1. No burying the lede here…this was a really bad loss for the Celtics. Phoenix is one of the worst teams in the NBA, despite the fact that they’ve been playing better as of late. Sure, Boston lost Aron Baynes early in the first quarter and was without Al Horford and Marcus Morris, but the Celtics have more than enough depth to be able to beat a team like the Suns. Losing game isn’t the end of the world, but how Boston lost is what’s most disturbing.
Throughout the game the Celtics were massacred on the glass. Phoenix pulled down 21 offensive rebounds, which was a whopping 38 percent of their own missed shots. DeAndre Ayton alone had eight offensive boards, and eight-of-nine Suns who played got at least one offensive rebound. Overall that led to 20 second-chance points for Phoenix, which is a huge margin in an eight-point game.
In addition, the Celtics looked a step slow to loose balls throughout most of the game. Sure, Boston snagged 13 steals on 17 Suns turnovers, but Phoenix recovered more than their fair share of the loose balls.
Losing Baynes hurt on the glass, but not 21 offensive rebounds worth. And sometimes the other team gets to more loose balls. But not usually when you are at home and coming off three days without games. This loss was about more than just missing shots, as most of the other losses this year have been.
2. Speaking of playing at home, Wednesday night kicked off a stretch where the Celtics will play 15-of-22 games in Boston. That should be an opportunity for the team to start making up ground at the top of the Eastern Conference. Throwing away a game against the Suns certainly isn’t the way to take advantage of the long stretch of home games.
3. Baynes going down was felt in this game, but may be felt even more over the next 4-6 weeks while he recovers. The Christmas Day matchup with Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers is looming, as well as a game against Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies. Around those there are teams that attack the rim with regularity like the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets. With Al Horford’s status still up in the air, this is a critical period for Boston up front.
4. One of the players who was called upon against the Suns, and will continue to be, is rookie Robert Williams. While Williams has an incredible amount of physical talent that leads to alley-oops and highlight blocks, he’s also a very raw young player. Ayton had his way with the combo of Williams and Daniel Theis, as he piled up 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting and grabbed 18 rebounds. Ayton is more offensively polished than your typical rookie big, and it showed as he took advantage of Williams’ natural aggressiveness several times.
One thing Williams does that is showing up in a negative way right now is how he blocks shots. We all love seeing the occasional ball going sailing into the stands or ricocheting off the backboard, but when the other team is able to gather for an easy put-back, it’s not great. The best shot-blockers control the ball and they don’t let themselves get taken out of the play for easy buckets should the opponent recover. Almost all young shot-blockers go through this evolution. It will come eventually for Williams, but for now it’s something to watch.
5. One positive for the Celtics was their unselfishness, as they tallied 26 assists on 38 made baskets. On this play, Marcus Smart could have forced a shot, but he reads two defenders flying at him and kicks it back to Kyrie Irving for the open three:
6. Speaking of Irving, you never really feel like you are out of the game with a talent like him on the roster. He’s capable of shooting the Celtics back in any game, provided the rest of the roster gives him some help. This circus shot from the first half is one of those plays where you see it happen, but still have to rub your eyes because it doesn’t seem real:
7. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room…Jaylen Brown’s lack of offense. Brown hit his first two shots against the Suns: a nice driving floater and then a mid-range fadeaway. It all went downhill from there, as Brown hit just one-of-seven the rest of the way. Those six misses included some three-pointers that weren’t even close. These two misses, which came about a minute apart in the third quarter, are examples of a player having no confidence in his jumper:
The challenge right now is that Brown isn’t contributing in other ways to make up for the poor offense. For example, Smart can’t shoot, but you know he’s bringing elite defense and making a bunch of plays that help you win. So, you overlook the lack of shooting. Brown isn’t bringing much of anything else at the moment. His defense remains OK, but it’s not enough to offset the poor offense.
In addition, we’re now over a third of the way through the season. This is no longer a one or two-week shooting slump. Brown is down to 40.7 percent overall and at just 27.1 percent from behind the arc. Those numbers are reaching a point where he becomes borderline unplayable in a playoff series. In the postseason, teams scheme for an opponent. If Boston already has a defender dropping off Smart, the Celtics can’t also have someone playing a mile off Brown and expect to have a functional offense.
8. In this loss, Marcus Morris’ absence stood out in one main way: when the going got tough, the Celtics had no one outside of Irving who said “I’ve got this”. Morris has been that guy for Boston this year. Jayson Tatum is Boston’s second-best offensive player behind Irving, but he’s just 20-years old and his mindset isn’t always there to carry the team. Yet. Without Morris, the Celtics had no one to bail them out beyond Irving, and Irving alone wasn’t enough.
9. Speaking of Tatum, we’ve seen Williams show up with highlight blocks, but Tatum got in on the fun against T.J. Warren in the first quarter:
10. When Boston lost to the Pistons to snap the eight-game win streak, it was no big deal. They weren’t going to win them all, it was on the road and the team looked tired. Losing a home game, even against a bottom-feeder, happens sometimes too. We all remember Emmanuel Mudiay hanging 24 first quarter points on the Celtics as a bad Nuggets team pulled off the upset in Boston.
If it’s just one game, no worries, despite it being a terrible loss. It happens. How this team bounces back against fellow Eastern Conference contender Milwaukee on Friday will tell us a lot. It’s no longer early. The schedule is set up for the Celtics to take advantage and it’s time for them to do so.