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The Read & React: Celtics starters give up Christmas ghost against Wizards

The Celtics starters struggled against the Wizard’s elite crunch time unit, even with an excellent performance from the Boston bench.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Smith: On a night when the Celtics bench vastly outplayed their opponent, a lack of rebounding and poor offensive execution caused a Nightmare on Christmas.

Boston's bench, which generally gives up leads and puts the starters in a rough spot to come back, outscored Washington 43-20 for the game. Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart did the heavy lifting, combining for 38 points, as the bench kept the Celtics in the game.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the regular closing lineup fell apart in the fourth quarter. Up 95-90, Boston gave up a 12-0 run and the Wizards never looked back. Several turnovers and rushed shots were the culprit for the Celtics, and everything culminated in a five-second violation on an ATO late in the fourth.

Even more egregious was the rebounding. Boston allowed 14 offensive rebounds, including seven in the fourth quarter. Washington converted those second chances into 14 points. That was the difference in the game.

Christmas may be over, but Boston still has tradable draft picks and players and the Disabled Player Exception. There is still plenty of time for Danny Ainge to do some shopping. Perhaps a rebounder is in order, given the teams precipitous slip on the boards. The Celtics find themselves looking up at Toronto for the first time since the season's early days. If they don't fix things soon, that gap might only widen further.

Simon Pollock: Washington’s bench is a hodgepodge of skillsets at best –that’s old news to the NBA at-large. So Boston was due for a lift from their competent second unit, and it came in the form the scoring advantage Keith just mentioned.

But —after that sweet, sweet run of 16 wins— the jig is up on Boston’s starters and their Irving-centric strategy to close games. The crunch time unit needed help on offense and was completely lacking in team defense.

At least for now, the beautiful Irving-Horford two-man game needs a lift from the rest of the roster. Look what happens when Irving got stuck with the long-armed law of John Wall late in the fourth quarter.

Wall was all over this pocket pass and it turned into a quick transition bucket at the other end. Net negative four points.

Meanwhile, the attempt to hide Irving on defense while Tatum or Smart took on the job of guarding Wall or Bradley Beal failed. Otto Porter Jr. notched an efficient 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting, while grabbing six boards and looked at ease when Irving scampered out to try and contain him. Late in the game, Irving stayed down in his stance and stuck with his all-star assignments, but the rest of the team couldn’t keep Porter, Kelly Oubre, or Marcin Gortat blocked out.

No way to blame this all on a lackluster night for Brown (who left the game late). Coach Brad Stevens was plenty critical of his squad’s defensive performance down the stretch.

Boston’s 5-6 in the last 11 games, but they also haven’t quite managed to find lineup consistency during that stretch. Having Marcus Morris back on the parquet was an upshot of this Christmas Day matchup, even if he shot an abysmal 1 of 7 in his limited 16 minutes. Morris is the type creative scorer and rebounding forward who can act as the release valve down the stretch and his team has lacked that extra boost in recent losses.

Close your eyes and envision consistency for the Celtics lineups and defensive intensity in 2018. Maybe it’ll come back.