The Celtics start a really tough back-to-back tonight against the Detroit Pistons, who happen to be gaining strength. They just roasted Orlando and Minnesota (sandwiched around a loss to Indiana). The Celtics, meanwhile, are without Avery Bradley, which really limits their ability to do some of the things needed to beat the Pistons tonight.
1: Figure out how to defend the perimeter
If everyone was healthy, I’d be pushing hard for the Celtics to start Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart because Detroit’s guards can light it up. Not only do the Celtics have to worry about Reggie Jackson, who is currently tops in the NBA in drives per game… and no only do the Celtics have to worry about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who lit them up for 31 points the last time out as part of a really good December (and even better start to January)… the Celtics now have to contend with Brandon Jennings, who has returned and is coming off the bench to fuel a couple of huge blowouts. Jennings has had some big games against Boston as a Piston, and combined with Jackson and Pope, can become a major headache for the Celtics.
No Avery Bradley makes things very difficult for Boston. Their guards WILL light the Celtics up if the defensive effort isn’t there, and they might still do a fair amount of damage if it is. But if the Celtics can’t guard the perimeter and keep those guys from getting to the rim, we’ll see them all have big games…. and then Andre Drummond will have a field day cleaning up misses or catching lobs as Celtics big rotate to help.
Speaking of which…
2: Get Drummond off the post
Yes, easier said than done… and I’ve said this before when it comes to Drummond… but if he does get position in the post, the Celtics have to find a way to blitz him and get him off the block. Don’t let him back down sub-par defenders and get those shots in the only 10 square feet he can score in consistently.
3: Encourage isolations
The Pistons have the lowest assist percentage in the league, and the fourth-fewest assists per game. They’re averaging about 20 assists in wins and 17 in losses. Not a massive difference but if we see the Pistons driving and dishing and racking up assists, then this is going to be a long night. Keep these guys in front of you, force them into long, drawn-out isolations that basically freeze everyone else out.
4: Someone on the bench please step up!
Kelly Olynyk (if he’s not starting)? Jared Sullinger (if he’s not starting)? Tyler Zeller? RJ Hunter? Anyone? ANYONE?
The Celtics’ offensive rating with Isaiah Thomas on the floor is 107.8. Pretty good. The C’s offense really hums along with Thomas in there. When he’s not… 96.4. Terrible. No other player is close to that differential. Which means when Thomas is off the floor, someone on the bench needs to do something.
No, that last one wasn’t much of a “strategy” as much as it was “begging for someone to do something.” But seriously, this is a big problem.
This won’t be an easy game. The Celtics are facing a team with strong, penetrating guards and they just happen to be down one of their best perimeter defenders. The other, Marcus Smart, is still on his way back to full strength, which leaves the Celtics defense very vulnerable. This will require a totally focused team effort.
Of course, the Celtics just had massive letdowns against two of the worst teams in the league, so they’re due for a classic bounce-back total team victory. They can do it if they pull off this plan.