Sometimes we joke that Boston Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley is the vice president of basketball optimism because the 25-year-old guard -- the longest tenured member of a wet-behind-the-ears Boston squad in which nine of the team's 15 roster players are younger than the still fresh-faced Bradley -- is unfailingly positive regardless of the strife around him.
So it was notable that, after one of the team's more stomach-churning losses -- and there's been plenty to choose from this season -- Bradley was a voice of calmness and reason on Sunday. It was Bradley who implored teammates to stop pointing fingers and instead work together to pull themselves out of a funk in which the Celtics have lost five of their last six games, most in infuriating fashion by either playing down to inferior competition or being unable to close out wins after building comfortable early leads.
"I'm pretty sure everyone's frustrated," Bradley told reporters in Memphis after the Celtics kicked away a 21-point second-half advantage in a 101-98 loss to the Grizzlies. "We just need to move on. We can't hang our heads. We know we haven't been playing well. We just need to rally together and get a win."
There's a famous Internet meme dubbed "This is Fine" in which a dog sits in a room engulfed in flames and proclaims, "I'm OK with the events that are unfolding currently," blissfully unaware of the trouble around him. Bradley isn't blind to the Celtics' struggles and acknowledged that there are areas the team must improve in -- particularly second-half offense and late-game execution -- but was adamant that things are not quite as bad as they might seem.
So rather than rehash the negatives in this space, we'll take a swig of Bradley's green Kool-Aid and try to accentuate the positives.
Amid all the calamity, the Celtics still own the second-best defense in the NBA while allowing a mere 97.9 points per 100 possessions (only the San Antonio Spurs are better). What's more, the Celtics have shown the ability -- albeit in short spurts -- to generate the sort of offense that should give them a chance to win on a nightly basis; they just haven't shown the maturity needed to finish off games.
So while many Celtics fans spent Monday feverishly inputting data in ESPN's Trade Machine in hopes that a small shakeup could snap the team from its slumber, here are some reasons to step back from the ledge:
• Despite this rough patch, the Celtics remain a statistical darling. Boston entered Monday ranked eighth in ESPN's Basketball Power Index (even as they plummeted to 17th in the human-determined Power Rankings) thanks in large part to that defensive backbone that grades out as third best in the league behind only the Spurs and Indiana Pacers based on ESPN's real plus/minus data.
• While Boston once flirted with glossy 50-win projections, the team currently forecasts at a still-encouraging 45.8 wins, the 10th best projection in the league (and sixth best in the Eastern Conference). What's more, the Celtics own an 88.1 percent chance at making the playoffs and a 23.2 percent chance at homecourt advantage in the first round. While daydreams of the No. 2 seed were fleeting, the team still projects to be in the mix in a muddled East if it can catch itself quickly.
• And if you really want to get crazy, BPI's projections give Boston a 40.9 percent chance of making the Eastern Conference semifinals, an 18.1 percent chance at the conference finals, a 7.4 percent chance at the NBA Finals and a 0.5 percent chance at winning the 2015-16 title.
• When the Celtics won four in a row in late December, BPI projected them as the favorite in 28 of their next 32 games. Go ahead and shoot the messenger here as Boston already has lost four of the five games they were projected to win since that point. But consider this: Despite the recent skid, Boston is still favored in 16 of its 18 games leading up to the All-Star break (only games in Toronto and Cleveland currently are projected as losses). We understand if you're skeptical based on recent results, but, if you're a Celtics fan, that's probably better than being a consistent underdog moving forward.
• The Nets, who will deliver their unprotected 2016 first-round pick to Boston, cleaned house Sunday by firing coach Lionel Hollins and reassigning general manager Billy King. Brooklyn, with uncertain leadership as it searches for long-term replacements, currently own a 13.9 percent chance at the top overall pick, a 42.4 percent chance at a top-3 selection, an 85.3 percent chance at a top-5 pick, and essentially a 100 percent chance at a top-10 spot. Which is to say, if all else fails, there's always schadenfreude.
The rosy projections are due in part to the quality basketball that the Celtics played earlier in the season. Boston can't rest on its past success and expect future results, as recent games have hammered home. But Bradley is certain that, if Boston can get back to the basics and correct some obvious trouble spots, than this team can get to a happier place.
"I wouldn't say I'm troubled, but the only reason I'm not is because I know [Boston's problems are] correctable," Bradley said. "I feel like we just need to keep our composure and, in the second half [of games], move the ball more. I feel like the ball doesn't move in the second half. It's almost like everyone kind of plays hero basketball and we stop playing team basketball.
"That's not how the Celtics play. We'll get back to it. I'm not worried about it."
Jae Crowder, who tends to tag team with Isaiah Thomas as the vocal conscience of the Celtics, particularly during rough patches, took to Twitter during Monday's off day and posted a quote from Celtics legend Larry Bird (in Crowder's preferred caps-locked style): "IF YOU GIVE 100% ALL THE TIME, SOMEHOW THINGS WILL WORK OUT IN THE END."
It's up to the Celtics to heed their own advice and get this train back on the tracks.