It’s like there is a script the Celtics follow to lose games: Poor rebounding, bad shots, unable to control opposing playmakers and getting out-hustled.
1. On the second night of a back-to-back, Brad Stevens sat Gordon Hayward. Al Horford returned, but instead of going big, Boston downsized. Marcus Morris started once again and Aron Baynes returned to the bench. Oddly enough, Baynes played more minutes as a reserve than he had been playing as a starter, but the story stayed the same on the glass. Throughout the game, the Celtics played just one true big, as Horford and Baynes split the minutes in the middle against the small Mavericks. But once again it cost Boston, as Dallas came up with 13 offensive rebounds.
2. The defense was really bad all game. Early on Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris were gambling for steals on almost every possession. This continued when Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier came in game off the bench. Over and over, the Celtics would gamble and get caught out of position. Without a big-time rim protector or rebounder on the backline, this hampered Boston’s defense.
3. Another example of bad defense is here from Kyrie Irving. He does a great job initially against Luka Doncic. He gets through a screen and then keeps Doncic in front of him. As the shot-clock is winding down, he forces Doncic to pick up his dribble. This is when it goes bad. Irving bites on the fake from Doncic. This isn’t one of the typical Celtics closeouts on a three-point shooter. He already did that. All Irving has to do here is stay down and it makes it a much tougher look on Doncic:
4. Stevens and the players have talked about toughness and energy a lot recently. They’ve even said that the Celtics tend to start games “too cool”. An example of this was Dorian Finney-Smith killing Boston simply by playing harder than everyone else. He got five offensive rebounds, several deflections and ran the floor for baskets. Right now, Stevens would love to have a guy like Finney-Smith to call on for minutes.
5. A brief interlude of good things…First up is Jayson Tatum. He was dialed in and had it going. This was a game where you would have liked to see Tatum be a little more selfish, as he shot just 14 times. This basket over great defense from Wesley Matthews is an example of how good Tatum can be. You can play him perfectly and it just doesn’t matter.
6. Smart continued his streak of great games in Dallas, as he scored 19 points on just eight shots. He also did a nice job when he came in and picked up Doncic. Doncic scored just two points after halftime with Smart as the primary defender.
7. Smart’s reserve backcourt mate had another tough night. Rozier was questionable to play with a sore knee and he looked off his game all night. His defense was very poor (more on that later), which could be attributed to the sore knee. But his offense has been bad all year long and continued in this game. He hit just 1-of-6 from the field and had some questionable shot selection. One miss in the second quarter even had Brad Stevens throwing his hands up in frustration.
8. Boston did seem to make a concerted effort to get to the rim. Whether it was Irving or Tatum or Jaylen Brown, the Celtics got in the paint with regularity. In the third quarter, they lived near the basket. Unfortunately, continuing a season-long trend, they reverted back to jumpers and fall-aways in the fourth quarter as the game slipped away.
9. Boston has been unable to control opposing ballhandlers all season. This game it was veterans J.J. Barea and Devin Harris repeatedly breaking down the Celtics defense. Given that those two guards are a combined 69 years-old, that’s unacceptable from Boston. It’s not always on the guards either, as miscommunication on switches and hedges seems to be causing some of this as well. On this play, Rozier can’t say in front of Barea and Semi Ojeleye doesn’t switch. No matter which player is at fault, this is just bad defense, compounded by fouling the driving Barea:
10. While it wasn’t pretty on offense or defense, no play summed up this game (and the Celtics season to date) than this one (presented in two clips):
Salah Mejri beats two Celtics to the rebound and goes to the floor to secure it. Then Jalen Brunson beats two Celtics to the loose ball and races the other way for a layup.
These are the kinds of balls that Boston always came up with the last few years. The talent level on those Celtics teams wasn’t anywhere near where it is now. But those teams played with heart and scrapped and fought for everything. This team could do with an injection of that kind of spirit. Hopefully they get it sooner, rather than later.