Growing Pains (Bill Sy): At the start of the 2nd quarter, Brad Stevens fielded a lineup of Terry Rozier, Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, Jonas Jerebko, and Kelly Olynyk. It made sense. Brown, Olynyk, and Rozier had helped build a double digit lead in the opening frame and the young guys were cooking. But in four minutes and forty seconds, the Knicks erased a five-point lead and never looked back.
By all accounts, this was a dud game. The Celtics were due one after playing pretty good basketball for two months. This happens. Al Horford is going to go 2-for-14 once in a while. Despite only having three turnovers(!), Boston was outrebounded by 24 versus a Knicks team without Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis. These strange anomalies will happen in a random January game of a grueling 82-game season. Does Derrick Rose having the best game of his Knicks career coincide with Avery Bradley sidelined nursing a strained hamstring? Maybe.
But here’s the thing. The Celtics—particularly their bench—is just really young. The average age of the starters is just over 27, but after that, the team is counting on the likes of 22-year-old Marcus Smart, 25-year-old Kelly Olynyk, 22-year-old Terry Rozier, and 20-year-old Jaylen Brown. This has always been a rebuild in two parts: finding, targeting, trading for, and signing undervalued young-ish vets and building through the draft.
For the most part, it’s worked. Smart has come into his own as a point guard and spot starter. Olynyk has finally recovered from his shoulder surgery and regained his form as a versatile stretch big. Rozier and Brown have been spotty, but haven’t gotten over that hump yet. If the Celtics were truly contenders, they would have traded some of their younger assets for more established veterans to support Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Nurturing one or two young guys on a championship team is acceptable, but four (or more) is maybe asking too much.
So far, Ainge has refused to put all his eggs in one basket. With the Brooklyn picks on the horizon and a chance to bring in another max contract player this summer, he can still straddle the line between putting together a championship team and rebuilding. However, you’re going to get games like this.
Stating the Obvious (Jeff Nooney): Boston’s defensive rebounding percentage was 57% last night. That’s awful, and it ranks as the second worst mark of this season for the Celtics. Which says a lot, because they’re literally the worst rebounding team in the league in terms of DRB%. The Knicks managed to do this without two of their best rebounders in Noah and Porzingis. Although to be fair, Boston was without arguably its best rebounder in Avery Bradley. Think about how depressing that is. Boston can’t afford to give up extra possessions to their opponent, especially with how much their defense is struggling to begin with. They did just that last night, and the Knicks scored 24 second chance points. That’s the simple reason for why the Celtics lost this game. Boston doesn’t have the pieces right now to be a great rebounding team, but that doesn’t excuse a rebounding disparity that bad.
Effort Lacking (Bobby Manning): There haven't been many situations during the Brad Stevens Celtics run when the effort hasn't been there. Tonight was that and so much more. The Knicks were getting to their spots offensively without much of a contest from the defense. They were able to grab rebounds through little resistance via Boston box-outs. It was an unadulterated disaster at the Garden. It stinks to see this happen because this team has made a name for themselves through effort and relentless hustle. There's always flops throughout a season and this loss had to have been one of them with how hot the team has been lately; but there were some glaring issues. The bench unit, specifically the rare combination of Rozier-Green-Brown-Jerebko-Olynyk played extremely sloppy and was torched by New York's second unit 55-27. Al Horford had his worst game as a Celtic, a game so bad that it didn't seem possible from a player as careful and meticulous as he is. Hopefully tonight was an anomaly because there was little silver lining to take away outside the fact that Isaiah Thomas can still score at will.
Since I am a positive person though there's plenty of praise in line for Jordan Mickey who racked up two points, a steal and two blocks in under five minutes. Is it too much to ask to see five to seven minutes per night of 55? The mark of a sensational deep bench player is making the most of short minutes. It's why James Young can't get off the bench and it's why I'm continuously perplexed as to why Mickey is stuck on it. He always makes something happen in a short amount of time.
Bounce back (Lachlan Marr): This was a tough one to lose, particularly as it looked like the Celtics were on the verge of coming back at several points throughout the game. Ultimately their inability to rebound both figuratively and literally hurt the Celtics in this matchup. Rebounding, lack of bench production, Isaiah being unable to get it going in the fourth, all of these things were contributing factors but what really cost the Celtics was being unable to bounce back once the Knicks took control.
With Avery out and Horford having a poor shooting night Isaiah took on much of the offensive load for the first three quarters of the game By the time the final frame rolled around IT had already been pushing himself all night and with the Knicks defense locked in on him he couldn't get much going.
Meanwhile, besides Jaylen Brown who showed some signs of life the rest of the bench struggled to inject any energy into the game when they came in. The Knicks who have been slumping recently were playing for pride whereas the Celtics played with a great deal of complacency costing them what should have been an easy win.
Coach Stevens has said it before "basketball is a game of runs" in this game Boston let the Knicks make their runs but the home team didn't come back with enough themselves. If the Celtics are to bounce back from this loss they'll need to put in a better effort in their next outing.