One Thing the Boston Celtics Need to Improve Post All-Star Break

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Twenty-eight regular season games remain for the Boston Celtics.  They'll begin that stretch with a contest in Minnesota on Friday night.  At this point, I think it's fair to say the Celtics are safely in the playoffs.  What's still up for grabs though, is playoff seeding.

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In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks are in a class of their own.  Following that comes a jumble of five teams with similar talent levels; to the point where home court advantage could be the deciding factor in a playoff series.

Everybody likes to say that the regular season in the NBA is irrelevant.  Talent always wins out in the playoffs regardless of seeding.  While that may largely be the case, it's not entirely true.  Think back to some of the recent playoff series for the Celtics.  Take two years ago against the Bucks, and three years ago against the Washington Wizards as examples.

In both cases, the Celtics won in a game 7 on their home floor.  I think it's fair to say that the outcome may have been different without home court advantage.  So, the regular season is largely irrelevant, until you get to a game 7 and that "meaningless" win in January is the reason you're playing in front of your home fans.

So, needless to say this stretch run for Boston is not meaningless, even if they are playoff-bound.  With the top seed seemingly out of reach, the 2, or 3 seed is where the Celtics want to be.  Obviously, the 2 seed is what you're aiming for, but finishing as 2 or 3 allows you to avoid the Bucks for another round.
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This team has the talent for a deep playoff run.  As with any team, health is the number one priority.  Guys have been in and out of the lineup all season long.  In terms of play on the court, Boston has done a lot of things well this season.  However, there's one area they need to clean up over this final stretch of games as they head into the postseason; and that is their first quarter performance.

The first quarter has easily been Boston's worst quarter this year; no matter how you look at it.  In their 16 losses, they've found themselves down double digits in the first quarter in half of them; and have been down by at least nine points in a few others.

Even in several of their wins, the Celtics have found themselves down big early, but have managed to claw their way back into it and eventually came away with a victory.  While it's fun and exciting to watch - because this team is truly never out of a game - it's not exactly a great recipe for success.

It takes a lot of energy and exertion to overcome these types of deficits.  Many times teams will spend so much energy getting back into the game that they don't have enough left to finish it.  In the playoffs, when the game slows down a bit, and each possession is critical, the Celtics can't afford to keep falling behind big early.  They must get off to better starts.

To me, it's just a matter of execution.  It doesn't feel like an instance of the team not being ready to go.  Many times, the team is just unable to make shots, for whatever reason.

They are 20th in the league in first quarter scoring, averaging just under 27 points.  Boston's average scoring margin in the first quarter is zero.  They are the only team in the league with an even zero.  Meaning on average they are finishing the first quarter tied with their opponent.

Doesn't seem like a bad spot to be in right?  Better than having a negative margin.  However, when you look at their numbers for the remaining three quarters, you realize the impact that a better start to the game could have on this team.

Boston's second quarter scoring is a slight improvement at just over 27 points, and on average they are outscoring teams by 1.6 points.  It's the second half where Boston makes its mark, though.

They are third in the league in third quarter scoring (29.6 points), and tied for second in fourth quarter scoring (28.5).  They hold a league best scoring differential of +3.9 points in the 3rd quarter, and a mark of +2.6 in the fourth.

That's how they've been able to overcome a lot of slow starts.  They come out charged up after halftime and take control of the game.  Their fourth quarter success has the potential to carry them a long way in the postseason.  It's their versatility that will make them so dangerous.

Whereas teams like Milwaukee and both teams in Los Angeles have one, or two guys they can lean on down the stretch, the Celtics could potentially lean on one of any four guys.  Kemba Walker is a certified closer.  Jayson Tatum is starting to become one.  Gordon Hayward was one in Utah, and is currently enjoying his best season as a Celtic.  Jaylen Brown is as well.

That puts defenses in a tough spot, and almost forces them to play straight up, one-on-one defense.  You can certainly put some extra attention on certain guys like Walker and Tatum, but you have to still be wary of Hayward and Brown.  This gives Brad Stevens - who is already a wizard drawing up plays out of timeouts - with plenty of options.

If Boston can find more consistency in the way it starts games, and continues to finish games the way they have been all season, they are going to be a very difficult out in the postseason.  They may surprise folks with just how far they go.




Chirp me on Twitter @mcvay34


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Boston Sports Syndicate: One Thing the Boston Celtics Need to Improve Post All-Star Break
One Thing the Boston Celtics Need to Improve Post All-Star Break
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