1. Considering all the factors (coming off a loss, five consecutive days off after the game, division rival, undefeated at home), this is easily the most disappointing loss for the Boston Celtics so far this season. It’s one thing to lose a game on the second night of a back-to-back to a really good team. That part isn’t a killer. What stings is the way Boston lost and that it happened at home to a division rival. They were bullied and didn’t really show up for large portions of the game.
And what makes that sting even more is that multiple times throughout the contest the broadcast picked up Brad Stevens cajoling his team to play with more effort and take it to another level. Maybe they were tired. Maybe not having their leader Marcus Smart available made it hard to find that energy. Maybe it was just one of those nights. Whatever the reason, the 76ers brought it all game long and the Celtics didn’t, and that was the difference.
It also stings because this Boston team has expectations now. On a national stage against a team they’ll likely have to beat to get where they hope to be, they failed. And there isn’t a game tomorrow to immediately get over it. This one is going to take some time to process.
2. Gordon Hayward played after being forced from the Indiana game due to a blow to the nose. Hayward showed what a weapon he can be against a team like Philadelphia. On this clip, there is no chance Tobias Harris can guard Hayward off the dribble (or Brown or Tatum for that matter. More on that in a bit.). Also, watch Daniel Theis float out to the arc to pull Joel Embiid just far enough away that he can’t impact Hayward’s shot.
3. After a string of games where he played the best basketball of his career, Jaylen Brown was a complete non-factor. Early in the night, he was on the attack against weaker defenders, like this drive against James Ennis:
Unfortunately, Brown would only make two other shots in the game. He spent a lot of time just standing around the arc versus being active. It didn’t seem to be a gameplan thing from the Sixers either. It just looked like one of those games where you didn’t even know Brown was on the floor. That can’t happen against a team as good as Philadelphia, especially when Brown and Tatum both have matchups they should be able to exploit.
4. There were some positives despite the loss. One of them was Kemba Walker’s work off the ball. Watch Walker set up rookie Matisse Thybulle here. He saunters over to the opposite side of the floor, then turns on the jets to fly off the screen from Theis for the triple:
The Kyrie Irving comparisons are going to be made all year long for Walker, both on and off the court, whether you tire of them or not. It’s simply a story of the season. What can help is focusing on the positives like the single biggest difference between the two on-court is that Walker is an off-ball weapon, whereas Irving is mostly a spectator.
5. This was about as good a game from Enes Kanter against a superstar center as Boston could hope for. No one could stop Joel Embiid, but Kanter had moments where he really made the All-NBA big man work. And he held his own on the boards, as per usual, with nine rebounds.
It was on the other end of the floor where Kanter really showed up. He scored 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He did it on straight post-ups like this where he went right at Embiid:
And then he had this play where he was the NBA’s most awkward one-man fastbreak:
6. While the Celtics missed Gordon Hayward for a lot of reasons, the biggest one was probably his playmaking. Hayward is Boston’s best passer, especially in pick and roll. His handle, patience, size and strength regularly get the Celtics easy buckets like this one from Daniel Theis, who played one hell of a game himself:
7. Jaylen Brown was mostly invisible, but Jayson Tatum was far too visible for a lot of the game. Until he made a couple of big shots late, which is part of his enviable skillset, Tatum was awful. Prior to making his last two three-pointers, Tatum was 3-of-15 from the floor. Bad shooting nights happen to even the best players, but what made this confounding was the shot selection. It wasn’t even contested long-twos from Tatum that everyone but Kobe Bryant hates. He was taking this odd floater shot where he looked like he was searching for contact that never came, while also being worried about Embiid lurking in the paint.
Compounding things was Tatum had a rare bad defensive game. He was the primary defender on Tobias Harris for a lot of the game and really struggled to keep Harris under wraps. He committed some bad, lazy fouls and gambled at times where the risk far outweighed the reward. It’s easy to forget Tatum is just 21 years old and that kids have bad nights, but this one was a stark reminder of that.
8. Maybe it’s missing Marcus Smart (Smart’s Defensive Player of the Year candidacy looks better after two straight horrible efforts on that end without him), but it was another sloppy game on defense for Boston. After falling apart late against Indiana, the same sort of struggles cropped up again for the Celtics versus the 76ers.
Boston doubled Embiid for a lot of the game. That means the other three defenders have to be on a chain together with their rotations and switches. Here, Semi Ojeleye hands off the cutting Ennis to Hayward, but Hayward sticks to Richardson too long. Result: easy layup for Philadelphia.
The good news is that this is easily cleaned up. Smart controls this aspect of the game as well as anyone because he’s constantly talking. And once Hayward is fully reintegrated, the defense should be back on the same page. It just might be a bit bumpy until that happens.
9. What may not be as easy to clean up is the late-game offense. For the second night in a row, the Celtics devolved into a 1-on-1, do it yourself group in the fourth quarter. That’s not how the Boston offense best functions. They’re at their best when the ball moves for the best shot, not the first shot. All too often against both the Sixers and Pacers, the Celtics settled for the first shot available. With guys like Walker and Hayward, who are used to creating late, and Tatum and Brown, who have grown into offensive creators, it’s up to Stevens to make sure the ball continues to move and that his players trust in one another to make the right play.
10. So…what’s next? Five looooooooooooong days without a game. Celtics internet will be ablaze with trade proposals to fix the team. Trade Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown because they can’t possibly hit their ceiling while together? It’s coming. Trade Gordon Hayward because he can’t stay healthy and gets paid too much? Been there already. Trade Kemba Walker while his value his high because he’s too small to succeed against the best teams? Already seen that too.
Suggestions for rotation changes will abound. Why aren’t Two-Way players Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall key rotation players? They’ve dominated in Maine! Why doesn’t Vincent Poirier play more? He can’t be worse than Enes Kanter on defense! Where in the world is Romeo Langford? He was a lottery pick!
Some are even putting forward that Brad Stevens has lost the team and it’s time for a new coach. Those who are dug in on players or issues will dig in even further. Out of the box thinkers will recommend changes that are either illegal, insane or, most likely, a combination of the two.
As for the Celtics? They’ll probably give the players a day or two off during this stretch. True off days are pretty rare in-season in the NBA, so you take advantage when you can. Stevens and his staff will get back to work on trying to figure things out. The banged up guys will get healthy. And Boston will get back at it in Dallas next Wednesday. The difference now from the beginning of the season? This team isn’t just a scrappy, fun-to-root-for bunch now. They’ve shown they are better than that. Fair or not, there are expectations now and it’s up to the Celtics to get back to living up to them.