The Boston Celtics have struggled with the game of runs throughout the first four games of their second-round series against the Washington Wizards. Is it time for the Celtics to make a lineup change? What do they need to do to mitigate the problems the Wizards have exposed?
The Boston Celtics fell 121-102 in Washington to lose their second straight game. Their second-round playoff series with the Wizards is now evened up at two games apiece.
Looking back on it, Boston might call themselves fortunate to be locked in a tie with Washington. Despite winning the first two games of the series at home, the Celtics have shown more bad than good. They’ve yet to lead after the first half in each of the first four games. Boston trailed after the first 24 minutes in games one, two, and three. In game four, they were tied with the Wizards at 48 apiece going into the intermission.
The Celtics fell apart in the third quarter of game four. They scored the first five points of the quarter to lead 53-48 but then allowed Washington to go on a 26-0 run which put them in front 74-53. The Wizards held Boston scoreless for six minutes and 29 seconds before Al Horford ended the run with a basket. The Celtics rallied to outscore Washington in the fourth quarter, but the hole they put themselves in the third was just too much to overcome.
This team has struggled all series with runs, and those struggles were magnified during games three and four when Boston’s shooting fell off a cliff. In games one and two, the Celtics shot a combined 91-178 (51.1%) from the field and 32-75 (42.6%) from three-point range. Their success on offense at home allowed them to overcome runs by the Wizards, ultimately leading to a 2-0 series lead. After switching to Washington, the team has just seemed off. They shot a combined 62-156 (33.3%) from the field and 24-63 (38.1%) from deep over their back to back losses in games three and four.
The game of runs has not been in the Celtics favor very often during this tense series with the Wizards. In game one they fell behind 16-0 and trailed by as much as 17 before rallying with a strong third quarter. Boston trailed by 13 after the first quarter in game two and went on a late run to tie the game in the fourth quarter courtesy of baskets by Isaiah Thomas and Terry Rozier. Thomas’s nine points in the overtime period helped the Celtics pull the game out from under Washington’s nose.
The Wizards regained their composure in game three and used a 22-0 first-quarter run to jump all over Boston early to get back into the series. You know what happened in game four.
Offensive consistency throughout runs is an area the Celtics have to be trying to fix in game five. It is crucial to continue scoring with the high powered offense that Washington boasts. Their starting five has killed Boston’s defense all series, regardless of who’s been on the court for the Celtics. It’s up to Brad Stevens to find the correct lineup to mitigate the Wizards success, but I’d like to see more of Terry Rozier alongside Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt. Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart could man the small forward position. Jae Crowder, Al Horford, and Kelly Olynyk should see the majority of the frontcourt minutes. Rozier’s quickness and ability to handle the ball could be useful alongside the Celtics starters as he and Thomas could each run the offense. Rozier is also one of the better rebounders on the roster and the Celtics went a combined -26 in rebounds over games three and four. In games one and two they went a combined -3.
The offensive slump that Boston fell into over games three and four could be something that the Celtics need to be concerned about. It looked like Washington really settled down on defense and found their rhythm on both sides of the court as they tore apart the Celtics. Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart have each had some tough struggles over the losses.
Crowder, especially to me, has just been playing out of the flow of the offense. Every time he touches the ball it seems to be a three-pointer, a tough drive that might draw a foul, or a pass. It’s just plain ugly basketball to watch, and then at times he’ll get hot and have a good shooting game which actually opens up those driving lanes for him. However, in games three and four he did not shoot well. Crowder averaged 10 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 3 steals during the losses. He shot 6-19 (31.5%) from the field and 2-7 (28.6%) from three-point range.
Bradley has been plagued by a right hip flexor, and of course, he happened to suffer a left hip flexor during game four. The injury seems to be detracting from his ability to contribute and that definitely showed during the trip to Washington. Bradley averaged 6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2 assists on 5-17 (29.4%) shooting from the field and 2-9 (22.2%) shooting from deep.
Smart has been cold from the field while struggling to handle the ball. He turned the ball over a career-high eight times during game three, but cut it down to only two turnovers in game-four. Smart averaged 9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1.5 steals over the two losses. He shot 4-16 (25%) from the field and 3-8 (37.5%) from behind the arc.
All three of these guys need to put together solid games for Boston to have a shot at winning game five. The Celtics have consistently gotten open looks but failed to knock many of them down and have struggled with live ball turnovers. Their shooters simply have to work their way out of the slumps they’re all experiencing. Hopefully being back in front of the home crowd in Boston will help a few more shots hit the bottom of the net.
Game five will be the most important 48 minutes that the Celtics have played all season. It’s time to see what this team has in their heart.