Boston Celtics: Checking in with team at All-Star break

Boston Celtics Brad Stevens (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics Brad Stevens (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics head into the All-Star weekend on a two-game winning streak and still within striking distance of the top-seed in the Eastern Conference.

NBA All-Star weekend is here, meaning it’s a good time to check in with the state of the Boston Celtics. There’s definitely a lot to touch base with.

Starting with the suggestion that Kyrie Irving not play in the game this weekend.

For all of the (perceived) drama of Irving’s pending free agency in the summer of 2019, the All-S

tar guard still carries importance to the Celtics. Irving, who has battled minor injuries throughout the season, has missed 11 games, including the three of the last five prior to All-Star weekend.

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Because of this, and at risk of re-aggravating one of the injuries in a meaningless exhibition game, Irving should not play. Go, enjoy the festivities but do not play a minute in the game.

Irving is too important to a team that, at 37-21, is not that far off the 40-19 record the Celtics had at this point last season.

The main difference in how this is viewed: Expectations were heavy entering 2018-19, in which dreams of a Golden State-like run through the Eastern Conference were envisioned.

Truth is, with the improvement of the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, a cakewalk was never going to happen.

Have there been struggles? Jekyll and Hyde performances in the first 58 games? Yes but by no means should the term “major disappointment” be slapped on the Celtics. Yet.

Boston Celtics through 58 games

Since January 1, the Celtics are 15-6. Considering they lost eight in November alone and five more in December, Boston is playing better basketball as the season marches along.

Still, there are certainly worrisome trends. When the Celtics lose, they do so in back-to-back games or a string of three. Or they do so in a completely frustrating manner, like blowing a 28-point lead at home. Or at the hands of Rajon Rondo.

Part of the reason Boston had so much success last season was their record on the road. The Celtics finished the 2017-18 season with a 28-13 road record, third-best in the NBA and best in the East. This season, however, they’ve already matched the same number of losses and sit 14-13 away from Boston.

Efficiency and consistency are two things holding the Celtics back as well. Both have been better in recent weeks, with bench play increasingly getting results and Al Horford has switched gears since the start of the calendar year. His importance, between talk of Irving, the bench, and the growth of Jayson Tatum, can sometimes be overlooked, but Horford’s passing, scoring, and rebounding are all reasons Boston stays efficient.

The offense switched gears over a brief period in late January/early February but has settled back in near their season averages. The Celtics are 12th in scoring at 113 points per game and shoot 37.2 percent from three-point range (5th overall and 1st in the Eastern Conference).

On the defensive end, Boston continues to be a top-five team in opponent scoring, ranked 5th at 106.6 ppg. The Celtics also thrive on their perimeter defense, holding opponents to 34 percent from beyond the arc, second in the NBA.

The big man factor

Interior defense for the Celtics has been a focal point over the past few seasons. Sure, the classic big man role has faded away in this new up-tempo, three-point happy NBA. But a big man to protect the rim, to rebound, and to occasionally score a few buckets would be nice.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-star caliber player. Greg Monroe did a decent job in this role last season for the Celtics, and Aron Baynes has done a good job but injuries have hampered his 2018-19 season.

If they can get Baynes back to full strength and Horford and Daniel Theis continue to play well, the three of them might be provide just enough presence to improve the interior defense. (Though perhaps a Robin Lopez or Marcin Gortat might be nice).

The Celtics are in fourth-place in the East, currently 6.5 games behind the Bucks. Barring a complete disaster, Boston should finish in the top five. A top three seed would be preferable and it’s still obtainable.

If not, they could be headed to a first-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers. Entertaining as that would be, I’d still rather Boston face them later in the playoffs, given the choice.

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One thing at a time, though. A winning streak out of the post-All Star weekend gate would be nice as would the health of the team. And if everything falls into place, the Boston Celtics will still be a threat in the East come April.