1. Let’s start here: the sky isn’t falling. The season is only halfway through. Sure, Boston played awful for a large chunk of the game (and for chunks of the season to date!). But, and there are a few buts, there were reasons: Back-to-back with travel, due for a bad game, Miami needed this game, etc. The next few points will look at the validity of each of these.
2. Back-to-back with travel: This is a legit thing. Yes, the Celtics held minutes down for the main guys against Indiana in leg one. That is true. But, outside of Al Horford, it was only by three to five minutes per player. It’s not like everyone played 10 minutes and took the rest of the night off.
While minutes were light, the team still had to immediately pack, jump on a plane, fly 1500 miles to Miami, land in the wee morning hours, grab what amounts to a quick nap and get ready to play. Every team goes through this, and very few come out on top.
3. Due for a bad game: Did you know that over the last 20 years in the NBA, when a team loses their first game following a win streak of at least four games, the average margin of loss is 14 points? It’s very common for a team lose in a blowout following a win streak. Coaches and players will tell you that streaks take a lot out of a team. When you hit the pothole, it tends to blow a tire and your night is shot.
For Boston, they had played terrific for a string of games, including their best effort of the year against Indiana. They probably weren’t going to win 46 straight to close the season. They hit a pothole and blew a tire in Miami.
4. Miami need this game: The Heat are under a lot of pressure. They have a bloated cap sheet, have already won too much to get a good pick this year and still have a future pick owed in a couple of years floating out there. In a word, Miami was desperate for a win and played better than they have most of the season.
5. This is another one of those losses that wouldn’t feel quite as bad if Boston didn’t already have so many bad ones on their ledger. Unfortunately, the Celtics do have those bad losses, so even a “good” or “OK” loss is tough to take. It’s fair to be disappointed, but don’t overreact just yet.
6. On to some specific takeaways from this game. The Celtics continued an ugly trend of starting hot and then playing a terrible second quarter. This time the game followed the script almost perfectly for a Boston loss. The ball got sticky, players took bad shots, shoulders slumped and guys didn’t get in the right spots on defense.
7. But….of course the Celtics rallied and made it a game. That’s kind of what they do. And keying the entire rally were Marcus Smart and Robert Williams. He made a bunch of shots and this block on Bam Adebayo is the kind of play that should clinch a spot on the All-Defense First Team:
8. Williams came in and sparked a 16-0 run. He played with great energy and made impacts that didn’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s really starting to figure out where to be defensively and when. Once he has that down, combined with his ridiculous athleticism, Williams will lock down a rotation spot. That rotation spot is probably not coming this year, but he’s showing why many called him the steal of the 2018 NBA Draft.
9. In past years when Brad Stevens wanted to get the energy up, he’d turn to Phil Pressey or Shane Larkin to change the game. The Celtics don’t really have that guy this time around, so the energy lineup has become a three-guard look with Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier and Smart. It’s something Stevens has gone to with regularity. The results are a little mixed, but expect that look to stick around for a while.
10. Outside of the loss, the stories of the game became two things. First, Kyrie Irving stuck around to get extra shots up following the loss. It’s something he’s done a handful of times in his career, usually following a frustrating night. It’s Irving’s way of getting his mind right and getting himself back on track. If you’re a fantasy player or a bettor, wager that Irving has a big night in Orlando on Saturday.
11. The second story came from this clip from Bleacher Report:
Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris had to get separated during a timeout...— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 11, 2019
(via ahubbtho/IG) pic.twitter.com/1EyBZyzvUn
Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown get into a heated discussion and Morris pushes Brown away, before teammates get in between them. Prior to this timeout, Morris was seen yelling at Brown for not getting back on defense. Best guess is that was what the discussion was about.
This sort of stuff happens more than most people realize. It just usually isn’t caught on tape. Most will tell you that some healthy confrontation is good for a team…as long as that is all it is. If it spills to more than that, you’ve got a problem. Until we hear otherwise, assume this is a veteran challenging a young player, the young player clapping back and the vet putting him in his place in a frustrating game for everyone.