensive rating for the season and 7.3 points lower than the meager 108.9 offensive rating the team has posted in the fourth quarter of games this season.

NBC Sports Boston: Forsberg: What’s wrong with Celtics in crunch time?

That is difficult information to process. The Celtics under Brad Stevens have always been the overachievers, the team that would fight back and, against all odds, find ways to win. Now, they either win comfortably or find ways to lose the close ones.

The Cs fought hard against the Nets and, unlike the blowout loss to Brooklyn on Christmas, they were right there throughout. But the hosts had an answer for every Celtics attack.

It seems like every blitz was met with a counter, and every counter turned into three points. Whenever the Celtics built a lead with a stretch of great defense, the Nets pounced on mistakes and kept things close enough for their stars to take over late in the game. […]

“We were slow in our rotations. Just a half a second,” Smart said. “If you’re a second late they’re going to make you pay. Brooklyn did a really good job when we went to double those guys of finding the open man and knocking those shots down. We’ve just gotta continue to work on it and get our rotations right just a little bit quicker. We’ve gotta be a step quicker than what we were tonight.”

Boston Sports Journal: Karalis: Celtics slow defense hurt them too much to overcome Brooklyn Nets superstars

As currently constituted, the Celts don’t have enough talent to beat the Nets. It hurt that Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker both shot woefully, among their worst performances of the year. But besides Kyrie Irving being unstoppable, the Nets also moved the ball relentlessly and made 19 threes – 17 of them with no Celtics defender closer than four feet away. Still, it was a 2-point game with 4:17 to play…and then the clutch problem came back. The Nets hung tough even without the injured Kevin Durant.

The one thing Celtics fans can hang onto is that the team is finally healthy (except for Romeo Langford) and maybe can start to put together some consistency. They had it during the four-game win streak before the All-Star break; perhaps Thursday night was only a momentary setback. They have 35 more games to shift gears on several fronts: 1. settle on (hey, Brad!) a rotation; 2. improve their execution; 3. remember how to play defense; and 4. possibly (hopefully) bring in some new blood.

The Celtics need to get better, too. They are still at least a rung behind the top teams in the Eastern Conference, including the Nets. As Stevens raved about all of Brooklyn’s shooting, he was indirectly pointing out an area his own team needs to develop. Even with Tatum, Brown and Kemba Walker to sink a bundle of 3-pointers, the Celtics rank just 11th in 3-point percentage, 19th in 3-point makes and 20th in 3-point attempts (all stats per 100 possessions). Some of their problems have been due to personnel. Some of them have been due to injuries. Last season’s starters have played just 29 minutes together all season, including eight on Thursday.

Still, healthy or not, the Celtics need to develop better habits. They don’t always run their offense with enough pace. They don’t always move the ball crisply. They can be a beat too slow to capitalize on a rotating defense.

The Athletic: Healthier Celtics should be able to start building now, even after mistake-filled loss to Nets

Reality check: The current roster is probably not going to make all that happen, even if everyone does stay healthy. They literally allow a 30- or 40-point scorer almost every night (12 of the last 13 games), and their assists each game are up and down like a roller coaster.

As we say in this space every week, some personnel changes are needed, whether it’s dealing for an available veteran such as PJ Tucker or LaMarcus Aldridge, or boldly trading for someone like Harrison Barnes. Standing pat is not an option.

One more thing: the Celtics don’t play today, their second straight day off. That won’t happen again for five weeks. Over the next 37 days, Boston is scheduled for 21 games. They won’t have more than one night off, but they will have four back-to-backs, meaning four more games without Kemba. They will play a two-game set at Milwaukee on March 24 and 26, and have a western swing in April to Denver, Portland and the Lakers.

If only to deal with that challenging schedule, Danny Ainge needs to bring in a couple of veterans who can take on meaningful minutes. It’s either that or continue to rely on the erratic group of Grant Williams, Jeff Teague, Semi Ojeleye, Javonte Green, and Tristan Thompson.

If that thought doesn’t motivate Danny to act, there will be nothing left to say.

Related – Celtics’ path to catching Kyrie Irving and the Nets won’t be easy

On Page 2: Keeping their promise

For the Celtics, it became important to dig deeper into the root causes of the societal issues, and to use their financial resources and well-respected voices to effect real change. After countless hours of meetings and discussions, the franchise in September unveiled Boston Celtics United for Social Justice, a 10-year, $25 million initiative that would be guided by a franchise-wide task force to combat these systemic problems in the Greater Boston area. […]

“What we’re attempting to do, even though it’s no one’s expertise and no one’s day job, is work that we’re passionate about,” Allison Feaster, vice president of player development and organizational growth, said. “We want to first represent those and be good stewards of those who hold our brand near and dear. It’s incumbent upon all of us to invest in that community when we know there’s social injustice and racial inequities that pervade that community. We have to act.”

More than 100 members of the organization joined committees that created programs focused on six pillars: equity in education, economic opportunity and empowerment, equity in healthcare, criminal justice and law enforcement, voting and civic engagement, and building bridges between communities. The groups also sought feedback from and partnered with other community leaders and organizations.

Globe: Celtics’ social justice initiative has produced real and noticeable changes

George Floyd’s death last May hit the NBA hard. Celtics players and management were vocal and visible in their response at that time. They vowed to take action to fight racial injustice.

That action has now achieved successes such as leading a major voter registration effort and launching a $1 million grant program for small, Black-owned businesses. And it sounds like there’s much more to come. Good for the Celtics in keeping their promise.

And, finally… Two shots for the Cooz

Cousy told the Palm Beach Post this week that officials in his hometown of Worcester reached out to him last month after hearing from “a little bird” that he had struggled to land a vaccine appointment, despite being eligible under the state’s rollout, which opened up eligibility to residents over the age of 75 on Feb 1.

According to Cousy, the call came after he had spoken to Fauci and Manchin, the moderate West Virginia Democrat — both of whom had asked if he had gotten the vaccine. How a ‘little bird’ tipped off Worcester officials that Bob Cousy needed help getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Bob Cousy is 92 and a living legend, especially in Worcester, the city where he’s made his home since his college years at Holy Cross. He also has many friends in high places, and he damn sure deserved to have some help in booking his vaccine appointments. Hang in there, Cooz, we need you.

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