The Good and the Bad: Al Horford, Devin Booker, and More

The home stretch has been mostly good for the Celtics, but Devin Booker has made it impossible to ignore the bad.

As we count down the last 10 games of the regular season, the Celtics have put themselves in a great position to finish as one of the top two teams in the East. The Celtics are 21 games above .500 for the first time since 2011 when Shaquille O’Neal was their starting center. Along the way, the Celtics have taken some steps back, raising concern for their ability to stay consistent in the playoffs, but as one would hope, they have taken two steps forward (9-4 record in March) for every step back (bad losses to Philly, Denver, Phoenix). I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about the Celtics recently, so I’m going to look at the good and the bad in recent games, as well as give my thoughts on the conclusion of the regular season.

Good: Al Horford. After posting his worst eFG% (44.2) for a single month in his career in February, Al bounced back with his best eFG% (63.3) for a month (with three games in March remaining). During the Celtics vs. Suns broadcast, Tommy Heinsohn noted that Horford was getting more looks closer to the basket, which has allowed him to thrive in the Celtics offense. Shooting aside, Horford has just packed the stat sheet in March, flirting with triples doubles almost every other game, but never actually recording one.

Opponent Pts Reb Asst
CLE 9 10 10
CHI 12 7 6
MIN 20 9 8
PHI 27 8 6
IND 15 8 8
PHO 15 10 6

Boston has retooled their offense as of late, moving on from the “C’mon Isaiah, do something crazy” strategy to putting the ball in other players’ hands to start some possessions, and sometimes just running the offense entirely through Horford. While we’re accustomed to seeing guards bring the ball up while big men jockey for position inside, we saw a possession against the Suns, for example, where Horford and Johnson touched the ball at the top of the key while three guards were cutting on the inside. Horford has had his struggles, but his passing has been consistently on point.

Bad: Blown leads. The Celtics have earned a 6-10-point lead in 62 of their games this season, in which they post a -9.0 rating in 579 minutes. 46 times they have amassed a lead of 11-15 points, where they hoist a rating of -33.8 in 342 minutes. In the 24 instances of holding a 16-20 point lead, their rating drops to -36.3 in 137 minutes. Needless to say, the better the score, the worse they play.

For comparison, they have a +18.6 rating when they’re the ones down by 16-20, and that number jumps to +25.3 when the deficit is between 11 and 15 points. The trend continues as the deficit shrinks, you get the idea. Note: just about every team follows this trend, but the numbers aren’t as extreme in contrast.

I won’t point fingers at any specific players or coaches, but it’s evident that the offense stalls out when the Celtics are ahead. It could be the effort, lineups, coaching, or any combination of the three. Given how efficient the starting lineup has been as of late, I could only assume this issue has to do with bench players meshing with their teammates.

Good: Tyler Zeller?! Normally I would say “If things aren’t broke, don’t fix them”, but master tactician Brad Stevens’ seamless transition of Zeller’s minutes crowding out Jerebko’s has done some good in the limited minutes that Zeller has gotten. It won’t show up on the stat sheet, but Zeller looks ready for action and was more involved in the offense than I expected. The main advantage Zeller brings is the ability to somehow break away as a seven-footer and grab easy transition baskets, something that Jerebko, in particular, does not offer.

Bad: Devin Booker scores 70. Yes, there was some stat padding, but, come on, 70?! I don’t mind the stat padding, but I do take issue with Terry Rozier being allowed within 15 feet of a hot shooter. I also don’t like seeing the Celtics rush possessions with a lead hovering around a dozen with two minutes left on the clock. Poor time management and defensive mismatches gift wrapped Booker an extra 10 points or so in a game that the Celtics could have benefited from a blowout by resting their starters. Instead, Isaiah Thomas had to briefly come back in with about a minute left, and Jae Crowder finished the game on the floor. Does that extra minute played really hurt him? It didn’t help.

Good: Six wins in the last seven games. This is partially due to an easy schedule, but the win over Washington was a good sign headed towards the playoffs. The Wizards are bullies, and that’s not a criticism, it’s just who they are. For every ounce of tranquility provided by Horford and Bradley, there is an equal amount of emotional intensity from Thomas and Crowder. The Celtics have won five games by double digits in a month for the first time this season with three games remaining, one of which is against Orlando, who the Celtics beaten by exactly 30 points twice already this season.

Bad: Jae Crowder on social media - “NEVER SEEN SO MANY GUYS HAPPY AFTER AN 'L'”. I love when players show emotion on the court, and, situationally, off as well. Twitter, Instagram and the like are not those situations. Let it be known that Crowder always posts in all capital letters, so it’s easy to overstate his emotion, but he’s basically the only professional athlete in the state of Massachusetts who makes inflammatory statements on social media, and it makes him stick out like a sore thumb.

It’s nice to see the Celtics do so well (knock on wood) for themselves in the regular season and likely earn themselves a high playoff seed (knocking intensifies), giving themselves an opportunity to match up with Indiana, a once dark house team that is now thought to be the most advantageous matchup, Paul George and all. Six of the final nine games are at home, and all-in-all, the roster looks as strong as it’s been. 

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