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The Read & React: point/counterpoint

The Celtics are 13-11, haven’t beat a quality team, but things are trending in the right direction.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Gut reaction (Bobby Manning): Why don't the Celtics send the person they want taking the final shot off of the ball? Again, down two, Avery Bradley gets the ball in isolation on Boston's last possession before the jump ball sealed their fate and failed to score in an isolation-type play. This team's offense was generated all game by outstanding ball movement. Most of it was initiated by Marcus Smart, why not put the ball in his hands for one of those possessions and set up a series of passes that set someone up for an open shot?

That's what they're best at as a team, not throwing the ball to the best player on the court and hoping they score. I'm not going to sit here and act like I know better than Brad Stevens, but what I do know is that these isolation plays late in games continue to fail when the Celtics need to score to win or stay alive.

No more moral victories and no more excuses (Keith P. Smith): Close losses to good teams on the road. Good experience for the young guys. Injuries. At some point those comments are all just trying to rationalize the results of a team that isn't quite as good as we hoped it would be. The Celtics are 13-11 and it isn't time to panic, but it might be time to reset expectations. Instead of wondering if this team can be the two seed and dreaming about upsetting Cleveland, it is probably time to think about if they can even get home court advantage or not.

Tonight wasn't as much about who didn't play as it was about lack of execution late in the game. The Celtics missed shots at the rim, turned the ball over and had too many defensive breakdowns late in the game. Russell Westbrook is an MVP level talent, but Boston made it very easy on him to make plays down the stretch. No place did this show up more than on the awful execution off the Westbrook/Avery Bradley jumpball. Westbrook out jumped Bradley, but that wasn't the issue. The issue was Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier inexplicably letting Semaj Christon behind them off the tap. Both players took odd angles, while Westbrook simply tapped it to Christon who was wide open. It resulted in a Jerami Grant dunk and the game was over for all intents and purposes.

Sure, Smart had a clean look at a three to tie it at the buzzer, but it never should have gotten to that point. Closing quarters, with a full healthy squad or not, has been an issue. The team gave up a double digit lead in the third quarter, as Brad Stevens continues to rely on the bench, as a full unit, for long stretches. And they aren't good enough for that. Jaylen Brown and Rozier had flashes tonight, but they also had periods where they looked lost defensively. And that group together kills the ball movement and any momentum is all too often lost.

As we head into mid-December, it is time to take stock of what sort of team you are. Unfortunately for the Celtics, despite any excuse you want to make, that answer isn't the one we all hoped for. They are just another good team in a mass of good teams that are stuck squarely behind Cleveland and Toronto in the Eastern Conference. And that simply isn't good enough.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Glass half full (Bill Sy): I get what Keith is saying. This was yet another winnable game that they were winning in the 4th quarter, but they let slip away to a team that they shouldn’t have beat. It’s frustrating, but let’s put things into perspective.

It’s hard to ignore the injuries, not just to Isaiah Thomas in this game, but the entire team as a whole from the perspective of the whole season. The starting lineup has only played a total of ten games together and they’re 7-3. That isn’t exactly Doc claiming that the starting lineup of KG, Pierce, Ray, Rondo, and Perk have never lost a playoff series together, but it’s relevant to any discussion about who this team is. We can argue whether or not Amir Johnson should be starting or who’s available via trade, but the fact is the Celtics are good with their full complement of players.

There’s also the numbers. In November, the Celtics posted a net rating of 1.2 (106.5 OffRtg, 105.3 DefRtg). In their six December games, they’ve improved their defense to 101.6. Glass half emptiers have pointed to the lack of production from the bench, but that’s trending up, too. Rookie Jaylen Brown has strung together a bunch of productive games in a row and is now a reliable contributer. Terry Rozier has had a few bad shooting nights, but he’s a reliable back up point guard that doesn’t turnover the ball and defends and rebounds his position. Jonas Jerebko has re-established himself as a change of pace big that can stretch the floor with his 45% shooting from the behind the arc. Kelly Olynyk hasn’t found his range yet, but he’s become much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and being a distributor.

Of course, we always remember the losses. Last night’s was brutal with the Celtics playing so poorly in the closing minutes. Same goes for Houston. Toronto was tough because of how well they played in the first half. But in a week, in a month, and definitely by the end of the season, this will be a blip. The Eastern Conference is a jumbled mess between #3 and #10, but there are roughly 60 games to go, two months of trade discussions that could immediately address some of the team’s weaknesses, and Brad Stevens at the helm.

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