Forsberg: Five ways to cure what ails the struggling Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Celtics are in a big funk.
The Greens have lost five of their last six games. A once offender at a historic rate died last in December. Jayson Tatum suggested after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers that the Celtics, a team tied for the most wins in the NBA, need to “learn how to win again.”
Well, luckily for the Celtics, we have *FIVE* surefire ways to get them to start winning again. And, no, it’s not “do more 3 points” listed five times, although that would definitely help.
1. Be tougher
For all their obvious talents, the Celtics have had multiple instances in the past two regular seasons where they have not responded well to adversity. You were probably hoping some of these had been resolved after watching this team make their way through the playoffs last year. Sadly, from an inability to capitalize on their emotions against Golden State, to an inability to stop a deficit that snowballed to 30 points against Indiana Wednesday night, the Celtics need to handle the turmoil better.
Too often in the last handful of games, it’s simply boiled down to teams that play harder than Boston and the Celtics seem to wither when things don’t go their way, particularly on the offensive end. No team wants to earn a reputation as favorites, and Boston must prove they can thrive even when things don’t go their way. After Wednesday’s loss, Tatum noted, “We’re not going to take all the shots, we’re going to run the ball, it’s all about how we hit back. And, as a group, we can’t let it snow.”
2. Do more layups
Yep, plus 3s would be great for a team shooting a horrific 31.8 percent over the 3-point arc in December. But Wednesday night’s problem was much closer to the basket. The Celtics were improbably 16 of 36 shooting at the rim (within 4 feet). Boston is shooting 67 percent on field goals this season. The league average is 66.2%. Oklahoma City is last in the NBA with 62%.
Yet the Celtics were 18% worse than the Thunder’s league-worst average on Wednesday night. Boston’s comeback attempt has regularly been hampered by smoking bunnies (sorry I picked you, Payton Pritchard) and the team simply needs to improve this close to the basket.
3. Eliminate Derrick White’s Crisis
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Again, it’s unfair to isolate someone. But White was so good to start the season and his impact on Boston’s hot start flew under the radar. Now, as the Celtics crumble, his individual struggles are under the microscope (although he’s not the only one having a rough time this month).
White has not made more than one field goal in any of Boston’s last five losses. He’s a combined 4 of 29 in those games. White missed all seven of the shots he caught against the Pacers and, in the second half, seemed hesitant to hit open 3-pointers.
White can’t be shy. Yes he is breaking down and maybe the team needs to do more to help him out. But he’s too good to let his shooting problems affect his all-around play.
4. Make more 3 pointers
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OK, we lied. He’s on the list (even if only once). It says something that the Celtics can be so excruciatingly bad from distance in December yet still rank second overall in the NBA this season in 3-point shooting (42.5%) behind only the Mavericks (45.2). The biggest lesson here is that the Celtics can’t just live or die on the triple.
5. Get healthy, free Rob
The Celtics are unlikely to be 0-3 since the return of Robert Williams III. Time Lord was even better than we initially expected when he returned. Yes, he still needs to improve his conditioning and will likely move even better as he slowly shakes off the rust from missing the first 29 games. But the impact of him is so evident.
The Celtics nearly rallied in Wednesday’s game based only on Williams III’s grit (and also Jayson Tatum’s shooting). The Celtics have still been operating shorthanded recently. With the potential to be as close to full health as possible, perhaps it’s time to shuffle the Williams III back into the starting pack and figure out how the rotation flows from there. Perhaps it would be enough to restart a collapsing bench and help the owners regain their bravado.