BOSTON, Mass. — The Boston Celtics needed a spark off the bench to make a comeback attempt against a talented Houston Rockets team on Monday night, and they got one from veteran point guard Jerryd Bayless.
Bayless was recently acquired from the Grizzlies in a three-team trade that included Courtney Lee going to Memphis. The Celtics are Bayless’ fifth team in six years, but if he keeps playing like he did in Monday’s 104-92 loss to Houston, the former University of Arizona star could find himself in Boston long-term.
Bayless was playing in his first home game with the Celtics, and he helped Boston trim Houston’s lead from 20 to eight in the fourth quarter with his outside shooting, strong defense and up-tempo pace. The former 11th overall draft pick scored 15 of his 17 points in the final quarter, and his aggressiveness offensively was much needed with the starting lineup scoring just 53 points.
“The first couple games I was just trying to feel everybody out,” Bayless said. “I’m still continuing to do that in the spots where I can get things going for myself and the team. … I was just making a couple of shots [in the fourth quarter], and we were at a point where we weren’t really scoring, so I just tried to be aggressive. There’s times where I think I need to be aggressive, but early on Avery [Bradley] was playing great, so I was trying to get him the ball wherever I could.”
Even though Bayless has provided only a small sample size, he’s already proven to be more deserving of the starting point guard role than Jordan Crawford while Rajon Rondo finishes his rehab from ACL surgery. Crawford is a below-average perimeter defender and is wildly inconsistent with his outside shot. Bayless is a more dynamic offensive player than Crawford and is a more effective playmaker, especially on pick-and-rolls.
“He was good defensively most of the night, I thought, and provides a spark obviously offensively in a lot of the same ways that Avery provides a spark with his ability to pull up and hit tough jump shots,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “And I thought he gave us a chance — as did that whole second group — I thought they were all playing pretty darn hard there.
“I think he’s fitting in well. I think that he’s been embraced by our group.”
It’s still too early to judge this trade, but Celtics general manager Danny Ainge appears to have made a smart move in acquiring Bayless.
Celtics’ Struggles Against Premier Centers Continue As Dwight Howard Dominates
Rebounding has been an Achilles heel of the Celtics ever since Ainge traded away center Kendrick Perkins during the 2010-11 season. Without a strong, defensive-minded center with shot-blocking ability like Perkins, Boston is not a difficult team to score on in the paint. The Celtics rank 27th in rebounding.
The Celtics were outscored 58-36 in the paint against the Rockets, and most of that damage was done by Houston center Dwight Howard, who scored a game-high 32 points and connected on four alley-oops. Stevens tried four or five guys on Howard, but none of them could match his combination of power, athleticism and quickness. It also didn’t help that Boston failed to consistently box him out or double-team him enough.
To be fair to the Celtics, very few teams in the NBA have a center capable of playing Howard one-on-one without consistent double teams (Indiana’s Roy Hibbert might be the only one), but Monday’s loss highlighted a major weakness that Ainge must address. This Celtics team needs a major upgrade in the frontcourt.
Jeff Green Continues to Frustrate Celtics Fans With Another Disappointing Performance
Jeff Green said he injured his shoulder in the first quarter, but he is expected to play Wednesday when the Toronto Raptors come to TD Garden.
With Jared Sullinger and Green affected by injuries, the Celtics had to rely on Bradley to carry the load offensively from the starting lineup. He was the only starter to shoot 50 percent or better and score more than 13 points. Green failed to attack the basket consistently and was a non-factor the entire game. He finished with four points in 28 minutes on 2-for-10 shooting.
“I don’t want to make excuses for him, and at the same time I don’t want to assume anything, but he just didn’t have it,” Stevens said. “And that’s OK. And that’s why other guys are on the team, to step up and to fill that void when that happens. I thought some other guys did a good job, but clearly he wants to play better than that.”
Green has scored 20-plus points in just one of Boston’s last 15 games, and this inconsistency is unacceptable for a team that lacks a go-to scorer in the fourth quarter. Green’s field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages are all down this season compared to last season, and if he doesn’t become a more aggressive and consistent scorer, Boston’s 25th-ranked offense isn’t going to improve much.