The Celtics enter the All-Star break on their second 5-game losing streak of the season. They are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final playoff spot. Last season, they were the top seed heading into the break.
Here are 10 trends to note about the Celtics’ first half performance:
1. Can't score the rock: Boston is averaging 89.4 points per game this season, fourth-fewest in the NBA and the fewest for any Celtics team since the 1953-54 season, the year before the shot clock was implemented. While at first glance this seems problematic, in reality Boston is averaging just 91.1 possessions per game, fewest in the NBA.
As their veteran core has aged, the Celtics have played progressively slower each of the last three seasons, dropping from nearly 95 possessions per game in 2009-10 to their league-low this season.
2. But they're still tough on D: While their offense has slowed, the Celtics' defense remains one of the best in the league. Since the Big 3 was assembled prior to the 2007-08 campaign, Boston has ranked in the top 5 in the league in points per 100 possessions and is allowing just 96.0 this season, its fewest in the Big 3 era.
3. Playing catch-up for a change: With the swift arrival of the All-Star break, Boston’s Big 3 find themselves in a very unfamiliar position. In each of their previous four seasons together, the powerful triumvirate had the Celtics playing at least .600 basketball; however, the C’s have won fewer than half of their first 32 games this season and are currently the eighth seed. The Celtics entered the break as the East’s top seed in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2010-11 and were fourth in 2009-10.
4. Can we expect a post-break surge?: Having lost 17 of their first 32 games, the Celtics must drastically improve their level of play if they expect to finish anywhere remotely close to their previous four seasons. Boston played at least .550 basketball after the All-Star break in each of the last four seasons and will have to play even better to make up for its poor start.
5. KG still a difference-maker: Despite speculation that Kevin Garnett is losing his edge, it’s clear that the former MVP still has a profound impact.
The Celtics are over 10 points better per 48 minutes with Garnett on the court and have been dominated in the paint without him.
6. As is Pierce: Although he has logged over 1,100 career games (including playoffs), Paul Pierce remains an integral part of Boston’s success.
With Pierce on the floor the Celtics are scoring seven more points per 48 minutes with Kevin Garnett the primary beneficiary.
7. No Tommy Points for like this one: One of Boston’s major problems this year has been free throw disparity. The Celtics are in the bottom third of the league in fouls drawn (19.9 per game, 20th in the NBA) and free throw attempts per game (20.1, 27th) while their opponents are outshooting them from the charity stripe by more than three per game.
8. Off the boards: The Celtics are last in the league in rebounds per game (38.8) and are among the bottom five teams in rebounding margin (-3.1, 26th) and rate (48 percent, 26th).
9. Trouble in the half-court set: The Celtics offense has struggled in the half court this season. Boston ranks 21st in points per play (0.853) in the half court, down from 0.927 points per play last season, good for 11th in the league. At the same time, their transition offense (0.907) is putting up similar numbers compared to last season (0.972).
10. Don't want to be on this list: The Celtics enter the All-Star break at 15-17 despite having three future Hall of Famers on their roster in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Over the last 35 seasons, only 5 teams finished the regular season under .500 with 3 future Hall of Famers on their roster, the last being the 1992-93 Pistons who went 40-42.