The Boston Celtics ultimately stumbled last week.
The C’s fell in the latest NBA.com and ESPN NBA power rankings, following a week in which they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers but lost to the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. NBA.com now ranks Boston fifth, while ESPN pegs the Celtics as the sixth-best team in the Association. Both outlets lament the absence of Marcus Smart, who has missed Boston’s last three games due to an eye infection.
ESPN ranked the Celtics third last week, but Bobby Marks believes they confirmed themselves among the Eastern Conference also-rans by losing their last two games.
“The losses last week at Indiana and at home to Philadelphia proved that the Celtics are entrenched within the second tier of teams in the Eastern Conference,” Marks wrote Monday. “While we certainly can applaud their 17-7 record, the loss to Philadelphia exposed their lack of bench depth. Apart from 20 points from Enes Kanter, the Celtics had only a Brad Wanamaker basket to show for the reserves. If Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown struggles (they shot a combined 8-27 from the field in the Philadelphia loss), Boston does not have a safety net besides Marcus Smart coming off the bench.”
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann dropped the Celtics from third to sixth in his weekly power rankings and largely blames Boston’s defense for last week’s woes.
“The Celtics won their first two games without Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward shot 56 percent in his first three games back from his month-long absence, and both Kemba Walker (44) and Enes Kanter (20) had their highest scoring games with their new team last week,” Schuhmann wrote Monday. “But their losses to the Pacers and Sixers were two of their three worst defensive games of the season, with fouls being an issue. The Celtics have still seen one of the league’s biggest jumps in free throw rate, but they were outscored, 49-31, at the line on Wednesday and Thursday. Joel Embiid’s big game is obviously cause for some worry, but despite the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes, the Celtics rank fourth in the (lowest) percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come in the paint (45 percent). The loss to the Sixers was the first time that Walker, Jaylen Brown, Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kanter (what could be their best offensive lineup) played together since opening night in Philly, and five straight days off gives Smart a chance to recover from his multiple ailments.”
The Celtics will visit the 18-8 Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday before returning home to host the 11-16 Detroit Pistons on Friday and the 12-17 Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.
Smart’s status for Boston’s upcoming games is unclear, but his return would be a welcome boost as the team certainly can use a jolt of his defensive prowess and intensity.