What's wrong with the Celtics?

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What's wrong with the Celtics?

A week ago today, the Celtics beat the Mavericks in double overtime to improve their record to 12-9 and climb three games over .500 for the first time this season. Although things were far from perfect, with wins in three of their last four games, the Celtics looked ready to leave mediocrity in their dust and officially join the ranks of Eastern Conference contenders.

At the very least, they were improving. They were getting better. There was still a long way to go, but there was a renewed confidence in their ability to get there.

Anyway, heres what I wrote on the morning after that Mavericks game:

The Celtics now head out on the road for a three-game trip at Houston, at San Antonio, at Chicago with some serious momentum-building (or killing) potential. Of course, either way, its not the end of the world. The Celtics could lose all three or go 1-2 and (short of a horrific injury) there wont be any reason to panic. In the same breath, going 3-0 or 2-1 wont necessarily mean a thing. But it will keep this team trending in the right direction, and at this point, what else you can ask for?
So with that being re-said, it would be hypocritical to overreact to last nights loss in Chicago, or to the collective three-game stretch that took all of Boston's momentum and squashed it with the weight of 15 Thomas Hamiltons.

After all, they do this every year, right? The same way that the Patriots defense spends every fall driving people nuts, before turning it around down the stretch, the Celtics are the regular season slackers who wake up when it matters most.

They did it in 2010. They did it in 2012. In both cases, everyone swore that after this theyd never write the Celtics off again. That theyd never lose touch with the relative insignificance of the NBA regular season. But here we are again. Its almost Christmas and the Celtics are struggling. They're still looking for a rhythm, identity andor even the slightest sense of urgency.

AND EVERYONE'S STARTING TO PANIC.

OK, not really. But there's no doubt that the Banner 18 Bandwagon's losing steam. You look at this team right now, even with Avery Bradley, and it's hard to envision them running with the other contenders. Not Miami. Not OKC (yeah, I know). Certainly not the Spurs. The Celtics just aren't good enough. And we're all back in that same place we swore we'd never be again.

In an attempt to justify that, here are three reasons why this year is different from 2010 and 2012. So far, at least:

1. That one big stretch: In 2010, the Celtics started the season 23-5. Last year (even though they started 4-8 and eventually limped into the All Star break), Boston went on a mid-January tear that saw them win nine of 10 games. In both cases, they gave us an extended glimpse into their potential. They temporarily flexed their muscles to the fullest. And Doc always used that as a source of confidence in the face future failures. For the most part, he was always the calming force.

Doc's reaction after last night's game?

"This is not a good team right now."

And he's right. This particular team hasn't proved anything yet, and even though it's early, they've had plenty of opportunities. Their next chance? I'd say Christmas Day in Brooklyn. Between the two earlier losses, the fight at the Garden and the national spotlight, the Celtics can make a serious statement against the Nets.

After that, the rest of us will start believing as soon as Doc does.

2 . Too healthy: In 2010, the Celtics fought through nagging injuries to KG and Pierce, as well as Rasheed Wallace's beer belly. In 2012, they lost Jeff Green right off the bat, had Pierce start late and then watched the entire roster slowly disappear.

So far this year, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee have missed a combined ONE GAME due to injury.

One game.

Of course, the absence of Avery Bradley is a big one. Over the last few months, the Bradley narrative has gone from forgotten to underrated to overrated to so-overrated-that-I-think-he's-back-to-being-underrated. Does that sound right? Either way, I'm a huge Bradley guy. I think a lot of people are seriously underestimating his value to this team what his presence does for Rondo, how much his athleticism and cutting ability helps the offense, just how ridiculously dominant he is on the defensive end. I mean, in so many ways, Bradley's the Celtics best defensive player. How will his return to the starting line-up NOT make the C's better? That's exactly what happened last year. Why is this time different?

Anyway, my point is that even as important as Bradley is, the Celtics have been insanely, almost unbelievably fortunate on the injury front. And they don't have much to show for it.

3. Defense: The Celtics have given up 100 or more points in 11 of their first 24 games. Last season? That happened only nine times over the course of 66 games.

And while last year is skewed by the clunkiness of the post-Lockout regular season, and this year will improve with the return of Bradley, there's no question that this defense is still a work in progress. That it's not what it used to be.

Pierce has lost a step. KG's lost a step (even if he's still unbelievably effective). Rondo plays less defense than any perennial All-Defense guy in NBA history. Jason Terry's never been known for his defense. Neither has Chris Wilcox. Jeff Green still looks lost within the Celtics scheme, like he's out there deep in conversation with himself.

Courtney Lee is a solid, but he's probably Boston's best chance of acquiring a big man, and that's their BIGGEST NEED OF ALL, and . . . ah crap. I promised not to overreact. So let's wrap it up.

For now let's just keep in mind that even though they're in a bad place right now, the Celtics are still capable of doing great things. It sounds crazy to say that this morning, after three straight ugly losses and a generally depressing two months, but we've all been here before. We all know better than to assume too much before Christmas or at any point before April. Instead, all you can do is just hope Avery comes back without a hitch. That Rondo stays motivated. That everyone stays healthy. That Doc changes his tune. That the conversation in Green's head finally comes to an end. And finally, just remember that they're still only 12-12. It still could be a lot worse.

For instance, imagine if they were 12-12 heading into that Dallas game?

12-12 on 12-12-12?!

I feel like we all dodged a bullet.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

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Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured. 

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter. 

The plane landed safely in Oklahoma City, and was greeted by several emergency units on the scene.

Players departed the plane without incident. 

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”