Commentary

Celtics' offense keeps disappearing

Updated: January 3, 2013, 9:20 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Avery Bradley is back. There's renewed optimism surrounding the Celtics' defense (even if it didn't immediately manifest itself in a victory on Wednesday). Now, about Boston's offense …

Actually, let's start with the positives after the Celtics dropped their fourth straight in a 93-83 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at TD Garden. Bradley's 2012-13 season debut was fairly brief (19 minutes, 31 seconds) and he finished minus-12 overall. He wasn't a savior, but there were encouraging signs that he can help steer a wayward Boston defense back on track.

As Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted, "Avery was terrific on the ball. Avery's going to help us; you could see that. And that'll be immediate for us."

The Celtics seem invigorated by simply having Bradley on the floor again, giving the team its preferred starting backcourt and allowing Jason Terry and Courtney Lee to settle into second-unit roles. Even in defeat, Boston players were surprisingly positive in their demeanor after a lengthy closed-door session with Rivers, in which he implored his team to simply keep fighting.

[+] EnlargeAvery Bradley
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaAvery Bradley's patented on-the-ball defense was a nice boost, but it wasn't enough to give the Celtics a win in his season debut.

"I told them whatever we're doing wrong, it's not going to be fixed in a day," said Rivers.

If he actually said it in much harsher tones, his players weren't about to reveal it. The veterans maintained an optimistic long-term outlook.

"It's hard to be confident when you are struggling, lose four in a row," said captain Paul Pierce. "The good thing about it is we're staying positive about this stretch. It's a tough stretch for us, obviously, and we know we are going to get through it.

"We sit in here and we talk about being positive, don't get our heads down. We understand that we feel you can always get the next one. It's just like any confident person, when things don't go your way you feel the next thing is going to go your way, and that's how this team feels."

Echoed Kevin Garnett: "We're not hanging our heads, we're not making excuses. We're going to come in here and grind this thing out, turn this thing around."

Terry suggested that turning Boston's season around is going to take pure grit. He endured a six-game losing streak during Dallas' championship season in 2011 -- albeit after a 26-8 start -- and on Wednesday he implored his teammates to put in the work necessary to get this thing right.

"You've just got to keep grinding it out, keep coming every day with an open mind, a willingness to work," said Terry. "And that's what this is. It's going to be work. To win a championship, you have to put in a lot of work. It doesn't just happen just because the names are on the roster. I wish it was that easy, but it's not. I've been there. And so, speaking from experience, it's going to be a work in progress and we won't see the finished product until the end."

All that sugar-coating aside, there is the sobering reality: Boston is marred in an atrocious losing streak that has left them a season-worst three games under .500. What's more, even as the defense gets a boost from Bradley's return, the Celtics' offense has quietly regressed.

During this four-game losing streak, the Celtics are shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and averaging a mere 84.8 points per game.

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The Grizzlies are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and are the top-ranked half-court squad in the league. That being said, the Celtics had opportunities to rally back in the second half, but their long-range shooting -- something they are becoming increasingly dependent on in key situations -- failed them.

Boston is shooting a mere 38.3 percent from its mid-range sweet spot during this four-game stretch. There's little offense going at the basket and the Celtics aren't taking advantage of the few looks they're getting at the rim.

Rivers pinned Wednesday's loss on the offense, particularly the reliance on perimeter shots.

"We really couldn't score," said Rivers. "I would say half the shots I would take. But we're not making them, so we have to keep searching for the right way to play offensively. This is not just tonight. … I thought, in the second half, it was far more an offensive issue than a defensive issue."

That was hammered home after Boston whittled an 18-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter down to five later in the frame. The Celtics simply couldn't get over that hump, sometimes scrambling as if they were looking for some sort of five-point shot.

"I think it was an eight-point game and then we rushed shots," said Rivers. "We just start taking quick 3s. We didn't play like a veteran team; we played like a really young team that was rushed. And that's what happens when you're not winning games as well."

Rivers called on point guard Rajon Rondo to be more aggressive going at the basket when Boston's offense is stagnant.

"He called pick-and-rolls [early in the game and] we were attacking, then he got away from it," said Rivers. "And that's not second nature to him, to be an aggressive scorer. But we really need him to be that. We need him to get in the open court, attack the basket, look for baskets in transition, instead of guys shooting 3s that aren't going in. And that's something we've just got to keep pushing."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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