Eleven games stand between the Boston Celtics and a 2015 playoff birth. I would have never thought I’d be writing those words if you asked me in September.
Now, it’s a reality. As of Friday morning, the Celtics are in 8th place, a half game ahead of the Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, and Charlotte Hornets. Good lord, what a mess.
If the Celtics do want to make the playoffs, they need to begin by playing better in the first quarter. Over the course of the game the Celtics improve with each passing quarter, but their first quarter stats are a problem.
Here are the scoring numbers for the Celtics by quarter:
What can we take from this? One thing is that Brad Stevens is a master in game manager. He makes adjustments and helps his team score more each quarter, while keeping the opponent’s number pretty consistent. Brad Stevens in not a set rotation type of coach. He goes with the guys that are playing well, especially as the game progresses. His end of game line-ups vary from night to night. In the loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Stevens played Phil Pressey, Gigi Datome, Marcus Smart, and Jonas Jerebko all more than 11 minutes in the fourth quarter. They were spear heading the comeback, so he let it ride. Some coaches in the same situation might rush to get the best players back in the gams as the deficit becomes more manageable. Not Stevens.
This trend might also highlight a weakness for Stevens, too: pre-game preparation and motivation. Stevens is a soft spoken guy, which is something I admire about him. However, I wonder if that rubs off a bit on the players. Does he begin the game with less of an edge?
Is this a stretch? Sure it is, but if Brad Stevens eases into the game (which seems to be the case looking at the quarterly numbers), who’s to say that the team doesn’t take on the persona a little bit? On Wednesday night the Celtics were downright awful in the first quarter (well the first three quarters, really). When it was announced that Dwayne Wade and Hassan Whiteside were out I thought the game would be a cakewalk. Maybe the Celtics had the same sensation and Stevens couldn’t get through to them.
Stevens has also had the disadvantage of not really having a set, solid starting line-up. Injuries, trades, suspensions, and poor play have all forced Steven’s hand. They have used 13 different starting line ups, the second most frequent line up, Jared Sullinger, Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, and Kelly Olynyk, only has two of those players still on the active roster.
Maybe this has nothing to do with Stevens but, instead, the veterans on this team need to step up and take ownership in the locker room. It is a young team, but guys like Evan Turner and Gerald Wallace and Brandon Bass should be able to get the starters more focused at the start of a game.
With 11 games left, we have to wonder if Stevens and his starters can find the perfect elixir for these first quarter woes. Is Isaiah Thomas a possible shot in the arm to the starting line up? Maybe he is, but then would the second unit loose more of it’s battle?
If the Celtics don’t make the playoffs, they’ll probably be able to point to a few slow (and nervous?) starts to games, which could cost them in the end.