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Boston is bad right now and 9 other takeaways from Magic vs. Celtics

An ugly loss exposed some issues on both sides of the ball

NBA: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics are bad right now. It’s probably just “right now”, but that doesn’t make it any less true. After a somewhat encouraging Opening Night win over the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston has turned in three consecutive disappointing performances. That last two came against two Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers in the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic. The second of which came in a terrible home loss, one where more looked bad than looked good.

1. The Celtics are a mess on offense. They started slow again and it didn’t get much better as the game went along. They are this confounding mixture of individual selfishness and unselfish over-passing. Everyone seems to be trying to get themselves going, but then seems to remember to get their teammates involved and overdoes it.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

2. The defense isn’t much better, despite some decent numbers. Orlando missed a considerable amount of open looks. And the Celtics continue to commit silly fouls by being overly aggressive at the wrong time, like Jaylen Brown fouling D.J. Augustin 30 feet from the hoop early in the shot clock late in the fourth quarter.

3. Speaking of Brown…he’s a disaster right now. His offensive game is a mess. Because he’s clearly the fifth option to start games, he seems all sorts of out of rhythm. Tonight, Brown was pressing, as you could see him trying to get himself going. The lack of offense also seems to have impacted his usually good defense. He’s losing cutters and getting beat off the bounce on a regular basis, which is something that didn’t happen very often last year.

4. Sticking with the defense, two disturbing trends have surfaced. The first is the lack of anything resembling interior defense without Aron Baynes. Al Horford is a remarkable defender, but centers who play bully-ball give him trouble. Nikola Vucevic lived in the paint and dominated. Theis gives great effort inside (more on that later), but just doesn’t have the bulk. This is an area to monitor as the season goes along.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

5. The second bad defensive omen is the Celtics lack of ability to control their own glass. Orlando came up with eight offensive rebounds tonight, but also drew five fouls where they had inside position on the offensive boards. This has been a problem for Boston for years and doesn’t seem to have to been rectified. The answer might be in more gang-rebounding, because outside of Baynes and Rozier, no one is really a plus-rebounder for their position.

6. Something else that cropped up tonight, that hadn’t been a defensive problem, was the inability to keep the Orlando guards out of the paint. Augustin and Evan Fourier continually broke down the Celtics defense and found shooters and cutters. They each had 10 assists, which is a sign Boston lost containment on the perimeter far too often.

7. The substitution patterns are really starting to take shape. Brad Stevens was searching for a lift early in this game, so he went deep into the bench. Outside of that, he is sticking to pulling Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward around the mid-point of the first quarter, then bringing them back in with reserves in the second quarter. In the second half, because they are managing Hayward’s minutes, they switch it up slightly. Tatum still gets pulled first and then put back in. It’s a sign Stevens is trying to create some consistency for his players.

8. On a rough night, it can be hard to find positives, but there were a handful. First, Theis and Semi Ojeleye gave the Celtics a big lift off the bench in the first half. Both players changed the defensive energy and allowed Boston to get back in a game that was getting away from them. Stevens likes to use the whole roster, and this is motivator for players to stay ready. Theis and Ojeleye were tonight.

9. Theis was a problem on the offensive glass for the Magic. The stat sheet shows he only grabbed two offensive rebounds, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He drew three fouls in rebounding action in a one-minute span in the fourth quarter. That helped get Boston in the bonus early. Theis isn’t the biggest guy, or the best leaper, but he consistently outworks his opponents for position inside. That’s a weapon the Celtics can take advantage of.

10. About being in the bonus early…ugh. The Magic committed four fouls in the first 2:15 of the fourth quarter. Boston should have been living at the line for the rest of the game. Instead, the Celtics shot just four free throws over the final 9:45 of the game. And they didn’t even earn those ones. This marks three consecutive games where Boston has failed to take advantage of being in the penalty for a long stretch of the game. For a team struggling to find offense, they need to force the issue and get themselves some free ones.

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