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A tale of two halves and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Clippers

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Boston raced out to a big lead, lost Kyrie and then lost the game

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

1. This game was a tale of two halves. It started out great for the Celtics. They piled up 43 first quarter points and led by as many as 28 points in the first half. The Clippers seemed out of sync, which was expected as they were playing four new players they acquired at the trade deadline. That led to Boston getting easy buckets like this:

2. One silver-lining in the loss was Gordon Hayward. He played a good game with 19 points, five rebounds and three assists. He got to the line six times and drew several other fouls when he drove the ball. And he showed no hesitation on his jumper, like this play where he catches and drills a three-pointer all in one motion:

3. Early in the season, Jaylen Brown was all over the place, but not in a good way. He seemed lost on both ends of the floor, and his play was really hurting Boston. Since he got healthy from his hand injury, Brown has been all over the place, but in the best way possible. His frenetic energy has been good off the bench, and his play on both ends has really picked up.

4. Even as Boston built a big halftime lead, there were a couple of signs things weren’t going as well as they seemed. On defense, the Celtics guarded pick and roll as if they’ve never seen basketball’s most simple action before. Los Angeles missed eight shots at the rim in the first half and committed four turnovers where players were open on rolls. Those turnovers likely came because the LA players aren’t used to playing together yet. For Boston, they are plenty used to playing together, so there is no excuse for the poor defense.

5. All game long, the Clippers guarded Jayson Tatum with the much smaller Patrick Beverley. All game long, the Celtics tried to force-feed Tatum and it didn’t work. In the clip below, you see an example of this. Tatum is still learning to play in the post and it shows. He misses Hayward on a cut, then he misses Kyrie Irving wide open in the corner. The result is a forced shot that has little chance.

The really frustrating part of this, is that Boston knows this type of play isn’t a surety to work. Why? Because teams repeatedly try this again Marcus Smart. Beverley is a tough, rugged defender too and the Celtics played right into the Clippers hands by trying to play through Tatum in the post.

6. Late in the first half, while trying to avoid a screen, Kyrie Irving took an awkward step and came up limping:

He stayed in the game for a couple more minutes, but was subbed out and headed directly to the locker room. The team announced Irving’s injury as a sprained right knee and said he’ll have further testing done today (Sunday). Irving has missed considerable time in the past with knee injuries, but they were always to his left knee. This was the capper on what has been a trying couple of weeks for Irving.

7. As they built the big lead in the first half, Boston took great care of the ball, coughing it up just once. The second half was a different story, as they turned it over 11 times. Without Irving, the team seemed to be searching at times for offense. This led to players taking it on themselves and forcing things, which led to the 11 turnovers, as well some ugly shooting.

8. The third quarter in particular was a problem once again for the Celtics. The Clippers won the quarter by a 28-12 margin and got themselves back in the game. Post-game, Brad Stevens commented that the second and third quarters continue to be problems for his team. He took it on himself that he needs to be better about finding a solution for it. In addition, Stevens said he likes to let his guys play through runs by the other team and figure out, but that he needs to be better about calling timeouts when they aren’t getting it figured out.

9. After the game, Marcus Morris had some pointed comments about the Celtics. He said “the season hasn’t been fun for a long time” and that Boston’s play was “unacceptable”. Morris also said the Celtics don’t play as a team and he just sees a bunch of individuals. It was a frank and harsh, but true, assessment of where Boston stands nearly three quarters of the way through the season.

10. To go along with Morris’ comments, looking across the floor, you couldn’t help but be reminded of what the Celtics were the last few years. Los Angeles swung a bunch of trades at the deadline and brought in new faces, not unlike Boston a few years back. Despite barely knowing each other, the Clippers won the game by doing two simple things: they played really hard and they had fun. They scrapped and fought and just made things happen.

The Celtics used to be a scrappy, fun bunch of underdogs that were easy to root for. As they’ve graduated to becoming contenders, that magic has just been lost. There’s no reason to panic about the record, as Boston just won 10 out of 11 on the back of two five-game win streaks. But Morris is right. The latter streak featured a bunch of business-like wins. Even as the Celtics rolled along, they didn’t seem to be having fun at all. They hammered the Hornets and Knicks during that stretch, but both of those blowout wins were fairly joyless.

Maybe it was the Anthony Davis rumors, which led to the Irving speculation that brought the team down. Maybe it’s the weight of being favorites weighing the team down. Maybe it’s just one of those stretches where the dog days of the season came early. Maybe these guys just aren’t the group we all hoped they would be. Maybe the All-Star break, and some time away, will be just what the team needs to clear their heads and get back on track. Maybe.