Posted Apr 26 2010 11:32AM
MIAMI -- Compared to where they were about 10 days ago, the Boston Celtics are looking pretty good. They fell victim to a Dwyane Wade onslaught on Sunday afternoon, but still hold a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round series with the Miami Heat, with Game 5 on Tuesday night in Boston.
No team, with perhaps the exception of the Chicago Bulls, came into the postseason playing worse than the Celtics. They were 27-27 since Christmas and lost seven of their last 10 regular season games. But they seemingly flipped the switch in the third quarter of Game 1 last Saturday and, since then, have looked more like the team that started the season 23-5.
The Celtics' defense has been absolutely stifling for stretches in this series, the C's have been strong on the defensive boards since Game 1, and the Big Three has looked fresh.
Still, this team has some issues to address...
After committing 16.7 turnovers per 100 possessions (second most in the league) before the All-Star break, the Celtics coughed it up just 14.4 times per 100 possessions over the last two months. But the turnover issue has popped up again in this series.
The Celtics have committed 62 turnovers in this series, 15.5 per game and 17.1 per 100 possessions. While Wade's fourth quarter was the turning point of Game 4, the Celtics would not have been in a position to get beat by one guy if they had just taken care of the ball in the first quarter, when they turned the ball over nine times.
As bad as their turnover problems have been, only once had they committed more than nine in a period. And only once have they allowed more than 28 points off turnovers in a game.
The Heat defense deserves some credit for the Celtics' turnover issues, but mostly, Boston needs to be sharper offensively. The importance of every possession is greater in the playoffs.
Doc Rivers has made it clear that rebounding has been priority No. 1 with his team in this series, but defensive rebounding and offensive rebounding are two very different things.
The Celtics have been excellent on one end of the floor. Since allowing the Heat to grab 10 offensive boards through the first 30 minutes of Game 1, they've allowed just 26 over the last 162 minutes. Rivers' players have answered his plea for better work on the defensive glass.
The offensive glass is another story. The Celtics were the third-worst offensive rebounding team in the league this season, and their numbers have been even worse through the first four games of the playoffs. They had 21 offensive boards in Games 2 and 3 combined, and one of the biggest plays in Game 3 was Rajon Rondo's rebound of a Paul Pierce miss in the closing minutes. But the Celtics had just five offensive boards in Game 1 and just four in Game 4.
Rivers doesn't care much about offensive rebounds. He'd rather his team get back on defense and prevent transition buckets. There's nothing wrong with that, but when you combine the Celtics' turnover issues with their lack of offensive boards, they're just not getting enough shots at the basket. Boston ranked last this season in field-goal attempts per possession and the Heat have attempted 14 more shots than the Celtics in this series.
Overall, the Celtics' defense has been very good. But there's a distinct contrast between their defensive numbers in the first two games of this series and their numbers in the last two.
In Games 1 and 2, the Celtics allowed the Heat to shoot just 39 percent from the field and score 153 points on 177 possessions, or 86.4 per 100. In Games 3 and 4, they allowed Miami to shoot 50 percent and score 199 points on 180 possessions, or 110.6 per 100.
That's the difference between championship defense and Raptor defense.
Consistency was a big problem for the Celtics over the last 3 ½ months of the season. Whenever they put together a big win or two, they'd seemingly fall back into a state of mediocrity. In general, they've looked strong over the last eight days, but the numbers don't lie. They can play better.
They still have complete control of this series and will likely close it out on Tuesday. But the level of competition will take a big step up in the conference semifinals. And as always in the playoffs, weaknesses will be magnified.
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