Celtics a work in progressing
The Celtics’ 32-24 record is their worst after 56 games since the 2006-07 season. Key players have been lost for the season. Yet, there is a feeling of optimism as the team prepares for a game against Miami Tuesday.
A 103-79 victory over Philadelphia Sunday was the Celtics’ seventh in nine games and pushed their record to 17-7 since the All-Star break. The Celtics have a three-game edge over the 76ers and Knicks in the Atlantic Division, a modest advantage compared with their dominance in recent seasons, but significant in terms of playoff positioning.
The Celtics have discovered a winning combination - albeit with flaws, as shown in losses to San Antonio and Chicago - but they have streamlined the starting lineup and are finding effective rotations with Ray Allen coming off the bench.
The Celtics have found a level of spectacular consistency with Rajon Rondo directing the offense. Rondo has 17 consecutive games with double-figure assist totals. And they have also become more versatile in the backcourt with Avery Bradley’s development.
A lineup of Allen, Bradley, Kevin Garnett, Sasha Pavlovic, and Greg Stiemsma built the lead in the second quarter against the Sixers Sunday, demonstrating another backcourt dynamic.
“If you noticed, Ray actually brought the ball up half the time, too,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Philly pressured Avery up the floor and that’s when we brought Ray up the floor to bring it up. And, against a team that has a 1 and a 2 that can pressure the ball, we’ll bring Sasha up to bring it up. So, we’re at least prepared for it.’’
The Celtics started their successful run against mostly sub-.500 teams. But a 91-72 win over the Heat April 1 signaled a new level in the team’s defensive effectiveness. The Heat have struggled on the road, but that was the only time they have been held to less than 82 points this season.
“Defensively, when you play like that you’re going to win a lot of games,’’ Rivers said Sunday. “I thought we played defense like that [in an 86-72 victory over Indiana Saturday] but we just couldn’t make a shot. [On Sunday], we played the exact same defense but the ball went in.
“The defense is really good. Guys are locked in. Your offense will fail you, you know that. I don’t care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes; but if you come with the right mind-set your defense never should. And it will always give you a chance to win a game.’’
Rondo will not be able to match John Stockton’s record of 29 successive double-digit assist games until next season. Rondo increased his career total to 3,417 and has a chance to catch Dennis Johnson (3,486) for seventh place on the all-time Celtics list.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.