As we sit here on November 7, the Celtics have a record of 3-3 through their first 6 games; good enough for seventh in the Eastern Conference. Here's the issue: This team is WAY too good for this type of start. One can justify the losses to the Bulls and Cavs on the road because they both were the second night of a back-to-back in a hostile environment against tough opponents.
But after two days off and a return to the Garden, the Celtics were in a great position to begin the season 4-2 and improve their home record to 3-0 against a weak Nuggets team. Only the Celtics laid an egg, losing 123-107, and allowing Emmanuel Mudiay (more turnovers than FGs this year) to light them up for 30 points (24 in the first quarter) en route to a blowout that leaves Celtics fans wondering one thing: Why?
1. The Injury Bug
I'm not one who likes to make excuses, if you are a good team, you can beat weaker opponents with what you have. But in a case like the Celtics, they've yet to have their full squad lace up the sneaks and play together. Marcus Smart missed the first 3 games of the season while he was recovering from an ankle sprain he suffered in the Summer Finale, Jae Crowder has missed the past 2 1/2 games due to an ankle sprain he suffered against the Bulls, in Smart's return, and our max-contract man, Al Horford, who's missed the past 3 games due to being placed into the league's concussion protocol after taking a swipe to the head during the October 29 game against the Hornets. That is 3 key contributors for the Celtics, all of whom have missed half of the team's games. When you're missing 3 key players on a team with no superstar, you can expect struggles.
2. The Perimeter Defense Sucks
Something that if you were told in July would be an issue, you would've laughed in someone's face. But the perimeter defense has been PUTRID through the first 6 games of the year. The Celtics are playing lazy defense on the perimeter, granted they've only played half of a game with all 3 of their top perimeter defenders playing, but still, this is terrible. The Celtics, right now, lack basic fundamentals that go with playing defense. They either sag off of a guy who can shoot, or they're up close with their hands down. Both provide the same effect: ZERO. If you sag off of a man who can shoot, he's going to rain 3s in your face all day. You get up close to a shooter and leave your hands down, he's got a clean look at the basket and is going to rain 3s in your face all day. That's what is happening to the Celtics right now, and it is leading to a defense-first team being ranked 29th in the NBA in opponent's PPG.
3. The Rebounding Sucks
On top of being 29th in OPPG, the Celtics are 28th in the NBA in rebounding. Nobody on the team, with the exception of 6' 2" Avery Bradley, can rebound the basketball. Sure, you'll take rebounding from your guards when you can, but Avery Bradley leads the team with 8.7 RPG. Al Horford (5.3), Tyler Zeller (5.3), and Jordan Mickey (1.3) need to step it up. Horford isn't going to wow you with rebounding numbers, but 5.3 is what you'd expect out of a guy like Jae Crowder or Jaylen Brown, not you starting center you just signed to a max-contract.
4. Lack of a Superstar
This goes back to the trade deadline last year, and even into the offseason. But the Celtics still do not have a bona fide superstar player who can take over games. Isaiah Thomas is capable of that, but cannot be relied on every night to be the guy. We saw Avery Bradley drop 31 against the Hornets, but you cannot expect that every night. And if you look at 2 of the 3 losses the Celtics have, it's against the Bulls who have Jimmy Butler, and the Cavs who have LeBron, Love, and Irving. The Celtics failed to trade for Jimmy Butler, Demarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, etc. last February, and it's showing now. Danny needs to go out with Brooklyn picks in hand and empty them out for Demarcus Cousins, who is a superstar player who can take over games both offensively, defensively, and on the glass; the latter being what's killing the Celtics in the early stages of 2016-17.