Celtics' uneven play makes wins hard to come by

976693.jpg

Celtics' uneven play makes wins hard to come by

BOSTON One hole plugged, another springs a leak.
It has been that kind of season for the Boston Celtics.
The latest hole in the C's efforts to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference is the offense struggling while the defense steadily improves.
Such uneven play has made getting wins hard to come by, something the Celtics know all too well after dropping their fifth straight game this season, 89-86, to the New York Knicks.
It is only the third time since the 2008 championship season that the C's have lost five straight.
But what's more disturbing is that the two previous five-game losing skids came during last season's lockout-shortened season.
Limiting the Knicks, one of the league's highest scoring teams, to under 90 points is usually a recipe for success for the C's.
Boston came into Thursday's game 8-1 when holding opponents to 90 or fewer points.
"For some reason we are just not hitting our shots," said Kevin Garnett who was 3-for-9 against the Knicks. "The shots we usually take and are comfortable with. They're not going in, they're not falling for us. But it's just one thing after another man.
Garnett added, "we had problems on the defense, we really had to fix that. Got that under control a little bit now. You know on offense, we have to find ways to get some easy buckets. We've just got to keep going at this thing."
But with the losses continuing to mount, there has to be a growing concern that players will start pressing and trying to do too much offensively.
But that didn't seem to be the C's problem against New York.
While the Knicks' zone certainly gave the Celtics some problems, they still managed to get a lot of open to lightly contested shots both from the perimeter as well as on drives to the basket.
"We missed a lot of open shots," said C's head coach Doc Rivers. "But I don't think it's pressing. I just think we're missing shots."
And with those missed shots, the Celtics once again blew an opportunity to get a much-needed win.
Thursday's loss was especially hard to stomach when you consider that the Celtics did so many things right.
In fact, the only real issue they had was an inability to make shots.
"I like the way we competed tonight," said C's captain Paul Pierce. "We have got to do it night-in and night-out. Like I said, our offense has to get better. There's nights where our offense is really letting us down when we put this type of effort on defense in."

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.