(Bill Sy): This is how you lose a 14-point lead:
"It was hard for us to break their wall of defense," Brad Stevens says of 3Q. "They were pushing into us. They were very, very athletic."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 10, 2016
Before the game, Isaiah Thomas bristled at the idea that the team moved the ball better without him in the lineup, but the truth is, he should take that as a compliment. The Celtics do have to move the ball around more when he’s not on the floor because they just don’t have anybody else that can separate and create like he can. They were great in Orlando sans Thomas, and they were great in the first half last night.
The Celtics were cooking with fire early. Thirteen of their nineteen field goals in the first half were assisted, and nine of them came from behind the arc. Their ball movement was crisp, and every dribble was with purpose. The offense was humming.
After halftime, the music died. While four of their made buckets were assisted, the Celtics were 5 for 18 after the break and went five and a half minutes without a field goal.
The Raptors ratcheted up their ball pressure, hedged PnRs, and got in the passing lanes. Toronto could lean on their stars, Lowry and Derozan, to score 37 points (17-for-17 from the free throw line ;)) combined after halftime. This is when you miss guys like Thomas and, specifically, Thomas with Horford. The 1-5 pick-and-roll has been a quick fix whenever the offense bogs down, but tonight they didn’t have it.
Upcoming Guard issue in Boston? (Alex Kungu): The Celtics obviously need Isaiah Thomas’s scoring, highlighted by last night’s third-quarter lull in which the Celtics’ double-digit lead slumped to a deficit. As shot after shot continued to clang off the rim, two things became painfully obvious:
1. What was that about Isaiah Thomas?
2. Man, our offense needs Marcus Smart on the floor at all times.
One of the lone bright spots last night for the Celtics was another quality start from Marcus Smart. He shot 3 of 7 from three (42.9%), continued to make the right reads on offense, made his presence felt on the boards despite not getting gaudy rebound numbers, and brought the same defensive intensity we’ve come to love from him.
#MarcusSmartIsAPointGuard pic.twitter.com/Zw3dulU9MV— Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA) December 10, 2016
Again, we do need Isaiah Thomas, and he is the bona fide star of this Celtics offense, but these last couple of games have also shown that Smart’s most effective position is at the one as well. Tonight we can point to the lack of Thomas's offense, but how about Crowder, Olynyk, Rozier combining for 2/13 from three? Or Horford missing three FTs? Thomas will come back, go back to playing at his ridiculous rate offensively, and this conversation will probably be forgotten about by this time next week.
But at what point do the Celtics actually start thinking about what point guard in which they’ll want to invest in the long term? Smart has showed some serious strides from his rookie year, and unlike Thomas, he’s still a solid 3-4 years from his prime. Stevens has admirably tried to get his Smart/Thomas/Rozier lineup as many minutes as possible, but eventually something is going to have to give.
The answer may not come this season, but if the Celtics don’t want to regress, it may be smarter to make this decision sooner rather than later.
Al Horford’s Big Foul (Jared Weiss): There was a glimmer of hope for the Celtics, if only for a microsecond. There was a brief moment in time-space, where Al Horford had blocked a crucial Kyle Lowry three with 30 seconds left.
But then gravity set in. Horford came down under Lowry and got called for the foul. Three shots from the line. Horford was incredulous, bewildered that his potential game-saving play had just doomed his team.
Asked Horford what the ref said on Lowry foul: "I don't even know. I was so pissed off, I didn't even hear him." #Celtics pic.twitter.com/OfEZwWIMrg— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) December 10, 2016
“I don’t even know man,” Horford told me when asked what the ref’s explanation for the call was. “I was so pissed off, I didn’t even hear what he said.”
Horford was visibly infuriated and took that anger out on Patrick Patterson for a three-point play on the other end.
It helped even out the two plays on the aggregate, but it was just too late. Horford was calm but clearly still frustrated after the game. He can’t get this one back, but there are plenty of battles ahead for him.