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Thursday, March 21, 2013
Don't get down on Jason Terry

By Chris Forsberg

LeBron James
Posterized by LeBron on Monday and held scoreless on Wednesday, JET has been grounded this week.

It's been a rough week for Jason Terry.

On Monday, he put himself in harm's way when he tried to contest an alley-oop slam by LeBron James and ended up with a less-than-desirable role in a viral dunk video. On Wednesday, Terry missed all five shots he took while going scoreless during a head-shaking loss in New Orleans -- only the third time in his entire career he's been blanked while playing at least 20 minutes.

A lot of mailbaggers wrote in to lament Terry's lack of impact at times this season. Even though he's started to pick up his game after a slow start, some remain frustrated by his inconsistencies.

Terry will remain in the spotlight on Friday when he returns to Dallas for the first time since signing a three-year contract with the Celtics this offseason. Terry helped the Mavericks to two Finals appearances and an NBA title in 2011. In December, he admitted he's "still a Maverick in my heart."

Terry ingratiated himself to Boston fans before ever stepping on the court by tattooing the team's leprechaun logo with the Larry O'Brien trophy on his arm. But are Celtics fans willing to embrace him like Dallas fans did? That's where we started this week's Celtics Mailbag.

Q: I really want to love Jason Terry as much as the Mavericks fans here did, but I'm worried this is just another mid-level miss for the Celtics. Am I jumping off this JET too soon? -- Kenneth (Dallas, Texas)

Jason Terry
There's no questioning Jason Terry's taste in tattoos, but is his inconsistent play an issue?

A: Wednesday's 0-fer in New Orleans was baffling, but it's unfair to overlook what Terry has accomplished since Rondo went down. Yes, he really struggled at the start of the season -- particularly bouncing between starting and bench roles -- but since Jan. 27 (the first game without Rondo), Terry is averaging 10.8 points on 46.4 percent shooting overall (41 percent beyond the 3-point arc) with 3.3 assists per game. He's plus-87 in plus/minus in that span and asserted himself as someone the team wants on the floor in crunch time. Terry can mask some of his regular-season struggles by further elevating his game in the postseason. You simply cannot sleep on his big-play potential. He's got that championship experience (and swagger) and that should shine through in the postseason. Terry himself has admitted he's still not at cruising altitude. It will be interesting to see if Friday's return to Dallas brings out the best in him as he should be particularly hyped for that homecoming.

Q: Why does this team play down to its opponents? It's very frustrating. -- Tron (Waltham, Mass.)

A: I'm actually kind of surprised that so many are in a lather about Wednesday's loss in New Orleans. Sure, it was a terrible loss, but there's a six-season pattern of these sorts of letdowns. This team has always battled a focus and motivation issue when it comes to weaker opponents. That's not to absolve the Celtics of blame, it just doesn't shock me anymore when they have one of these nights. What's baffling, though, is how this team, already beset by injuries, isn't doing everything in its power to ease its playoff path. It's always the road of most resistance for this squad. And, despite all that, you know they are going to bring their A-game when it matters most.

Q: What are the chances that Boston can leapfrog a few teams and capture the Atlantic Division crown? The Knicks are fading. -- @Tashville401 (via Twitter)

A: Reverse the outcomes of Boston's four losses to conference bottom-dwellers (Charlotte, New Orleans) and the Celtics would be in a virtual tie with the Knicks atop the Atlantic Division (while jockeying for a spot in seeds 2-4). Instead, their odds of winning the division are incredibly long as it's unlikely that both New York and Brooklyn will falter down the stretch. Hollinger playoff odds pegged the Celtics at a 4.3 percent chance to win the division entering Thursday's action. As Doc Rivers playfully indicated by scouring the team's rafters for nonexistent division title banners, the Atlantic crown isn't a primary goal for Boston. That said, with two head-to-head matchups remaining against New York and one with Brooklyn, the Celtics still have a decent chance to shimmy up the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, and getting ahead of just one of those teams should be the goal over the final 15 games.

Q: What's your prediction on how the C's finish the regular season (record/playoff seeding)? Is Jordan Crawford the worst defender you've seen? -- @GregEisenman (via Twitter)

A: Let's tackle both questions separately:

1) I think we'll see some movement in seeds No. 3-7. Chicago has a really accommodating remaining schedule (11 of 16 games against teams under .500), which might allow the Bulls to climb up into the top 4. Boston's four remaining head-to-head matchups with New York (2), Brooklyn and Atlanta give it a chance to climb as well. But the Celtics' inconsistencies, and a desire for rest, still lead me to believe they are more likely to finish with the No. 6 seed. That's not a bad spot to be in (so long as the Bulls are not the third seed). Not having home-court advantage isn't ideal, but I don't think any of their Atlantic Division rivals scare Boston in the postseason. And you avoid the Heat in Round 2 by being a 6 or 7 seed.

2) For all his warts, I like Jordan Crawford's game. I have zero idea what's going to happen when the ball is in his hands (as Rivers likes to note, nor does his defender). Defensively, he's got strides to make, and the Celtics have hid both him and Terry in zones at times, but the individual numbers are nothing to sneeze at. According to Synergy Sports data, Crawford is allowing a mere 0.77 points per play (57 points in 74 defended possessions). Opponents are shooting an Avery Bradley-like 30 percent against him in Boston, and he ranks in the 86th percentile among all league players for his efforts since joining the Celtics. Let's not put him on the All-Defense team, but he's been serviceable (even if he tends to wander a bit, defensively).

Q: Jeff Green's stats off the bench vs. starting. Got the data? -- @AusCelticsFan (via Twitter)

Jeff Green
Jeff Green scored a career-high 43 points against the Heat on Monday.

A: We know where you're going with this. Listen, there's no doubt the difference is staggering. In four starts, Green is averaging 24.5 points on 61.8 percent shooting with 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals over 35 minutes per game. In 63 games off the bench, those numbers dip to 10.9 points on 44.2 percent shooting with 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 blocks and 0.6 steals over 25.7 minutes per game. But the first quarter of Wednesday's game in New Orleans proves that Green has the potential to be just as effective off the bench. He shuffled into the role of first sub and scored 11 first-quarter points. Given the inconsistent nature of Boston's bench, it's hard for Rivers to pry him from that second unit. Ultimately, it's on Green to find a way to sustain that level of play from the first quarter and force Rivers to keep him on the floor. That means being consistent at both ends of the floor; his defense has been prone to increased lapses lately. As Rivers often points out, it's more important who is on the floor late in the game than at the beginning, and Green has made himself a familiar late-game option.

Q: Set play vs. Pacers results in layup for game winner. So, of course, [Wednesday] Doc goes right back to Paul Pierce ISO. -- JAdams5214 (via Twitter)

A: Like much of what Boston did in Wednesday's game, the late-game possession you are referring to with the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead was less than crisp. I think Pierce was surprised the Hornets switched the initial pick-and-roll so early in the clock, then Terry didn't get a very good screen on Anthony Davis that might have freed Kevin Garnett for a jumper. Pierce's best option by the end was the shot he put up. Alas, there were plenty of lamentable possessions in that game at both ends of the floor. Boston's late-game execution has been all over the map and clearly Rivers wants to see better execution in those situations.

Q: Could Avery Bradley win Defensive Player of the Year? -- Marcel (Nicaragua)

Avery Bradley, Stephen Curry
Avery Bradley is the league's top defender according to several statistical measures.

A: Probably not the best time to tackle this one after a poor night for Boston's guards in New Orleans. That said, we spotlighted Bradley's defensive impact last week. Among players with at least 350 possessions defended this season, Bradley still ranks first in points allowed per play (0.695), opponent field goal percentage (30.7 percent) and opponent score percentage (31.9) -- with a sizable lead in each, according to Synergy Sports data. Missing the first 30 games of the season won't help his cause, and neither will the notion that it's a big-man's award, but Bradley deserves serious consideration for a spot on the All-Defense first team.

Q: I want to talk about Avery Bradley on offense. In the games that I have seen, it seems to me that he has trouble finishing and/or picking up the foul against a defended rim. -- Palotti (Madison, Wis.)

A: Bradley was one of the best cutters on the team last season and he's definitely struggled to finish around the rim this season, at least in traffic. Part of that might be simply coming back from the shoulder injuries and rebuilding his upper body strength. His game has gravitated more to the perimeter this season, where the 3-point shot has become a serious weapon for him. Here's guessing that, as those shoulders strengthen up, those issues around the basket will dissipate.

Q: How is Fab Melo doing over in the D-league? Haven't heard much about him lately. Do you think that this guy can develop into a useful player? -- Jay (Hartford, Conn.)

A: After all that late-December hype while Melo was putting up some monster numbers, he came back to Earth a bit. Battling through a concussion and spending extended time at the end of Boston's bench as emergency depth when injuries first arose probably didn't help his cause. In 28 games for Maine, Melo has averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks over 27.5 minutes per game. The optimist hones in on those blocks as an encouraging sign about his development as the defense-first player he has been pegged to be. The rebounding, however, is a bit of a concern at that level (a 7-footer like Melo should be dominating the glass) and speaks to his need to improve his footwork and fundamentals there. The Celtics knew it was going to take some time for Melo to develop when they drafted him, and this is a bit of a natural progression for a raw big man. It will be more interesting to gauge his development this summer after a full year in Boston's system.