1. So…umm…yeah. That was bad. The Celtics blew multiple double-digit leads over the course of falling apart and losing in Orlando. The Boston bench disappeared. They missed nine free throws. The final play, where Jayson Tatum missed a potential game-tying jumper at the buzzer, became a discussion point. And then Kyrie Irving vented his frustrations to the media postgame.
All-around, this was as bad as it has been for the Celtics this year. Once again, losing a road game, even to a middling Magic team, isn’t the end of the world. Once again, it feels worse because of the other bad losses on the ledger already. But this time it also felt different. Boston truly blew this game. And after the game, their leader showed he was frustrated in multiple ways. It wasn’t a good night, so that means these takeaways are going to have a slightly different slant. No clips. Just observations from this game and the season as a whole.
2. Let’s start with the falling apart and blowing double-digit leads. The Celtics led by as many as 12 points, and led by 10 or 11 at several different points in the game. After a frustrating opening quarter, the Celtics put together a rare great second quarter and looked like they would cruise in the second half. Then, Orlando, who has one of the worst offenses in the NBA, scored 64 points after halftime.
What caused the collapse? There are a few things, which we’ll cover over the next few takeaways.
3. The Boston bench did a magic act of their own in this game: they disappeared. The five reserves were all a negative in plus/minus. This ranged from Robert Williams at -8 to Terry Rozier at -20. Overall, the Celtics backups combined for 25 points, a total that Terrence Ross of the Magic matched all on his own.
4. The defense completely fell apart in the second half. Ross is one of the streakiest shooters in the NBA, but when he gets it going, you have to be all over him. Following the game, Brad Stevens said they didn’t get in his airspace enough, and when Boston did, they fouled him. Which basically summed it up.
But it was more than just failing to cool off Ross. The Celtics got back-cut repeatedly for dunks and layups in the second half. Evan Fournier got it going and made a bunch of plays. Mostly, it was the reserve group that lost focus. Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward made some plays on offense, but were awful on defense. And by the time the starters got back in, it was too late. The Magic players were out of the box.
5. The last two points focused on the reserves as a whole, but Terry Rozier is getting his own takeaway. This was one of the worst games of his career. He was 0-for-5 from the floor and did nothing helpful on defense. He played just 17 minutes and was a -20 for the game. That is an unmitigated disaster.
Rozier has had times this season when he’s shown flashes of being the guy he was last year. But for the most part, he’s struggled to re-adapt to a bench role. It’s possible that Danny Ainge missed his window to move Rozier and get a decent value in return.
6. This one is a quick one…the Celtics left nine points off the board at the free throw line. In a two-point loss, that is unacceptable. Guys can have off nights at the line, just like from the floor. But Boston has left far too many points off the board all season long. They have all these players who can get to the rim fairly easily. Not finishing it with free throws is a problem, especially when they don’t get that many freebies to begin with.
7. The end of the game…Irving wasn’t happy he didn’t get the ball. Gordon Hayward didn’t seem happy that his decision making was questioned. Tatum didn’t seem happy that he missed (obviously), but also that there were questions about him taking the last shot. The takeaway is that you want your best players taking the shot, or you want the best shot period. The Magic seemed to jump Irving, taking him away as an option. Tatum got a good look and missed. It’s fine to be disappointed, but for anyone to be upset with each other over this outcome seems misguided and off the mark.
8. Let’s close with two things. First, Irving calling out the kids postgame, after Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown had their small issue the previous game, seems to be showing a growing divide between the vets and the youth. This was always a challenge that could crop up. Boston’s young players were better than anyone could have expected last year. They got minutes and delivered and got the team to a bad-shooting night from an NBA Finals appearance. On the flip side, guys like Irving and Hayward are established veterans who entered this season looking to show they were back and ready to fill the roles they were expected to play.
Somewhere along the line, this divide has been created. Some of the young guys have obviously not played well in a lesser role. Some of the vets aren’t up to form. It’s caused issues all season, and that seemed to come boiling over this week.
9. So, how does it get fixed? Some of it lies on the players for sure. Irving said it best when he said “Guys need to realize our depth is a positive. Take your minutes and make an impact.” That’s all fair, even if that ask is really hard.
Making that ask has to be Brad Stevens. He’s got to figure out who his 8-10 guys are and move forward. It might not be the best 8-10 guys either. It just has to be the 8-10 who fit the best together and play the hardest each night. Al Horford said “We don’t play hard all the time”, and that’s a huge issue. It’s on Stevens to figure that out. There are two forms of currency in the NBA: actual money and playing time. The money part is said and done. Stevens controls the playing time. You want to play? Fill your role and play hard.
To aid that cause, it might mean it is time for Ainge to swing a deal. Balance out the roster a bit more. The idea that Boston had all this youth that was plug and play, along with veterans returning, was always a bit utopian. Rarely is it that easy in the NBA. But that’s where the coach comes in. He has to be the steady hand to guide the team through their ups and downs. Stevens is a world-class coach. He’s one of the best tacticians in the NBA. Now he has to be an ego manager for the first time since he got to Boston. It may make for some hard conversations, but it has to happen. Otherwise, this team’s disappointing season to date will end in a disappointing season overall.