As Celtics offense falls off map they search for an identity

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It’s been this bad — in the last 10 games the Celtics offense has averaged 96.9 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com’s own stats), which over the course of the season would be 29th in the NBA. Barely better than what’s left of the Wizards. At the other end, Boston’s defense has been inconsistent (it was not good against Chicago Tuesday, it had been better in general of late).

The result is a 12-12 team that is the current eight seed in the East. The Celtics right now are average.

Who are the Boston Celtics right now? A defensive team that likes to run and has great shooters? It doesn’t show and they look like a team searching for itself.

I’m not ready to start shoveling dirt on the Celtics yet, we did that early last season and they pulled it all together for a very good playoff run. But the hole is dug and they seem to be lowering themselves into it this season.

To me the issues start on offense. What leaps out of the statistics in the last 10 games is that while Boston is not shooting terribly well, they are really getting hurt by a lack of offensive rebounding and turnovers. Both of those have been long-standing issues for the Celtics, but ones they were able to overcome in the past by knocking down shots and getting to the free throw line. However Boston is pretty average to slightly below average in their last 10 games in shooting and free throws, which is not enough to cover up the flaws.

Boston turned its offense more over to Rajon Rondo this year and Doc Rivers told A. Sherrod Blakely he thinks Rondo is trying to do too much.

“He’s trying to do too much; forcing it instead of letting the ball find the scorer,” Rivers said. “It looked like Rondo was trying to make the play every time down. You know, that’s tough to do. And it’s not good for your offense anyway. He understands that.”

Frankly, I’m not worried about Rondo getting his groove back. Or for that matter Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce contributing well now and better late in the season and the playoffs.

But the bench is another issue — Boston thought they were adding depth this season but Jason Terry is not playing as big a role in the offense as he did in Dallas, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee have struggled, and Jeff Green has been the guy Oklahoma City was willing to trade (he teases you with flashes and a good game or two, then reverts to form). Rivers is throwing everything, every lineup he can think of against a wall but nothing is sticking. Not consistently.

Which comes back to the identity question. Boston has always been a defensive team, but they just gave up a triple-double to Joakim Noah. Not Derrick Rose, but Joakim Noah. Rivers and Pierce said after Tuesday night they are still searching to see who they are, as reported by Blakely at CSNNE.com.

“This team is not a good team right now,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers whose team is now 12-12 on the season. “It’s who we are right now. We’re a .500 team and we play like that. We’ve won two games in a row for the season. Right now, we’re not a good team. We’re going to find, but not right now. We’re going to keep searching for it.”

“Right now we have no identity,” said a visibly disappointed Paul Pierce following Tuesday’s loss to the Bulls, their third straight. “We’re supposed to be a defensive team. But giving up 100 points every night, we’re inconsistent on the court … we’re still searching, trying to find out who we want to be for this season.”

More than 20 games in, that’s not good. Especially in an East where the Heat know who they are (even if they don’t execute it nightly) and the Knicks have figured themselves out.

Boston has a long way to go to reach their goals. But we said that about them last season.

Watch Raptors fans give Vince Carter a standing ovation in Toronto (VIDEO)

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Vince Carter is 40 years old and playing in what could possibly be his final NBA season. The Sacramento Kings guard started his career with the Toronto Raptors, and on Sunday he played what could possibly be his final game at the Air Canada Centre.

And so, when Carter was subbed out late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, the folks in Toronto did what came naturally: they cheered.

The whole thing was pretty great to watch, and a real testament to how Carter is viewed by fans in Toronto.

Via Twitter:

Carter scored just four points in 25 minutes for Sacramento, going 2-of-5 from the field while adding three blocks, two assists, a rebound and a steal.

The Raptors got the win over the Kings, 108-93.

Report: Isaiah Thomas looking at first week of January for return to Cavs

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Just when we though Isaiah Thomas had fallen off the collective radar of the NBA, he squeaks right back in.

Thomas, who the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired in a trade this summer for Kyrie Irving, has yet to play a game due to a nagging hip injury. That injury caused some back-and-forth squabbling between Cleveland and the Boston Celtics, but things got sorted and the teams went on their way.

Irving has been spectacular of course, helping to lead the Celtics to a record of 25-7 in the absence of Gordon Hayward, good enough for the top slot in the Eastern Conference.

Now, it appears that Thomas is ahead of schedule and will be ready to help the Cavaliers fight for that spot come early January. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Thomas and Cleveland want him to be playing the first week of the new year.

Via Twitter:

Of course, we’ve heard this before. The team has said this season that Thomas would play in January. Then the line moved and the Cavaliers thought he would play in December. It’s now moved back to January, but reports are more firm as we’re closer to the expected date and Thomas is playing in 4-on-4 drills. The great news is this honed return date seems to directly target the second game of 2018 for the Cavaliers, which is conveniently against the Celtics.

No doubt Thomas will be jonesing to take on his former team, where he certainly would have preferred to stay after a stellar season in 2016-17. Still, Thomas has been in good spirits — he gets to play with LeBron James for goodness sake — and the Jan. 3 game will be one to watch.

If Thomas can’t make it for that January matchup, the next opportunity he will have to beat Boston will be on Feb. 11.

DeMarcus Cousins thinks refs are giving him techs off reputation alone

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New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is a fiery personality on the court, often arguing foul calls at length despite no official in NBA history reversing a call directly after player complaint.

Crafty veterans — your LeBron Jameses and your Chris Pauls — slowly and pointedly chatter with officials as a means to influence their subconscious leaning on calls (and to protect them against earning techs when they do decide to straight up yell at refs).

Cousins hasn’t used that kind of angling to success in his career, instead going hard at referees with some consistency. Cousins has tried to change that approach this season, but instead has found that his prior actions have earned him a reputation the Pelicans forward believes doesn’t befit his actions in 2017-18.

Speaking to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Cousins said that despite letting more calls go and changing his candor, NBA refs are not responding proportionately.

Via The Undefeated:

I am going out of my way. I am going over and beyond,” Cousins said. “I am coming in saying, ‘We can’t do this, this and this …’ Even calls I know I should be arguing, I’m letting go. And they’re still like … it’s a one-sided thing. Everything is changing from one end. But with them, it’s like, ‘We are not letting go of the past. You are who you are. You’re getting a tech.’

“So, when it comes to me getting a tech for saying, ‘Good call, referee …,’ vets and coaches tell me to butter them up. Switch it up a little bit. Do a little reverse psychology. Tell them it’s a good call. And you still getting a tech for it? They’re not trying to make it work. They’re stuck in their ways, and it is so obvious.”

Cousins added that he believes foes are taking advantage of his troubles.

“Now it’s to the point where teams are saying, ‘Yeah, just go over there and beat the s— out of him.’ I don’t get calls, and I’m not protected like other players are,” he said.

It’s interesting to see that Cousins has at least tried to change things up, and indeed acknowledges that he should be trying to work with the officials rather than antagonize them.

Still, we’re not sure what the tone of his “good call” comments are toward the refs. Are they sarcastic? Or are they contrite? You can see how one might earn Cousins a tech from an official — who seem to be particularly sensitive this season — and the other might endear you to them.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.