Boston Celtics Still Playing Down to Competition
The Boston Celtics are getting the wins, but cannot be satisfied with the way they are playing weaker teams
The Boston Celtics have played the Philadelphia 76ers twice this season now, and both times they secured a victory, meaning they avoided any kind of real disaster. That being said, the Celtics won those games by a combined five total points. The Celtics have done a good job of defeating the inferior teams, but they still are not getting the separation on the scoreboard that their record and potential should allow for.
This problem of playing down to the competition and allowing the inferior teams to hang around has not just been an issue with the 76ers. The Celtics have the two worst teams in the East in their division and, again, they cannot be upset considering they have beat them all four times.
The Brooklyn Nets have not been as problematic as the 76ers, as they did get one commanding victory in their last meeting, but having three of their four games against the two worst teams in the conference decided by five points or less is a little troubling.
The Celtics have had one truly dominant performance against an inferior team this season and, of course, it came without Isaiah Thomas and largely because of the second unit against the Orlando Magic. Other than that, the Celtics have lost to teams they should have no problem beating in the Denver Nuggets and the New Orleans Pelicans and more slight victories against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Sacramento Kings and the Miami Heat are continuing that trend of playing down to the competition.
The Celtics have the third best record in the East and are just two and a half games behind the Raptors, despite the injury troubles. The Celtics should be okay with where they are in the standings, but a weak point differential demonstrates how they have been struggling to take over the teams they should be dominating at this point.
At +2.2, both the Raptors and the Cavaliers more than triple their differential, and they have the Hornets and the Bucks behind them in the standings, who stand at +2.2 and +2.3 respectively. When comparing them to the top of the West it gets even more concerning as the top five teams all have differentials better than +3.6.
Of course, complaining about a weak point differential is nit picking a bit. The fact that the Celtics have been able to win a lot of close games is a testament to how good they are in the fourth, and will better prepare them to be a team that can come up in clutch situations. That being said, the Celtics cannot throw away victories against any of these inferior teams and expect to keep pace with the teams that blow out that kind of competition on a regular basis.
The Celtics are growing and that should help with consistency throughout the game. With Boston’s shooting struggles they often become a streaky team, allowing those weaker teams to go on the runs that keep them in those games. An incredibly young second unit has also had too many lapses that have allowed teams back into games, including that very first game of the season against the Nets.
The Celtics are in the process of developing from that overachieving under talented team, into an Eastern Conference powerhouse. Unfortunately, the Celtics still are not at that point and this inability to increase the gap between them and the inferior teams in the biggest difference right now.
The Celtics have proven that they are capable of playing with anyone in the league. They still do not to expect to beat the Cavaliers and Warriors, but they are confident in their ability to keep those games competitive, and defeat the next tier teams. The Celtics had a commanding victory against a strong West team with the best defense in the league in the Utah Jazz. They have seen both the Thunder and the Warriors while shorthanded, and just barely missed out on a victory and another two close loses to the Spurs have made it clear that they will be great competition for the best teams in the league.
There is a difference, however, when it comes to those top teams. The Celtics have been close but the way they have struggled against those top tier teams compared to the ones right below them is a demonstration of the transition they are going through. The Celtics are also 4-0 in two games against the Hornets and two agaisnt the Grizzlies. While the Celtics still have not taken that leap in defeating the very best teams in the league, they have proven that they will be able to beat anyone else.
The Celtics are still growing and the more time they get together at full strength will be the best way to bring them to the next level. That being said, until the Celtics can start beating the top tier teams in the league, the cannot afford to be playing down to their competition and throwing games away against non playoff teams that are already focusing on where they will be picking in the lottery.