Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Celtics needed a little bit more of this on Friday night ... The circumstances certainly didn't favor the Celtics as they trekked to the US Airways Center for Friday's tilt with the high-octane Phoenix Suns. It was the second night of a back-to-back, and Boston had just vanquished a Portland Trail Blazers squad that had seemed more interested in delivering a beatdown than winning a basketball game. On top of that, the travel schedule wasn't ideal, as the Celtics had to change time zones as they embarked on a southeast trek to the desert, and didn't arrive until the wee hours of the morning.
Barry Gossage/Getty Images
... and a little less of this.A fast start certainly would have been ideal for Boston. Instead, it stumbled out of the gate, dug itself a 14-point first-quarter hole, and never fully recovered, falling 88-71.
Sure, it was a tough situation, and coach Doc Rivers was understanding afterwards -- "We're human," he told reporters -- but he was also critical of his team's offense in the first quarter, as it became clear early on that his club was content to settle for jump shots, as opposed to making the somewhat porous Suns' defense work a little bit by attacking the basket.
The Celtics attempted 18 first-quarter field goals, and, according to ESPN's shot chart, only six of those 18 shots were attempted in the paint. Of the 12 field goals taken outside of the paint, Boston converted a mere three. For the quarter, the Celtics shot 7 of 18 (38.9 percent) and before the second quarter could even begin, the damage was done, as Boston found itself staring at a 30-16 deficit that it would not overcome for the remainder of the contest.
"I thought early on, when you come off a back-to-back game, late night, you've got to have the discipline to try and attack the basket and post the ball and I just thought we settled for jumpers," Rivers told reporters. "And to me that's always an indication of mental fatigue. It's easier to shoot a jump shot always than it is to drive a ball or post a ball [or] move the ball. And I thought we chose that route tonight."
Rivers echoed a similar sentiment less than a week before. Facing the Washington Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back in the nation's capital last Saturday, the Celtics squandered a 16-point, first-quarter lead as they failed to get the ball inside consistently in the fourth quarter and Washington mounted a furious rally to prevail, 85-83.
In that final frame that night, the Celtics attempted 23 field goals, and a mere eight of those were taken inside the paint. Of the 15 shots the Celtics took outside of the paint in that fourth quarter, they made only one. The Celtics connected on 5-of-23 shots overall in that final period, registering a mere 11 points.
"They were good shots [in the fourth quarter], but it was all jump shots," Rivers told reporters after that loss. "My problem was our pace. We were walking the ball up the floor, we dribbled the life out of the game, everybody. We didn't go to the post. I bet we called 20 post [plays] and the ball never touched it. It was a jump shooting contest and, you know, when you're up 10 or 15, jump shots are easy. When you know you squandered a lead, and then you're wide open, all of a sudden that trigger gets a little tighter and I really thought that happened tonight. The shots were great, but [there were] too many of them, as far as I was concerned."
The circumstances of each game might have been somewhat different, but the overarching issue in both losses was an over-reliance on jump shots at critical junctures in the game. Against Phoenix, the flurry of jump shots came early, when the Celtics instead needed to attack the rim and try to exploit the Suns' interior defense. Kevin Garnett arguably had a distinct advantage over Channing Frye in the post, yet the Celtics only fed him the ball three times in the paint in the opening frame.
Against the Wizards, the string of jumpers came late, at a time when Boston was in need of drives to the basket and free throw attempts to properly halt the Wizards' comeback. The Celtics needed to be the aggressors in both situations, but instead they were content on sitting back and allowing their opponents to take the reigns of the game.
This isn't to say the Celtics weren't capable of scoring in the paint in both contests. In both games Boston's shooting percentage at the rim was higher than its shooting percentage at any other spot on the floor, according to HoopData. Against Phoenix, the C's converted 10-of-17 shots at the rim, good for 58.8 percent, and against the Wizards, Boston put in 14-of-21 shots at the rim, measuring out to 66.6 percent.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, those percentages didn't come into play when they needed them the most.
Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com