Thoughts on a five-game losing streak

Thoughts on a five-game losing streak
March 27, 2013, 1:45 pm
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We’re not going to spend too much time on last night’s game because that would just be cruel. And anyway, it’s not like there’s much that went into Boston’s 15-point loss. That’s kind of the point. No KG + No Courtney Lee + minimal energy and execution will result in what we all unfortunately witnessed. What more can you say?

Instead, let’s take a look at this five-game losing streak on the whole, with a few thoughts each player involved.

Paul Pierce: Pierce has averaged 20.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists over these last five games, and we shouldn’t take that for granted. We should find at least a few minutes every night to step back and breathe in the Paul Pierce Experience. You never know when it might be over.

And with that, three quick thoughts on Paul.

1. He’s turning the ball over like a mad man. In fact, he’s got 23 turnovers during this losing streak, which is the most he’s had during any five-game stretch this season. Some of that is a result of wanting/being asked to do a little too much in the absence of others, but there have also been a few horrendous passes in there; some really awful decisions on Paul’s part. And while he’s certainly not alone in that department, he’s the leader. He sets the tone.

The short-handed Celtics can’t afford to waste possessions, but over this last week — starting with the late game collapse against Miami — the team has been infested by an overall lack urgency and sense of sloppiness. If that’s going to change (and it needs to) it’s going to start at the top.

2. If the Celtics continue to struggle in the absence of KG, Doc should really consider giving Pierce a little extra time off as well. What’s the point of having him labor through 36 minutes (like he did last night) if the supporting cast isn’t ready (or able) to pick up the rest of the slack?

It’s one thing if the C’s were still in danger of missing the playoffs, but they’re not. Even if Boston loses every one of their remaining 12 games, the Sixers would still have to go 9-3 to steal the spot.

3. This a slightly random anecdote from last night, and it doesn’t reflect on Pierce as much as it does the current state of this team. Still, I found it interesting/slightly troubling:

With 1:35 left in the first half, JR Smith connected on layup to give the Knicks a 55-40 lead, and the Celtics came back down the floor in search of something — ANYTHING — to give them a boost before halftime. Right on cue, Pierce drove to the hoop, drew a foul and willed it in for a potential and-1.

Anyway, the crowd reacted about as well as they could given how the previous 23 minutes had unfolded. But Pierce’s teammates didn’t flinch. At the time, he was out there with Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Terrence Williams and Jordan Crawford, and not one of them offered a fist bump, high five, slap on the ass or any acknowledgement of a job well done. Even as Pierce slowly walked through the paint on his way to the line, his teammates were literally staring at their shoes, each one lost in their own head. If you have the game on DVR, you should go back and take a look for yourself. It was pretty strange. And while it’s not the end of the world, it’s not a good sign.

Jordan Crawford: No one can deny that Crawford has talent, but that talent in no way makes the Celtics a better or even remotely enjoyable team (unless you have a thing for failed half-court alley-oop attempts in garbage time). This depends a lot on Courtney Lee’s health, but I don’t see how Crawford finds his way into the playoff rotation. Or if he does, I don’t see how it will result in anything short of a nightmare.

By the way, I know KG’s ankle is getting all the attention, but how much do the Celtics miss Courtney Lee?

Against Memphis on Saturday, Avery Bradley did his best shut down Mike Conley, while Jerryd Bayless went off for 30 on Crawford and Jason Terry. Last night, while Bradley wasn’t at his best, he rendered Ray Felton and Jason Kidd relatively ineffective, while JR Smith smoked Boston’s shooting guards for 32.

Jason Terry: Terry’s season has taken a weird turn.

Of course, the on-court inconsistency is nothing new, but as of late, he hasn’t exactly carried himself like supreme teammate that he’s proven to be in the past. Most notably, there was his comment to reporters after the loss in Dallas about what he was thinking in the aftermath of Courtney Lee’s ankle injury: ”Get your ass up,” Terry said. “If your bone is sticking out of there . . . I don’t know . . . I don’t know how he’s feeling right now, but we’re trying to win a game . . . I mean . . . I don’t know.”

Then last night, with Lee still hurting, Doc Rivers started Jordan Crawford because Terry didn’t want to: “It was more that Jet does not like to start,” Rivers said of the decision. “He likes coming off the bench.”

“You could just see it,” Rivers continued. “He likes being in his role, especially when he knows Courtney will be back and other guys will be back and he’d rather just stay in his own role.”

To be honest, this isn’t an enormous deal. You can understand why Terry would ideally want to stick to his big-picture role. And it’s worth noting that, watching him on the bench last night, Terry was every bit as into the game as always; he was vocal and upbeat with his teammates, and did his best to get the crowd involved when necessary. Still, nothing about what the Celtics are going through right now is ideal. Everyone has to sacrifice.

And either way, the bottom line is that Terry has a ton riding on these playoffs. Guys who talk as much as he does don’t have the luxury of coming up as short as he has for the Celtics this season.

If Rasheed Wallace was able to win fans back with a memorable playoff run, Terry certainly can, too. But that’s exactly what it will take.

Avery Bradley: Over this five-game losing streak, Bradley is 15 for 52 (.288) from the field with nine assists and 11 turnovers. There have also been more defensive lapses than we’re accustomed to, along with more missed layups than your average middle school rec game.

"Yeah, he's struggling," Rivers said of Bradley. "Listen, Avery's trying his best, his shot is struggling right now. He can shoot the ball, but when you're thinking about it, he's clearly going through something. So we're going to try and get him through that."

One possible explanation: Bradley’s a shooting guard who’s playing point guard. And while he certainly looks more comfortable now than he did back in early February, he’s still being asked to excel at a position that doesn’t fit his skill set. And I’d be surprised if the extra pressure of having to run an offense isn’t slowly chipping away at what Avery does best.

So what can the Celtics do?

1. When Courtney Lee’s healthy, have him bring up the ball more often and give Bradley a chance to be Bradley.

2. Next year . . . finally . . . for the love of God . . . SIGN A BACK UP POINT GUARD.

Jeff Green: Green followed up last week’s 43 point/seven rebound effort against Miami with 35 points and 10 rebounds TOTAL over his next three games.

This was in large part due to increased attention from the opposition. After watching him light up the Heat, teams finally started overplaying Green to his right, and clogging the lane whenever he had the ball. At this point, everyone knows that he doesn’t have a mid-range jumper and is a relatively limited passer. If they take away the drive, they takeaway so much of Jeff Green. If he doesn’t adjust, he’s going to struggle.

And with Green, there’s also continued lack of understanding on the defensive end. That played a role in him being benched down the stretch of the New Orleans game, and Rivers’ frustration with Green’s defense (and Green in general) has been evident over the course of this losing streak. No one gets lectured and scolded more on the sidelines – or even while he’s in the game — than Green.

And yeah, he had a great line last night. It’s hard to complain about a guy putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. But if you just watched that game, and never looked at a box score, you walked away unimpressed with Green’s overall impact. I’m not saying he’s the reason why the Celtics lost, but in order for this team (as presently constituted) to consistently win, he needs to do more.

Brandon Bass: In the land of the Celtics, there’s no greater insult than comparing a player to Mark Blount. And while I don’t think that Bass deserves that distinction, the fact that I’ve heard the Blount comparison thrown around more than once this season tells you something about where Bass is at.

If anything, he’s just been a non-factor, at least compared to last year. His minutes are down, his production (per 36 minutes) is down. His man-to-man defense comes in handy from time to time, but overall he’s just kind of there. He’ll hit an early jumper or two. Maybe sneak in a dunk somewhere along the way. But for the most part, he’s wallpaper.

The team would love to get more out of him, but at the end of the day, Brandon Bass isn’t going to make or break the season.

Chris Wilcox: Here’s Paul Pierce after last night’s game, on how the Celtics can get back on track:

“We just gotta figure it out,” he said. “Some nights we put four smalls on the court, and that’s what it is. That’s what you saw tonight. Guys have to do a better job rebounding, roles are expanding, you know for the guys, every year you have players that sit on the bench that want to play more. Well here’s the opportunity.”

And this is just my opinion, but it sure seems like Pierce was talking about Wilcox.

As you remember, Wilcox started the season slow, got down on himself and his role on the team, struggled on defense and fell out of favor with Doc.

At the trade deadline, he found himself on the way to DC in the original Jordan Crawford deal, but used his early Bird Rights to block the trade. Afterwards, Wilcox met with Doc and Danny, recommitted himself to the Celtics cause and quickly became the player that this team so desperately needed.

He had 14 points and eight rebounds in his first game after the deadline, and that next week had consecutive games with eight points and seven rebounds (a win over Golden State) and four points, six rebounds and two blocks (a win over Philly). Wilcox played more than 20 minutes in three of the four games after the deadline, and always found a way to make an impact.

But lately, he’s found his way right back into the doghouse. In the last 11 games, he’s topped 20 minutes only once. In the eight games before last night, Wilcox had nights when he only played 10 minutes (loss to OKC), nine minutes (loss to Charlotte) and six minutes (loss to NO). And then against the Knicks, with Kevin Garnett on the shelf and the Celtics left without a center, Wilcox played only nine minutes and recorded zero points and zero rebounds.

His playing time against the Knicks was in part a result of the overall “small ball” nature of that game. At the same time, it’s also hard to fault Wilcox too much, because those minutes are entirely up to Doc. But at some point during this KG-less stretch, Wilcox will get another chance — a chance he so desperately wanted back in November and December — to prove himself as a worthy and reliable member of this team. He needs to step up.

Terrence Williams: He won’t see any significant minutes in the playoffs, but there’s something refreshing about Williams’ game. I don’t know, maybe it’s just the fact that he’s not Jordan Crawford? Either way, Williams can play. He’s a willing and skilled passer, a decent shooter and when given the chance, he usually contributes. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a few more minutes over these next two weeks.

Deejlick Whitolph: Shavlik Randolph and DJ White aren’t going to play in the postseason. Not unless the Celtics are down big or Gino’s warming up back stage. But I don’t see why they can’t eat up some quality minutes down the stretch. At the very least, you’ll get consistent effort. And that would be a welcome sight after these last few games.

An even more welcome sight? A win.

The Celtics are back at it tonight in Cleveland.