1. This was a tough loss. Sure, Boston played without Marcus Smart (eye infection) and Gordon Hayward left early (due to a “blow to the nose”) and Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis fouled out, but the Celtics did plenty of their own self-damage too. We’ll cover those later, but despite the circumstances this was a very winnable game for Boston.
But maybe that’s a good thing. They didn’t play overly well, they had a lot go wrong, and the Celtics were still in position to beat a good team on the road. If this was last year, Boston lets go of the rope and falls apart entirely. This group just keeps battling, which bodes well for the rest of this season.
2. Against Indiana, who plays two traditional bigs in Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, the Celtics are at a pretty big size disadvantage. But that works both ways. Because Boston plays three similarly-sized players in Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, they can force bigger teams to defend one of those guys off the dribble. This is something to keep in mind in Thursday’s matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers too.
On defense, it can cost Boston at times, especially when communication isn’t good. In this clip, you can see the Celtics try to scramble Kemba Walker off of Sabonis, but as Daniel Theis leaves to execute the scram, Boston doesn’t switch to protect the backside. Sabonis is too good of a passer to give him an opening and he finds Malcolm Brogdon for the wide-open corner three:
3. Here is a good example of how Boston defends bigger players in the post. Turner tries to post up Tatum, but Tatum uses his athleticism and length to deny the entry pass an ultimately come up with the steal:
You’ll see Tatum, Brown, Hayward and Smart do this often. They know if someone like Turner catches here, it’s an easy turnaround jumper over them. So, they’ll slip the positioning and contest the entry pass. Given how poor post entry passing is around the NBA, it’s a strategy that works on a regular basis.
4. It could be easy for Jaylen Brown’s big night to get lost in the loss, him fouling out and Kemba Walker’s scoring explosion. Brown nearly recorded his first triple-double with a line of 18/8/8. The eight assists were a new career-high for Brown, who has taken his playmaking game to another level this season. On this first play, it looks like a simple thing, but Brown makes a really quick read to get Walker the open three-pointer:
Then this play is really exciting, because Brad Stevens went back to an action that Boston used a lot in years past. We used to see this one with Isaiah Thomas or Avery Bradley cutting and Evan Turner doing the ballhandling. Brown dribbles right into a Princeton backdoor cut from Walker to get the Celtics the easy layup:
5. Boston would have been sunk without Kemba Walker. His scoring kept the Celtics in the game versus the blowout they may have faced otherwise. Walker scored 44 points on 18-of-28 shooting. The most impressive part is that those 28 field goal attempts came in the natural rhythm of the game. Walker only forced a couple of heat-check shots, but that’s something every player does when they’re making almost everything. There’s something about scoring guards in a Brad Stevens’ offense and Walker is keeping it going after Thomas and Kyrie Irving did their thing for years.
6. This play would be a lot more fun, had the Celtics won. As it stands, it’s still fun, just not quite as fun as it could have been:
7. As it stands right now, Jayson Tatum is averaging 20.9 points per game. But Tatum still gets there somewhat inconsistently. It’s 24 points one night and 16 the next. Sometimes that comes from game-flow, other times it’s a young player struggling with consistency. How can Tatum become that guy you know is scoring 20 plus every game? Plays like this where he gets in the post for easy buckets. Right now this happens about four or five times a game for Tatum. When he makes plays like this eight to ten times a game, Tatum will easily be the big-time scorer he has the potential to be.
8. So, how did the Celtics lose control of this game? After building a 10-point lead to close the third quarter, Boston started the fourth quarter about as sloppy as a team can. They had seven turnovers in the first six minutes of the final period. By the time they were settled back down, the Pacers had cut the lead to just two. And, at that same point, Hayward was forced to leave the game after catching a wayward hand from Doug McDermott. Boston lost one of their stabilizing forces and ultimately the game slipped away.
9. How does Hayward help settle the Celtics? He makes what coaches and scouts call “grownup plays”. Hayward is one of those guys you can throw the ball to and trust something good will happen. He’s always under control and never rushes things. This score is a good example. The clock is ticking down and Boston is nursing a lead. Hayward just does his thing and gets a layup.
Next time down the floor, Hayward had to leave for the night and the Boston offense was never really the same.
10. So, fine... Hayward was out, Smart was out and Brown fouled out. The offense was bound to struggle some with Walker, Tatum and backups in there. What was inexcusable were some of the head-scratching defensive decisions in the fourth quarter.
It was Happy Holidays for the Pacers, as Aaron and Justin Holiday combined for 35 points off the Indiana bench. What was maddening was the Celtics kept helping off either Holiday, which left them open for several shots in the fourth quarter. This one was a dagger, as Walker and Wanamaker helped off the strong-side corner (a major no-no) and left Justin Holiday wide-open:
It’s pretty rare that Boston makes the sort of mistakes like the above and getting caught in a scramble play in Takeaway #2. Part of that comes from being connected as a five-man unit defensively. With so many unfamiliar guys on the court together (due to injuries and foul outs), it may have cost the Celtics some of that connectivity. Let’s see if that is cleaned up in a big back-to-back against the 76ers on Thursday night.