Celtics’ First Round Woes Continue
The Celtics are only the second team in NBA history to be the #1 seed and go down 0-2 against an #8 seed in playoffs. With this, Celtics’ Head Coach Brad Stevens is now 2-10 in playoffs. These two stats emphasize how much the Celtics are struggling in playoffs against the Chicago Bulls. Many people had high expectations about this playoff run (some people that I spoke to told me they are expecting Eastern Conference Finals appearance). Now it’s time to be realistic as the Celtics could possibly be swept by the Bulls and have yet another season of losing in the first round. Let’s take a look at how they got here.
The regular season was great for the Celtics. They ended with a 53-29 record, when they were projected to go 48-34. They outperformed everyone’s expectations, with Isaiah Thomas becoming the third best scorer in the entire league right behind James Harden and Russell Westbrook, not bad company to be in. The chemistry seemed to be great for the team, everything was going well. But now they are getting exposed for their biggest weaknesses.
First off is rebounding (or lack thereof) as the Celtics have continued to struggle with that all season. Al Horford was brought in to be a big man in the paint and get rebounds, almost guaranteeing a double-double a night. Horford only averages nine rebounds a game. The Bulls Center Robin Lopez is averaging nine rebounds in the playoffs alone. No one else on the Celtics is even close to those numbers. After Horford is Avery Bradley who was averaging five rebounds a game in the regular season. Bulls Small Forward Jimmy Butler was averaging eight rebounds a game in the regular season. When you can’t rebound, you allow the other team to get more second chance opportunities. The Celtics are allowing the Bulls have 18 points per game off of second chances opposed to the Bulls only allowing 13 to the Celtics. But, as mentioned before, this isn’t anything new.
The next issue they have is playing defense in the paint. The Celtics are allowing 44 points in the paint to the Bulls compared to a regular season 41. During the regular season the Celtics were ranked the number four defense overall. However, out of all the teams in playoffs they are ranked at the bottom. A #1 seed should never rank that low. Watching the games it seems like no one wants to play defense in the paint and Robin Lopez is taking complete advantage of that. He is averaging 16 points a game in this playoff series, compared to Al Horford who is averaging 14 points a game.
The final reason the Celtics are struggling is because of a lack of star players. When it comes to having star players, the Celtics really only have Isaiah Thomas as a star. Thomas has been playing the best he can under the tragedy of losing his little sister only a day before Game 1. But that’s not the problem. The problem is no one else is helping Thomas. He will score all the the points but when he gets double teamed, no one else can score. This is different when it comes to teams with star players. Look at the Cavaliers. If Kevin Love is double teamed, then Kyrie Irving or LeBron James can score. Same thing with the Warriors, if Steph Curry is double teamed, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green can all score. In this day and age of the NBA, if you want to be a serious competitor and go to the Finals, you need at least three stars on your team.
This can all be traced back to two people. Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge. If the Celtics get swept, one of them will be fired. The problem comes back to the trade deadline. Ainge used to do deal players away without a problem to better the team, but this year he did nothing, even though he knew the Celtics had glaring holes in the defense and rebounding. Ainge listened to Brad Stevens because Stevens said he didn’t want players like Nerlens Noel or DeMarcus Cousins because they “don’t fit the system”. That’s obscene. Both Stevens and Ainge knew of the Celtics problems but did nothing to better them for playoffs. Game 3 will be big, but if the Celtics don’t step up they will quickly be looking towards the draft.