Through three games, the Boston Celtics have made a frustrating habit of beginning bouts like drying cement is stuck to the bottoms of their shoes and 75-pound weight vests are fastened around their chests.
It took five minutes for Boston to trail New York 17-9. The deficit would increase to 16 during the second quarter before the smelling salts began to work and Boston seized control in the third, ultimately coming unhinged down the stretch amid a hail storm of Carmelo Anthony.
It took barely more than five minutes for the Celtics to trail Miami 21-11. The Celtics eventually fought back within three by the end of the first quarter, but the Heat blitzed Boston in the second and built a 20-point lead by the third, when announcer Steve Kerr noted that Doc Rivers would be best served resting his starters for the rest of the game. Evidence that Kerr probably shouldn’t be a coach (we already know he shouldn’t be a GM), the Celtics eventually scratched within three points before something called Norris Cole revealed his finishing move.
The Celtics actually started the New Orleans game with a bang, building a 9-2 lead almost instantly. But by the six-minute mark the comatose Celtics had returned — the Hornets seized a 10-9 lead and finished the first quarter ahead 24-18, even without leading scorer Eric Gordon.
Keyon Dooling described the starts as if they were just a result of lacking energy, and perhaps that’s the case.
“Three home road openers, so those teams were all pumped. They were the aggressors initially, and we were on our heels. We have to be the aggressors initially. We’ll get it corrected,” said Dooling, according to the Boston Herald.
But it should also be noted that bad starts are considerably more likely to happen when a team starts a lineup that consistently performs at a sub-standard level. And Boston’s starting five, predictably, has been among the team’s worst units through three games.
Maybe that’s mostly due to energy, like Dooling suggests, and has nothing to do with the fact that Boston starts both Sasha Pavlovic and Jermaine O’Neal, who have combined to score just 20 points in 97 minutes. But I would wager the poor starts are as much a result of the starting lineup as they are a result of any amount of jet lag, partying in South Beach, away court disadvantage or whatever other excuses the Celtics might conjure in their brains.
It’s a small sample size, but Boston’s starting lineup has played 29.07 minutes as a unit this season according to BasketballValue.com– more than double the amount of time the next-most frequently used unit has played — and been outscored by 19.24 points per 100 possessions. Considering that Pavlovic and O’Neal both start, the lineup is predictably low-scoring, pouring in 98.31 points per 100 possessions, a number that would have ranked dead last among NBA offenses last season. The unit also has been surprisingly atrocious defensively, surrendering 117.54 points per 100 possessions, a number that would have been dead last in defensive efficiency last season. The poor defense could be a factor of Boston using a new lineup without much time to develop chemistry during training camp or it could be a result of Boston’s slowing legs (O’Neal looks particularly late on defensive rotations, at least compared to his own lofty standards), but likely it is a combination of both. Oddly enough, it’s not bad news that the starting lineup has been so cringe-worthy.
It seems counter-intuitive, but the fact that Boston’s starting unit has performed so poorly should actually cause optimism among Celtics fans. Whenever Paul Pierce returns from injury, Sasha Pavlovic will inevitably find a one-way ticket to the bench waiting in his locker and the unit that has started Boston’s first three games — and done so with miserable results — should find itself in a Doc Rivers-induced hibernation for at least the foreseeable future.
Breaking up The Pavlovic Five should help the Celtics considerably. It won’t cure all of Boston’s ailments, but it will be a good start.