BOSTON (CBS) – After coming out on top against the lowly Jazz Wednesday night, the Celtics are out of the cellar in the NBA, so that’s a start, right? The problem for the C’s now is that the schedule gets tougher almost immediately over the remainder of the month.
Challenging battles await this weekend with the overachieving Orlando Magic and the defending champions in Miami. After a brief homestand next week, the Celtics hit the road again for trips to Houston, San Antonio and Minnesota, before finishing the month with dates against Indiana, Atlanta and Memphis, among others.
READ: Celtics-Magic Preview
Four more sets of back-to-back games remain in the November gauntlet, which features nearly a quarter of Boston’s games this season (18).
Needless to say, the Celtics have limited time to learn on the fly here. In order to avoid being relegated to tank talk for the remainder of the regular season, Brad Stevens needs to find a way to get his team to play better consistently against the awaiting quality opposition.
Stevens may have stumbled onto one way to do this during Wednesday night’s victory. After witnessing his team suffer offensively through the first four games with an endless array of turnovers and limited ball movement, Stevens turned to some conventional wisdom: try to keep a point guard on the floor.
It seems like a rather simple and obvious adjustment, but given Boston’s mismatched roster this season, that’s far from the truth. With a sidelined Rajon Rondo, the point guard depth chart is razor thin, and Boston’s best players simply play other positions. Early on, Stevens wanted to maximize his overall talent on the floor by handing the majority of the ball handling duties to Avery Bradley.
That strategy did not go so well prior to Wednesday night. Bradley is a lot of things to this team, but he’s not the best passer nor the best ball handler. With Bradley forced to run the point, the Celtics offense suffered, and they ranked dead last in the league with 19.9 turnovers per game.
With no natural distributor out there, the ball movement suffered as well, and the Celtics clocked a league-worst 14.2 assists per contest in their first four losses.
For the Celtics to succeed, something had to change. Hence, Gerald Wallace was sent from the starting lineup to the bench on Wednesday in favor of Jordan Crawford. The lineup shift was lauded by Avery Bradley after the game Wednesday, when he was asked if it had helped his play.
“A little bit. If there is somebody else there you can kind of get a rhythm a little better because you don’t always have the ball,” Bradley explained, and he continued to rave about Crawford’s impact at practice Thursday.
“Not to take away from anybody else that might start with me, to have Jordan come out there, he kind of has a swagger to his game,” said Bradley. “He feels like he’s better than everybody and, to have someone that brings that energy every single night, it makes you feel a lot more comfortable out there. I love when he starts and having somebody beside me that’s going to go to war with me every single game.”
While Crawford was one piece of the puzzle on Wednesday, the other major change was Stevens giving another true point guard, Phil Pressey, some significant run at the spot off the bench. The rookie out of Missouri did not disappoint his head coach.
“I thought Phil gave us a spark,” Stevens said after the game. “To me, the best teams I’ve been a part of have had sparks off the bench. The energy level has actually gone up, or at least in a really good night, stayed the same. And I think that that’s what happened.”
Together, Pressey and Crawford led an improved Celtics offense that delivered a season-high 22 assists and season-low 14 turnovers. Those figures are certainly not incredible, but they show progress, something Boston desperately needs right now.
As is, the Celtics have a laundry list of issues at a litany of spots on the floor. Moving forward, Stevens needs to keep using both Crawford and Pressey at the point in order to give Boston one less problem to deal with on a nightly basis.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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