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Celtics drop four in a row

If the Celtics are going to have an all-star on on the floor in the 2016 Toronto all-star game,  it’s going to be Isaiah Thomas.  He is averaging a career best 21 points and seven assists per game.  But with the Celtics now in a rut, losing six out of their last seven (including games to the lowly Lakers and Nets, Grizzlies, Bulls, Pistons, and most recently the Knicks), who is to blame for the losing? One could argue Thomas is the problem and one could almost certainly argue Head Coach Brad Stevens is to blame.

Thomas commented after the tough loss last night, “Very frustrating, especially when they’re winnable games,” Thomas said. “We’re just not doing enough of the little things to win these games. Hopefully, it will change.”

The reason why Thomas could be argued as a problem for the Celtics is his down-the-stretch play in close games. Everyone can remember when he took the final shot for the Celtics against the Warriors back in mid-December to win the game but was blocked by a taller and stronger Draymond Green.

Thomas also had problems finishing out games against Memphis and Detroit and most recently, against the Knicks. The Celtics leading scorer took the ball to the basket in the final seconds to try and take the lead over the Knicks, but to no avail was blocked by seven foot center Robin Lopez at the rim.  This has Celtics fans wondering, is IT “the guy” down the stretch?

As of right now no he is not.

He isn’t what the Celtics are used to seeing at the end of games; Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, or even Eddie House for that matter! His height in these game-time situations is a disadvantage.  But it isn’t all IT’s fault.  Some of the blame has to go towards Stevens.  Stevens essentially keeps drawing up these plays for Thomas when he is seeing that they aren’t working.  Why hasn’t he realized this yet? I’m not sure but one reason could be that he believes in IT and wants to keep giving him chances because he is ultimately the team’s best scorer, but there is another candidate to be taking these last second shots for the Celtics, and that is Jae Crowder.

Crowder most notably won over the Celtic’s faithful when he hit a game winner in the Garden against the Toronto Raptors late last season. One reason Crowder can be looked upon to take this shot is that teams aren’t necessarily going to keene in on him at the end of games. They will be worrying about Thomas.  If Thomas can be used as a decoy to then set up someone like Crowder or even Avery Bradley for that matter, then the Celtics could see things change: teams would have to key in on more of the Celtics at the end of games, then eventually freeing up Thomas so that he has better, quality shots, maybe as a spot up shooter, rather than taking it to the rim over taller opponents.  This is where Steven’s has to adjust and he knows that, “We’ve got to play better as a team,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve got to get more stops. We’ve got to do all kinds of things.”

Coach Stevens is right. It’s not just on IT for missing game winning shots, it’s on the Celtics defense who has continued to struggle when the game is on the line. On December 2nd, the Celtics were ranked seventh in the NBA in opponents points per game and now they are ranked 11th.  On the second, they were ranked first in the NBA in opponents turnovers per game and now they are tied for 15th.  The defense is slipping and what was once their strength as a unit is now a weakness and if they want to make the playoffs and more importantly WIN in the playoffs, they will have to get back to being a top five NBA defense.

The Celtics are hosting the Indiana Pacers tonight and with the Celtics falling in the defensive category, the Pacers have surged past them.  They are ranked sixth in the NBA in opponents points per game and that is partially thanks to one of the best two-way players in the game today, Paul George.

George is having an outstanding year as he is averaging 24 points, four assists and eight rebounds per game.  The key to stopping him tonight? Jae Crowder. Crowder has been “the guy” to guard players like Lebron James and others for the duration of these games.  He is versatile in that he can guard shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards.  Look for Crowder to try and lock down one of the league’s best tonight.  But when Crowder isn’t on the floor who will it be? I predict it will be Celtics second year player Marcus Smart.  Last night in New York, Coach Stevens had Smart guard prized lottery pick Kristaps Porzingis.  He did fairly well and the only problem smart had was when the seven-foot-three power forward squared up to the basket, held the ball up high, shot it, and banked it off the glass using his height to his advantage. Look for smart to key in on George, who is a lot smaller than “Godzingis.”.  If the Celtics want a spark to start on the path of winning again, it surely can start tonight on National TV, beating the NBA’s tenth ranked team (ESPN Power Rankings).

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