Where do the Celtics go from here?


Where do the Celtics go from here?

BOSTON You can never say never when it comes to a team hitting rock bottom, but the Boston Celtics?

They are easily at their nadir in this new age of Celtics basketball that began prior to the 2007-2008 championship season.

We reference to that point in time because that was the beginning of the Celtics renaissance, a time when the C's went from being a team relevant only because of their big-market status, to one that mattered because they were beating up any and every team that crossed their path.

In the years since, we have seen a gradual erosion of them slipping from such a lofty perch.

There's a long list of reasons why, but here's a snapshot.

Not re-signing James Posey.

Trading away Kendrick Perkins.

Not pursuing Tony Allen with more vigor.

Role players that at the time may have seemed expendable, serve as a reminder as to how fragile team chemistry - championship team chemistry - can be.

And if that doesn't convince you, look at the C's roster right now.

In terms of individual talent, this is by far the best team that Doc Rivers has had to work with.

And yet here they are, three games below .500, losers of six straight, and showing no signs of putting together the kind of consistent play needed to be successful.

Can it get any worse?

Well, yes it can.

The worst thing the Celtics can do right now is over-react which would be to make changes that don't necessarily address their many issues.

Their biggest issue remains playing consistent, something that's not necessarily going to be fixed by adding a player or two.

Boston doesn't need to add more talent.

They need to find better ways to play with the talent they have assembled, because the bulk of the losses they have suffered this year had nothing to do with the other team having better players.

So much of the attention to their struggles has focused on the players, but more and more will shift towards Rivers who admittedly has not done as good a job with this group as he has with previous Celtics teams.

Before you start thinking Rivers' job is in jeopardy, remember this.

The man lost 18 straight and still kept his job, and the people that stuck by him then are still around and are unlikely to make a change anytime soon even if the losing continues temporarily.

So for the Rivers haters out there - and yes, I have heard you loud and clear - him being cut loose is one of the more unlikely scenarios for this team.

As tough as this may be for Celtics fans to hear, this team's best hope for escaping this season-long malaise they have been in has to come from within that locker room.

Aside from moving one of the new Big Three - Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo - the C's don't have the kind of assets to pool together and land an impact, all-star caliber player which is the only type of addition they could make that could potentially turn this thing around from the outside.

You're not going to land Pau Gasol for end-of-the-bench guys or underperforming players at that position.

Trades generally don't work like that unless you're talking about a salary dump.

And the Celtics are not looking to make any deals that will add significantly to their payroll so that to some degree limits what they will look to do between now and next month's trading deadline.

Garnett's no-trade clause takes him out of the equation. As for Pierce and Rondo, the C's won't get anything close to fair market value for either player.

So to lose two of your biggest assets and not get comparable talent in return, puts you back exactly where you are now - a team that's not good enough to win at the highest levels.

And if you make major changes, team chemistry becomes an even bigger issue than it is now.

So where does that leave the Celtics?

Well, there's still some things that Rivers has not tried enough or at all, that have the potential to not only jump-start them to some wins but maybe light a fire under some guys and potentially pay off when the games matter most - the postseason.

One of the first things he needs to do is rely more on the "eye test" and less on what players have done in the past.

That means you still give the guys you feel can get it a done a chance to perform, but when it becomes clear that certain players are getting it done on a particular night better than other, more established players, stick with the guys who are making it happen that night a little longer.

Of all the mistakes made in Boston's loss at Atlanta, that might have been the most glaring and frankly, most costly.

Jeff Green was having a strong night in the first half on Friday, but Courtney Lee's aggressive play at both ends of the floor in the first half was an even bigger part of the C's pulling ahead by 27 points.

In the pivotal third quarter when the Hawks got back in the game, Lee did not play a single minute.

Not one minute.

Rivers made the mistake of riding Rajon Rondo the entire third quarter, even as the game's control continued to slip away from Boston with Rondo at the helm.

Rivers has to do a better job of recognizing that there will be nights when Rondo, as important as he is to this team's overall success, needs to play fewer minutes and others need to play.

Friday night was one of those nights.

As complicated as we tend to make things, it really should be as simple as riding the hot, aggressive hands until they get visibly fatigued or give you reason to go in another direction.

The Celtics have to do something to change their up-and-down, inconsistent-playing ways, and it has to be done soon. Otherwise they will continue to struggle, lose games they shouldn't, frustrate their fan base and inch closer to returning to a time when losses became an accepted way of life around here - which is exactly what a team that has hit rock bottom has to fight against happening.

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

BOSTON – For most teams in the NBA, road games are a necessary evil. 
Not for the Celtics. At least, not lately.
The Green Team hits the road for its next three games, and that has been a good thing – a real good thing – lately. 
Boston (11-8) has won its last four road games, the kind of success that breeds a heightened level of confidence heading into this current trip which begins tonight at Philadelphia. 
And it only helps that they hit the road coming off a 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday. 
“We have to carry that momentum with us,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “You know how...anytime in this league, the momentum, you have to stay with it. We’ve been having success away from home. It was big for us to get this win (over the Kings) to start the road trip off.”
A big part of Friday’s victory was the play of Al Horford who finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and six blocked shots. The points and rebounds for Horford were both season-highs.
Horford’s breakout performance came on the heels of a 121-114 loss to Detroit, a game in which Boston’s $113 million man (Horford) only took five shots.
“Coach [Brad Stevens] didn’t say anything about going to him just specifically,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We just found him and made the right play and when he got it he was very aggressive.” 
Part of Horford’s success was that he was in more of an attacking mentality. But he also benefited from a Kings defense that didn’t double-team him nearly as much as the Pistons did. 
“I got a lot of early looks in the game and like I said [following the Pistons loss] I think the Pistons did a good job defending and doubling and forcing me to pass the ball. [Friday night] I had more opportunities to be aggressive.”
Facing a Sixers team that ranks among the NBA’s worst in several defensive categories, Horford and the rest of his Celtics teammates should have ample opportunities to make plays offensively. 
And in doing so, they will be able to add on to what has been an already impressive stretch of play this season away from home.
“I think it will be good,” Horford said. “[Tonight] it’s a Philly team that plays hard and we just want to keep building on [Friday night’s win over Sacramento] and just try to be better.”


Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”