Boston Celtics: Can Christmas Win in Brooklyn Key Another Second-Half Run?

It was just a year ago that the Boston Celtics started the season in a funk.

The Celtics were just 15-17 at the All-Star break and were being written off as a contender in the Eastern Conference.

Boston was too old it was being said; too dependent on the aging Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

But the Celtics got going … man, did they get going. Boston went 24-10 to close the truncated regular season and came within a game of making the NBA Finals before dropping the final two games to the Miami Heat in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals.

With a full training camp this season, but minus Allen—who took his talents to South Beach as a free agent last summer—the Celtics got off to another slow start.

Boston lost its first two games; at Miami (not a surprise) and at home to the Milwaukee Bucks (yeah, a surprise). The Celtics’ high-water mark so far this season came on Dec. 12, when they got to three games over .500 at 12-9 after a 117-115 double-overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks.

After that, Boston promptly went out and lost three in a row and four of five (including another loss at home to the Bucks) and was at 13-13 heading into its Christmas Day game against the Nets in Brooklyn.

The C’s hammered Brooklyn 93-76 on Tuesday afternoon in part because the worst rebounding team in the NBA out-boarded the Nets 41-36, led by Kevin Garnett’s 10.

Boston is currently last in the league at 38.6 rebounds per game. Garnett’s 7.1 average leads the team, with Pierce second at 5.7.

When Paul Pierce is your second-leading rebounders … yeah, you’re not doing well on the boards at all.

Does the win at Brooklyn mean all is right with the Celtics? Hardly.

But by the numbers, last season’s team wasn’t bad at the beginning of the year. Rather, it was unlucky. While many analysts pointed to Boston’s improvement at the defensive end as keying the second-half surge, the Celtics allowed 88.5 points and 41.8 percent shooting in their first 32 games.

After the All-Star break, the Celtics allowed 90.1 points and 42 percent shooting.

So where was that defensive improvement, again?

But this year, the results are bad because the team has serious problems.

The core of the team is another year older. The retooled roster isn’t coming together quite as smoothly as hoped.

This year’s Celtic squad is getting it done on offense. Boston averages 97.3 points a game and is shooting 46.8 percent from the floor—good enough to be ranked in the top five of the league.

But their opponents are shooting 45 percent, which puts the Celtics in the bottom half of the league defensively.

Garnett is still solid, even at age 36. Pierce still leads the team in scoring. Rajon Rondo is leading the planet in assists by a huge margin.

The rest of the roster has been problematic at best. Avery Bradley is close to returning from shoulder surgery and that will help. Rookie Jared Sullinger has been solid in spots and forward Jeff Green has averaged 9.8 points in 23 minutes a night off the bench in his return from open-heart surgery.

Brandon Bass, so good during Boston’s playoff run, has been terribly inconsistent. Bass is shooting only 43 percent from the floor while getting 8.3 points a night. Courtney Lee hasn’t produced as expected (6.3 points in 24 minutes of run).

Without Bradley available, Rondo has to play almost 38 minutes a night. Pierce is still playing more than 34 minutes a game, not ideal for a 35-year-old with more than 1,000 regular-season games on his odometer.

Last year’s team took off after the All-Star break because it kept doing the things it had been doing.

By contrast, this year’s Boston Celtics will have to get much better defensively and on the glass if they want to compete in the Eastern Conference in the spring.

That may be too much to hope for from this group this time around.

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