Keith Smith: The break couldn’t come at a better time for the Celtics. They’ve allowed their season high in points twice in the last three games. The offense goes missing for long stretches and too often turns into three-point attempt after three-point attempt.
The 16 game win streak raised expectations to an unrealistic level for many. The young players regressed, which is normal. Injuries hit, which is a common occurrence in a long season. But because Boston led the Eastern Conference for most of the season, it all feels sort of unacceptable.
Now the Celtics get a chance to reset and figure some things out. Several players will head to Los Angeles for All Star festivities, while several others will use the time to let some bumps and bruises heal.
Most importantly, Brad Stevens can get back in the lab and figure some things out. The Celtics won’t be as bad after the break as they have been lately. But they also aren’t as good as they were early on. They’re somewhere in the middle, which is probably exactly where they should be.
Matt Chin: Over the past month, the Celtics have produced the 18th best defensive rebounding percentage. DeAndre Jordan is one of the best at-the-rim scorers around, so protecting and cleaning the glass was critical tonight. Boston failed.
It starts with the backcourt. Countless dribble penetration off of simple pick-and-roll or DHO sets resulted in the Celtic guards dying on high screens. From there, Teodosic and Rivers effectively got downhill and dominated in 2-on-1 situations alongside a rolling Jordan. For the Celtic bigs, it is impossible to frustrate dribble penetration while simultaneously trying to stick closely with Jordan, who is capable of catching and finishing lobs thrown well above the rim.
The concerning aspect of this loss is that Boston’s defense was the main culprit. On a night where the C’s managed to total 119 points, they couldn’t stop a Clippers team that recently traded away their best offensive weapon. The Celtics have been able to harken back on their defense all season long, and it sustained their top seed until last week. They’ve now surrendered over 120 points in consecutive games, and while panicking over the defense would be unreasonable, it is fair to wonder just how far it can carry them down the stretch.
In early January, the break around the London game killed some surging Boston momentum. This time around, the extended rest period could not come soon enough. Greg Monroe looks slow, and while I admit that agility is not his calling card, I’d like to hope that the collection of DNP-CDs that he received in Phoenix took him out of game shape. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown need to regroup and the coaching staff needs to develop new ways to utilize their offensive skills. Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin’s facilitation abilities are dearly missed.
Bill Sy: To Matt’s point about the Clippers’ dribble penetration and Jordan’s rim dives, that’s been an issue with the Celtics’ ICE approach with pick-and-rolls. They’d rather contain the ball handler and try to force him into a long-2 rather than overload and give up an open shot on the ball rotation. Unfortunately last night, they couldn’t keep Rivers and Teodosic in check and the visitor’s scoreboard lit up like a Christmas tree.
This has been a consistent problem with Boston’s “bend, don’t break” defense, but thankfully, most teams don’t have a DeAndre Jordan. The remaining member of Lob City had a career high 30 points on 11 for 14 shooting (and a remarkable 8-for-9 from the free throw line). Check out the Clippers Film Room timeline for more clips of Boston’s lack of defense on Jordan.
Here’s the problem. If Boston wants to make any noise in the post-season, they’re going to have to sharpen up their downhill D before the playoffs. DAJ is one of the most athletic roll men in the game, but there are big men in the East that will potentially pose problems for the Celtics in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Toronto has Jakob Poeltl, Jonas Valanciunas, and Serge Ibaka and we’ve seen what Larry Nance Jr. can do next to LeBron James. Celtics Twitter has been putting out fires set by concerned fans by touting the imminent return of Marcus Smart and more so, his impact on the defense, but this issue is a schematic problem that his presence doesn’t necessarily affect.