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A horrible, terrible, no good, very bad loss and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Bulls

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And Boston didn’t even have All of Australia to lean on after yet another bad loss

NBA: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

1. Entering Saturday’s matchup, the Celtics had beaten the Bulls by 29 points and a franchise-record 56 points this season. It was fair to expect Boston would get back on track after a tough post-All-Star break opening loss at Milwaukee.

Instead, the Celtics put together one of their worst efforts of the season and Chicago cruised to victory. Fair warning: because it was that bad, these takeaways are going to have a pretty negative slant. Generally, we try to balance the positives and negatives. As Brad Stevens tends to say “There were some good things”. In this loss, there was precious little that was good. So, we’re going to treat this as a cleansing of sorts. Let’s call out the bad and move on.

2. Let’s start with Kyrie Irving’s effort level on the defensive end of the floor. It just wasn’t there. He spent a lot of the night jogging through plays, causing his teammates to execute low-resistance switches (when there was no real screen or cut to force a switch) and simply not getting back. This play is a good example. Irving took the prior shot at the rim and missed. Lauri Markkanen rebounded and brought the ball up himself. Four Celtics got back. Who didn’t? Irving. You can see him right at the end, jogging back and pointing at someone to pick up Robin Lopez, as Lopez ran to the rim unencumbered. Irving has talked a lot about what it takes to be a championship-level team. This play is one someone should show him and ask if he really understands what it takes, or if that’s just talk.

3. Jayson Tatum got Boston off to a great start. He outscored Chicago 7-0 on the first three possessions. He hit 4-of-5 shots in the first quarter, as the Celtics outscored the Bulls 33-28 to open the game. Tatum saw just four field goal attempts the rest of the game, including only three in the second half.

It wasn’t as if Tatum was simply running up and down the floor and going through the motions. He just didn’t get the ball in scoring positions the rest of the night. And that’s unacceptable on the part of his teammates, but mostly on the part of Stevens. When you have a scoring talent like Tatum, you have to engineer touches for him. Run some sets for him. Get him the ball in his pet spots. Do anything to get him touches in places he can score the ball. Instead, Stevens let the offense run through Irving (who was very good on that end, to be fair) and Tatum became just a bystander.

4. Speaking of bystanders…Boston had 12 assists on 15 baskets in the first quarter. They recorded just 14 on the final 30 buckets. The game denigrated into the worst type of hero-ball imaginable. Several trips featured players grabbing a rebound or coming up with a loose ball, dribbling down and launching a shot without the thought of a pass even crossing their minds.

5. One of the worst practitioners of hero-ball was Terry Rozier. Rozier continues to come off the bench with his shooting arm cocked and ready to fire. That’s fine if you’re Lou Williams or prime-Jamal Crawford. Rozier is the second-unit point guard. Against the Bulls he came up with exactly one assist. That’s compared to nine field goal attempts, of which he made just one.

Rozier isn’t a point guard, and has never been a point guard. He’s a scoring, combo-guard who is best in a bench role. He can say he doesn’t see himself as a reserve all he wants, but that doesn’t make it true. One good playoff run does not a career make. As it stands today, Rozier is a worse version of Jordan Clarkson.

6. Rozier’s struggles highlighted a major issue for Boston: Chicago’s bench outworked the Celtics reserves for the entirety of the first half. Entering the season, many (this author included) touted the “ridiculous” depth Stevens has to work with. It was often-mentioned that Boston had as many as eight starters.

Sure, Aron Baynes missed the game and Gordon Hayward looked like he was struggling following spraining his right (non-surgically repaired) ankle. But how does a group of Ryan Arcidiacono, Cristiano Felicio, Wayne Selden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Shaquille Harrison drastically outplay a reserve group of Rozier, Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis for an entire half?

Arcidiacono outscored the Boston backups all by himself in the first half by an 8-7 margin. Brown and Theis picked it up considerably in the second half and helped key a run that got the Celtics back in the game, but overall the Boston bench was more ridiculous than “ridiculous”.

7. Irving’s defense was termed as lackadaisical, but the rest of the defense is best termed as bad. Not sure which is really worse. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen put together career-nights, but it wasn’t as if they just got hot. The Celtics did little to make like hard for either player. The two Bulls combined to shoot 29-of-49 from the floor, including 8-of-18 from behind the arc. There were a couple of tough looks mixed in there, but for those part it was just a walk in the park.

At no point did Boston throw a double or trap at either player to force them to give the ball up. Horford, the Celtics best defender on scoring bigs, spent the entire night guarding Robin Lopez. Smart, Boston’s best defender overall, spent a lot of the night in switching schemes away from LaVine.

On the few possessions LaVine or Markkanen didn’t shoot, Lopez got easy buckets, as he made 6-of-8 field goals, all inside the paint as Chicago shot over 53 percent for the game. After one of their best defensive efforts of the season in the loss to the Bucks, this was a major step back and one of the worst efforts of the year.

8. Postgame Brad Stevens said “I’ve said this before: I’m disappointed in myself. I’ve got to do a lot better.” He’s not wrong. Rarely is the coach the reason a team loses a game, and Stevens doesn’t shoulder all of that blame himself for this train-wreck in Chicago, but he does have to carry a lot of it. Stevens himself said they allowed LaVine and Markkanen to get “awfully comfortable”, and that falls on him. He didn’t change up his strategy until very late in the game, when Boston went to their trapping zone defense.

On offense, as covered above, Stevens did nothing to make sure the team stuck with Tatum, who had it going early. The equal opportunity offense is the best, in theory, and when it’s being executed. When it turns into the guards taking a combined 36 shots and Tatum just nine, it’s a problem.

Stevens has talked a lot about having to fix things and that he needs to be better. He’s shouldered the blame at times when he shouldn’t have had to, but that’s part of being a coach. But one thing is clear: Stevens was once the boy-wonder of coaching and could do no wrong. He’s starting to lose the fan base, and Boston fans can get very, very loud when they’ve given up on a coach.

9. Marcus Smart took umbrage with the team’s effort and let everyone know: “The way our effort is, it’s just embarrassing.”

When asked how he and the team can look at past Celtics teams, ones that had to fight for everything, for an answer, Smart was very candid in saying “Our toughness. Our will to fight. Our will to do everything. It’s just like, we don’t got the will to do it anymore. I don’t know how you teach effort, will, want-to. I don’t think you can.”

Those are eye-opening quotes and very on-the-nose. And they don’t point fingers at anyone specifically, but instead at the team as a whole. Smart is including himself in these quotes, when he’s clearly the one player that isn’t a problem in this facet of the game. That’s real leadership.

10. On the other end of the spectrum, Kyrie Irving was asked if he’s worried about the team’s struggles and he said “No, it’ll be fine.” When asked why, Irving answered “Because I’m here.”

He later expounded on that by saying “I don’t get frustrated by this stuff anymore. It’s just part of the regular season. In the playoffs, plan for a team, prepare for a team, I still don’t see anybody beating us in seven games.”

This is a departure from Irving previously laying blame with others lack of understanding of what it takes to be a championship-level team following bad losses. This confidence or “swagger”, as many put it, was a different look. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know how that will be taken by the rest of the Celtics. At this point, Irving says a lot, but regularly rarely actually says much at all. It’s nice to know he’s confident that Boston can flip the proverbial switch when the playoffs come, but is that really something this team has earned?

Maybe Irving is right. After all, the Celtics have played the best teams in the league tight all season long. They haven’t been beaten handily by a contender in a game where they’ve had most of their best players available. Instead, they’ve frustratingly played down to the level of their competition on a regular basis and thrown away the opportunity to get the one or two seed in the Eastern Conference.

As it stands today, Boston is now in a fight to get even homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. That’s not where anyone expected this team to be. NBA history is littered with teams coming from the fourth or fifth seed (sometimes even lower) to make a run in the postseason. But those teams are usually veteran groups that cruise through the regular season. The Celtics haven’t earned that. It’s fine to be confident that they can beat anyone, because they’ve either beaten those teams or had close losses. But close losses are still losses. Add to it losses like this one to the Bulls, and you have a team that is tough to root for having a disappointing season. There are 22 games and a playoff run left to wash all that away, but it’s hard to be confident in any of that happening at the moment.