1. It was a day of ups and downs for the Celtics. Instead of our traditional takeaways where we focus on the game itself, we’re going to take a bigger picture look of where things stand for Boston as a whole post-trade deadline, with some thoughts on the game at the end.
2. The day started with Danny Ainge and Boston unlikely to do much themselves on the trade deadline, but with eyes on other happenings around the league. The Celtics made only a minor trade. Boston moved on from Jabari Bird, who wasn’t likely to ever suit up for the team again. This was about removing themselves from a sad and messy situation, while opening up a roster spot to add a helpful player on the buyout market.
3. What about keeping eyes on other happenings around the league? All Celtics eyes were on the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis. New Orleans didn’t trade Davis, so in a very real way, Boston is one of the winners of the trade deadline. Now Ainge can make his pitch this summer and try to land the prize he’s had his eyes on for years. On the flip side, be prepared for endless speculation until the beginning of July, maybe the NBA Draft in late-June at best.
4. Around the top of the Eastern Conference though…well, it’s fair to say the Celtics lost at the deadline. Boston mostly stood pat, which was expected. But the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors all swung big moves to add talent and depth. You can now easily argue that after the Golden State Warriors, the four best teams in the NBA reside in the East. The second round and conference finals are going to be must-watch television. Who wins and loses may have repercussions that stretch well into the offseason.
5. Some have suggested that Ainge should have done something, but with Boston in a bit of a holding pattern until Davis is moved, nothing big was likely. You can quibble over that strategy, but Ainge is playing the long-game, now and always. There just wasn’t anyway he would have hurt his chance at Davis this summer for a marginal upgrade this season.
6. The Celtics now turn their eyes towards buyout season. They’re going to add a player to what is already strong bench and may use a chunk, or all, of the Taxpayer Mid-level Exception to do it. That’s about $4 million or so in buying power. And keep an eye on Boston tacking a second year on to the deal for around $4.5 million to use towards salary matching in a Davis deal.
7. As for the game, while Boston may have “Beat LA” for now on Davis, they couldn’t close out the Lakers on the floor. Boston had as big as an 18-point lead at one point and it looked like turmoil-filled Los Angeles was going to get blown again. But the game turned due to a few reasons, most of them related to the defense faltering in the second half.
8. The Celtics normally excellent three-point defense went missing. You can say the idea was to let the poor-shooting Lakers fire away from behind the arc, but once they are out of the box, you have to adjust. Overall, LA buried 22-of-41 from deep, but things really went off the rails in the second half. In the third quarter alone, the Lakers nailed 9-of-13 triples, including one stretch where they hit seven straight. For the second half as a whole, Los Angeles knocked down 14-of-24.
So, where did it go wrong for Boston? They normally close out great on shooters. Whether it was strategy or a simple lack of effort, the Celtics just didn’t get out to shooters. The vast majority of these shots were wide-open. Considering the Lakers hit a franchise-record 22 three-pointers, it was probably the strategy to let them bomb away. But once they got hot, Boston never adjusted.
9. The other place the Celtics got hurt was on the boards. The Lakers grabbed a bunch of their own misses early, which kept them in the game more than they should have been. Boston cleaned that up behind some strong rebounding from Jayson Tatum and the guards and wings. But when the Celtics needed to get one more rebound, following Al Horford blocking Brandon Ingram at the rim, the ball found its way to Rajon Rondo for the game-winner.
10. Speaking of Rondo…what a homecoming. It’s never been as good for the mercurial point guard as it was for him in Boston. He’s never quite found a home anywhere else. As witnessed by the cheers for him at the beginning of the game, and Kevin Garnett rocking his green #9 at the game, Rondo is still beloved in Boston. On a night when the Celtics current point guard, Kyrie Irving, struggled shooting but made a would-be game-winner, it was a blast from the past that knocked them off.
Losing to the Lakers always hurts. It doesn’t matter the situation or the stakes. Big picture, this isn’t the end of the world. The Celtics have still won 10 of their last 12. And it took a historic shooting night for LA to win. And the Lakers don’t have Anthony Davis.
And, hey, if they had to get beat by anyone, at least it was Rajon Rondo who did the honors.
THE GARDEN REPORT GAME RECAP: