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What's Wrong In Boston? Breaking Down the Celtics Recent Slump

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"We took a deep breath and relaxed." This was Malcolm Brogdon's answer when asked what the locker room's response was to finding out Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would miss Tuesday's game in Oklahoma City. Well, it turns out that might have been an understatement from Brogdon. Oklahoma City embarrased Boston from the opening tip as they handed the Celtics their worst regular season loss since January of 2003. The quote from Brogdon seems to summarize the last several weeks of Celtic basketball. A team that was unanimously the best in the league a mere three weeks now finds themselves in the midst of a heated Eastern Conference playoff race, where they sit just three games out of fifth. So, what has been the reason for this ugly stretch of basketball? I came up with five areas that have contributed to the recent 5-7 stretch in Boston:

1. Shooting

We've all heard the saying "It's a make or miss league" a time or two. Over the last few weeks, Celtics fans have heard it one too many. Boston began the season with some of the best shot-making the NBA had ever seen. By the end of November the Celtics had four players in the top ten in three point shooting percentage, and were shooting over 40% from three as a team. If you're a Celtics fan I'm sure you heard all the "regression" talk throughout the media and opposing fanbases that said Boston's hot shooting would eventually come back down to earth. Boy were they right. Over the past 12 games, Boston has shot 30% or worse from three in eight of the twelve games. Not good. Their team percentage over that span is 31.1%, which would sit last in the NBA if it were a full season of data. Whether this cold shooting stretch is a result of simply not making shots, getting lower quality shots, or something else is tough to answer. In my opinion, the shots Boston are missing seem to be decent looks most of the time. This team is full of great shooters, and they need to capitalize on that. However, Boston tends to fall in love with the three entirely too much. For whatever reason they fail to recognize when they aren't hitting from deep, and refuse to focus on driving the ball more and playing from inside-out. Let's hope regression strikes again, this time in Boston's favor, and the Celtics can get their shooters back on target.

2. The Bench

The offseason addition of Malcolm Brogdon provided a much needed boost to Boston's second unit which was already solid, but lacked some scoring punch. Throughout the early part of the season, the bench squad including the likes of Brogdon, Grant Williams, Hauser, Kornet, Griffin, and Rob Williams when healthy, was more than serviceable. Brogdon played like who he is, which is a starter on most teams, and Grant Williams just kept being one of the best glue-guys in the NBA. Sam Hauser looked like Duncan Robinson wearing a green jersey, and the Kornet contest was breaking social media. They were doing all this with Robert Williams still out due to injury, and it is yet to be decided whether Rob will slide back into the starting lineup or whether Derrick White will remain there. But, since mid-December they all have seemingly dissapeared. Don't believe me? Here are some eyepopping numbers.


Malcolm Brogdon

October (38.1) November (54.0) December (34.7)

Sam Hauser

October (55.6) November (46.2) December (28.3)

Derrick White

October (43.5) November (45.7) December (23.5)

It's pretty easy to tell when the Celtics began to struggle. These guys are probably not as good of shooters as they showed in November, but they also aren't nearly as bad as they were in December. Nobody expects any of the reserves to average 20 a game or shoot 50% from three. Their role is to provide defensive energy off the bench, and knock down open shots. Brogdon and White occasionally will take on a bigger scoring role if need be, but outside of that it's pretty simple. Along with everyone not named Jayson or Jaylen, the bench unit had as bad of a month as you could imagine. Better days are ahead.

3. Al Horford

It's hard to put much blame, if any, on the 36-year old journeyman, but he's been hurting Boston recently. With Robert Williams still not back to full health, more pressure was going to be placed upon Big Al to patrol the paint. He did an exceptional job early on. Al was shooting the lights out from three, and looked like the Al Horford from the 2022 playoff run. Recently, it's been a bit different. Horford averaged just 7.4 PPG in December, compared to 12.0 in November. Al attempted 63 field goals in December, 49 of them were three's. It's like Horford all the sudden turned into a strict spot-up shooter. I know Al doesn't have the same 1-on-1 ability he used to, but I still think he can provide much more to this offense than he is now. Horford went the entire month of December without attempting a free-throw. Al needs to provide more to this offense than he is right now.

4. Opponents

It's hard to put the blame on anyone outside of the Celtics for this poor stretch, but it does seem like every game these days consists of a team going crazy from three. The numbers support it too. Over the first 26 games, Celtic opponents shot 35% from three. The last 12 have seen the opponents up that number to 38.2%. It might seem small, but 3.2% can be a big difference over a long period of time. The past two games against Denver and Oklahoma City saw both teams shoot over 50% from distance. You could either attribute these numbers to bad defense or just hot shooting from other teams, but I truly believe it's a little of both. Boston can be better with their rotations and simply staying in front of their man to prevent rotations from having to take place, but they also can't really control Bones Hyland banking in 30-footers. If this trend continues, the defense will have to take a look in the mirror and make some corrections.

5. Robert Williams' Health

Robert Williams is back, but not all the way. It's no secret what he does for this team, both offensively and defensively. While he is back to playing, he's not fully back to playing with no restricitions, and the moment he can can't come soon enough. In my opinion, once Rob is available to, he should take Derrick White's place in the starting lineup. The Celtics are a good team without Robert Williams. The Celtics can be a great team with Robert Williams. He is such a ceiling-raiser for this squad and I think we forget that Boston has played 90% of this season without their All-Defensive center. Williams takes pressure off the perimeter defenders, gives Boston's defense more versatility, and provides a major rebounding boost. With a healthy Robert Williams, Boston can unlock a new level of play that can steady the ship.

Let's hope the Celtics make some adjustments before Thursday's matchup with Luka Doncic, or there might be a new NBA scoring record.


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