Through four games, issues apparent for Celtics

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Through four games, issues apparent for Celtics

BOSTON The Boston Celtics are riding a two-game winning streak, no longer have a losing record and finally got some energy from what has been an anemic-looking bench.

But things are far from rosy on this team.

As much as the two victories helped get them get off the snide, they also highlighted just how far away this team is now, from being the title contender that they look like on paper.

For this team, it all begins with the starters.

Even though the Celtics boost three all-stars, it means nothing if the two guys around them don't fit in well.

Courtney Lee has done a so-so job at shooting guard. But like the rest of the team, he has to become a more consistent player at both ends of the floor.

Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger have split time at the power forward slot with Bass' two starts ending with the C's losing both games while Sullinger's two starts netted a pair of wins.

Ironically, in the two Boston victories - especially Wednesday's overtime win over Washington - Bass was actually the better player when coming off the bench.

Do not be shocked if Doc Rivers decides to ride out Sullinger with the first group for a little while longer.

From there you move on to the bench which has been underwhelming most of this still-young season.

In fact, Wednesday's 100-94 overtime win was easily their best game thus far.

Jason Terry made it a goal for the C's second unit to outscore opponents every game this season.

At this point, if they can outscore one opponent's second unit, that would be progress.

While this group does have the kind of firepower a Celtics second unit hasn't had in years, this is still a team that's rooted in strong defensive play.

And it's not a total shock that a second unit that's loaded with "professional scorers," has been up and down in terms of latching on to the C's defensive principles and executing them consistently.

This group should improve in time, especially if you keep Bass as a reserve.

That said, there are a still a few other issues that have to be worked out in the coming weeks and months for Boston to come close to reaching the immense potential that this team possesses.

DEFENSE CONSISTENCY

Of course that is to a large degree tied into the various new pieces meshing with those more well-versed on Doc Rivers' defensive system.

The most glaring challenge the Celtics have now comes in terms of Kevin Garnett getting help defensively.

Not only when he leaves the game and takes a rest, but also when he's on the floor.

Washington's Kevin Seraphin was a throw-back of sorts big man who gave Garnett problems in both games against the Wizards this year. Not surprisingly, Garnett did a much better job on him when the two teams met on Wednesday, in comparison to their first matchup last Saturday.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that with a player like Seraphin, Garnett needed help from time to time.

And when Garnett was out of the game, the C's interior defense got progressively worst.

There isn't a single player on this roster who can enter a game and provide the defensive presence that Garnett does. But the C's have to find someone who can at least provide some force in the middle so that the lane doesn't become a turnstile for dribble-penetrating opponents.

During the preseason, it looked as though Darko Milicic might have been that guy. But a wrist injury slowed him down, and small ball has kept him even more buried on the bench.

Wilcox is another option, but he's not really a shot-blocker. Plus he's still trying to regain his strength after missing most of last season. Jason Collins is a smart big man who understands how to play the game, but his lack of foot speed and agility on the floor will make it hard for him to provide the kind of steady defensive presence the C's have been lacking most nights when Rivers turns to his bench.

JEFF GREEN

It's hard not to find yourself rooting for Green when you consider his across-the-board skills and all that he has gone through this past year.

But putting sentimentality aside, he's not getting it done.

The attacking, aggressive brand of basketball we saw in Europe and state-side during the preseason, is nowhere to be found.

Now the level of competition certainly plays a role. His body getting used to the rigors of the NBA after a year off, will undoubtedly take some time for him to get up to speed.

But that should not take away from his aggression; not to the extent that we have seen so little of thus far.

It's not all that complicated.

Green has to start playing better.

Period.

BACKUP BIG MAN CONCERNS

Doc Rivers doesn't seem all that worried about his perimeter guys defensively, and with good reason.

He's going to get Avery Bradley back next month.

But there is still a bit of a void in the frontcourt with this team even with the three-headed monster of Chris Wilcox, Darko Miliicic and Jason Collins.

Of the three, Wilcox has the best shot of helping them, provided he can continue to get his body right and his conditioning up to par after missing most of last season following heart surgery.

He was arguably the biggest game-changer for the Celtics in their win over Washington on Wednesday, tallying six points in less than four minutes in helping Boston close out the third quarter with a 10-2 run.

That kind of immediate impact production has to become more consistent from Boston's backup big men.

With the C's so committed to going small more often, playing time for the team's big men has to be maximized.

That's exactly what Wilcox did on Wednesday.

Can he or one of Boston's other bigs do it consistently?

That remains to be seen.

"This is a process," said C's guard Jason Terry. "For us, it's about playing 48 minutes of Celtics basketball. (Wednesday night) we played in spurts, we played in stretches. That's not going to be good enough for us."

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."