Andrew Doxy: Tonight was a big game for Marcus Smart despite this being a really bad game for everyone overall. After a quiet first quarter, Smart spent a lot of his possessions driving to the basket. He had a few good moves (including that ridiculously smooth spin into the air ball), and he attacked mismatches. As I’ve said every time Smart has a bad game, if he could just have this mentality to drive to the rim every night, he’d be even more valuable. That was the leap I was hoping he’d make this season, but unfortunately, he hasn’t been consistent. As always, here’s to hoping that his desire to drive to the rim carries on to the next game against the Magic.
Bill Sy: Since Christmas, the Celtics rattled off a 7-game winning streak, including wins against the Rockets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Sixers in London. They’ve lost their last two, including last night to those same 76ers that they thrashed in London, but don’t get caught up in wins and losses. The Celtics have been consistent: consistently great on defense, but consistently bad on offense.
Boston has returned to their early season ways of stingy defense and boasted a 93.7 DefRtg over their last nine. That’s best in the NBA over that stretch. The problem is, they’ve been second worst on the offensive end, averaging a 99.1 OffRtg. The Celtics were without newly minted All Star Kyrie Irving and his 24 points and 5 assists, but that doesn’t account for their nineteen turnovers and lack of aggression.
They recorded their second lowest assists total (13 on 30 made field goals) of the season; they had 12 just two weeks ago in Brooklyn. It was the Celtics fourth and final game against Philly. This performance could have been a product of Brett Brown having enough tape on Boston and had figured out how to beat them.
More likely, it’s symptomatic of their lack of effort and more importantly, it should be a wake up call before the team heads out west on a four-game road trip. Here’s what Brad Stevens said last night:
“We were very sloppy (offensively). And when Kyrie’s out, you have to be better ...” - #Celtics Brad Stevens— A. Sherrod Blakely (@ASherrodblakely) January 19, 2018
“We have to play harder on offense. You have to run to your spots in transition, you have to screen, you have to cut. You can’t just watch, you can’t just pound the ball. You have to move with a purpose.”
Here’s the play that started the second quarter that Mad Brad quickly shut down and called a timeout. It’s sixteen seconds of meh. Terry Rozier sets a soft down screen. Shane Larkin cuts through without purpose. Marcus Morris jogs to meet the ball.
Last summer, Danny Ainge upgraded the size and athleticism of the roster. Gone are undersized guards like Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. Slower bigs like Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, and Amir Johnson have been replaced by a more youthful Jayson Tatum, more rugged Aron Baynes, more versatile defender Marcus Morris, and more fearless Daniel Theis. But even with all the improvements, Stevens’ read-and-react offense is predicated on players taking advantage of every decision that a defense makes. With or without Kyrie, those little moments where a player sets a screen or decides to zig instead of zag make a cumulative difference.
Jeff Clark: Jayson Tatum always tries to make the right play, sometimes to a fault. Tonight, with the entire offense looking as bewildered as Jar Jar Binks on rollerskates,
he would repeatedly drive the ball into the lane and kick it out to an open shooter who proceeded to brick the shot. Is it wrong for me to want him to get a little greedy and aggressive sometimes? Is that putting too much pressure on a 19 year old who’s still trying to impress his coach? Probably.
Bobby Manning: Shane Larkin gained Brad Stevens’ trust this season and it’s becoming easier to see why by the game. Many compared Larkin’s prowess to Phil Pressey, once a Stevens favorite on a young/depleted roster for a change of pace. Pressey never stuffed the stat sheet, his numbers were quite bare actually, but visually the playmaking, movement and change of speed on the ball had a visual impact. Larkin is doing similar things, only at a higher level.
After his exodus to Spain, he looks like he belongs in the NBA again. The Celtics turned the ball over repeatedly in Thursday’s game, but Larkin only posted one in 23 minutes. He shot 3-of-6, picking his spots on the ball in a way Marcus Smart doubters would smile over. Stevens then thrusted him into the fourth quarter lineup that cut an 18 point Sixers lead to seven. Stevens stressed pace in his mic’d up coaching videos, urged the team to get to the paint at halftime and Larkin obliged. He started the quarter switching onto Joel Embiid on the right wing, dribbling past him to finish inside. Later, he broke to the rim again, dumped to Jaylen Brown and broke to the corner where he caught and just missed an open three. In the final minutes, he took a charge on Dario Saric as he lost control avoiding a Terry Rozier steal attempt. Next, he improbably knocked Embiid off the ball in the post to help force a 24 second violation. All these efforts put the Celts in position to win the game, or at least close in down seven but other open shots did not fall. “He can drive the ball,” Stevens said post-game on Larkin. “He can get into the teeth of the defense and make plays.”