BOSTON -- The Celtics usually control the game's flow with their fast-paced offense. But in Tuesday's 89-77 loss to the Cavaliers, the game was not quite Brad's tempo. "I thought our offense was really stagnant," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the game, "and for whatever reason we were in mud a little bit."
That's an understatement. The Celtics were actually sinking in quicksand.
Entering Tuesday, the Celtics had the NBA's fourth-quickest pace, but against the Cavaliers they played at their slowest pace of the year (91.8). They also tied a season low with 18 assists, and their combined total of 21 assists, secondary assists, and free throw assists, is a new season-worst.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers prefer playing basketball like they're waiting in line at the DMV, and they did just that against the Celtics with their slow, tedious, iso-heavy offense. Other than a short stretch in the late first quarter, the Celtics looked like copycats, as they didn't swing the ball around like they usually do when their offense is clicking at an optimal level.
"Obviously we all want to win the game, but sometimes we just don't move the ball as well . . . and it hurts our team," Avery Bradley said. "We just have to be disciplined enough to know that playing a team like this you continue to move the ball to get the best shot. It's hard some games. But if you sacrifice that and pass up good shot for a great shot, it's good for our team, and we have to understand that."
Bradley mentioned how the Celtics need to play "good to great" basketball, and there were plenty of examples where they didn't do that. Here's one from the fourth quarter:
With 21-seconds left on the shot block, Isaiah Thomas attempted a pull-up mid-range jumper instead of kicking it out to Jae Crowder for a relatively open three. The shot was rushed, especially with so much time left in the possession.
"We need to get back to the basics," said a disgruntled Crowder, who had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting. "They play hard on the defensive end, and we just got real stagnant with the ball and tried to make a play one-on-one every time."
When asked what causes those offensive lulls, Crowder's response suggests they let their emotions get the best of them: "Getting into the emotions of the game, so guys try to go one-on-one with their guy, and get caught up in the game instead of playing the way we want to play."
It's possible after getting swept in the first round of the playoffs, the Celtics had revenge on their mind, which clouded their judgment on the floor. Maybe players were pressing too hard -- trying to do too much -- instead of playing within the flow of the offense.
But the Celtics also just weren't able to hit contested shots.
That's partially due to Cleveland's size, athleticism, and physicality, but they shot just 10-of-36 on contested attempts, per SportVU, which is their worst percentage of the year and 17.2 percent below their season average.
"That's one of our staples that we stress every single day, defending at a high level and trying to move the ball offensively," said LeBron James, who finished with a game-high 24 points. "They had 46 points at halftime, but in the second half we just locked down, then we started moving the ball and we just kept them off base."
The Celtics might've struggled to score, but their defense didn't suffer accordingly. That bodes well for them because many teams lay down on defense when the ball's not moving and shots aren't falling. But the Celtics kept grinding and held Cleveland below 90 points for just the third time this season.
"I'm encouraged that we continue to guard and play well defensively the entire night," Stevens said. "But offensively, we just gotta play better."
As winners of 10-straight back-to-back games, the Celtics will get a chance to do just that Wednesday night against the Pistons.