Brian Scalabrine thinks there’s just one problem behind the Celtics’ recent slip-up
“They just have one problem: they don’t play so hard when they’re comfortable.”
The Celtics have slipped a bit in recent weeks coming out of the All-Star break.
There were arguably two distinct high points in their recent 13-10 stretch that caused the most concern. The first came after a three-game losing streak earlier in March in which they blew double-digit leads at the Nets, Knicks and Cavaliers, respectively. The other came when the Celtics lost to the Rockets, who hold the league’s second-worst record, on Monday.
Boston still holds a winning record over its last 24 games, going 14-10, but that’s a far cry from the dominant streak it had in the first half of the season and second half of the regular season last year.
While many are trying to figure out why the Celtics haven’t been playing as well lately, NBC Sports Boston Celtics analyst Brian Scalabrine believes there’s only one root to their problems.
“They just have one problem: they don’t play that hard when they’re comfortable,” Scalabrine said on “The Lowe Post” podcast with ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Scalabrine said the Celtics playing too comfortably affects both ends of the field. Even though the Celtics are sixth in defensive rating (111.6) over their last 24 games, Scalabrine said he hasn’t seen the same intensity at end of the field as he has in the past, at least consistently. .
“They don’t keep close to the clip they used to keep,” Scalabrine said. “Before, everyone was fighting to be the best defender in the team. It was a good rivalry… It was one thing. They were proud to keep the ball. They were proud to have knocked out the other team’s best player.
“I actually believe they have moments of that. But they are far, far away from a 48mins-a-game team that sits down defensively and really works that side of the ball.
The Celtics offense took a more noticeable dip. After posting a historic offensive rating at the start of the season, Boston has an offensive rating of 115.2 over its last 24 games, ranking 16th in the league over that stretch.
Scalabrine also attributed the drop in production to a drop in constant effort.
“It was like almost overnight, they got a bit lazy offensively,” Scalabrine said. “As in, ‘I don’t really need to do that extra stuff. I don’t really need to kick the ball two or three times. I could just get up and get up and do the kick. Or I could just force a shot on a guy at the rim. And off you go. Those are fundamental things in the NBA that you have to do to be great.”
“The Celtics have been relentless driving and hitting and attacking,” Scalabrine added. “They’re not like that anymore.”
Lowe presented a pair of stats that supported Scalabrine’s argument that they aren’t necessarily trying as hard as they used to on the offensive end. He noted that while the Celtics haven’t been a team that hits the free throw line much this season (25th in free throw rate), they ranked 28th in free throw rate in their 23 games before. Friday’s win. on the Trail Blazers and they were also the last to shoot from half-range during that streak.
Scalabrine speculated that the Celtics might just be a team that thinks “it’s a long season and we’re just going to flip the switch.” He thinks they can flip the switch, but doesn’t “know for sure” as he noted habits could be formed from slip-ups like the one the Celtics have been on recently.
However, Scalabrine believes the imminent return of Rob Williams could give them exactly what they need. Offensively, he believes Williams can provide the rim pressure needed to allow for more open looks along the perimeter while providing pivot play around the rim defensively.
“It always comes down to the restriction area (play) and the rebound of the ball,” Scalabrine said. “When Rob is playing, they’re by far the best restriction-area team in the NBA. When he’s not, they’re like, 27th.
Scalabrine may be right. Between Dec. 16 and March 1, a streak in which Williams played 27 games, the Celtics went 23-11 but posted a 4.8 net rating in that span, which was third-best of the league during this period.
The Celtics could be back on track, at least in terms of offensive aggression, in their win over the Trail Blazers on Friday. They fired 35 free throws, the third they’ve fired in a game this season, as Jayson Tatum fired nine free throws in the first quarter of the 126-112 win.
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