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Boston’s sloppiness costs them and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Nuggets

Denver took advantage of the Celtics late in the game for the road win

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1. Let’s not bury the lede here. The best thing that happened in the Celtics/Nuggets game was seeing Isaiah Thomas back on the TD Garden court. IT’s run with Boston was special. It’s rare that an athlete and city connect the way Thomas and Boston did. He’s a small, scrappy underdog that had to fight and work for everything he got. That’s Boston in a nutshell. IT is so special to us, because he is us. It was awesome to finally give him the tribute he so very much deserved.

2. As for the game itself…ugh. Let’s start with some positives. Jayson Tatum is on one of the worst shooting slumps of his young career. He’s hit five of his last 26 three-point attempts. He went almost two weeks without knocking down a triple before going 1-of-5 from behind the arc last night. So, where’s the positive?

The positive is that Tatum is making a concerted effort to get in the post more. The Celtics were at their best last year when they hunted mismatches. Didn’t matter who had it, that’s who got the ball. We’re starting to see Boston do some of that with Tatum working in the post. When he gets a little stronger and a little craftier, he’ll start drawing fouls down there as well. That’s when Tatum’s game will leap past the 20 points per game mark.

3. Sometimes Marcus Smart makes plays that only he can make. We affectionately call this “Smart making Smart plays”. On this play, he jumps the DHO from Nikola Jokic to Jamal Murray and goes coast-to-coast for the dunk. It’s rare to see anyone break up a DHO by getting in between the two players, but Smart does it with relative ease here:

4. As he has the last few games, Brad Stevens has begun playing Al Horford and Aron Baynes together more. This has generally had decent results for the Celtics this season, and was a really good pairing last year. It’s probably been done with some eyes on some bigger opponents coming in the playoffs.

One wrinkle last night was Baynes coming back in before Horford, after both were subbed out. This happened in both halves, and it’s a result of Stevens working around Horford’s knee issues. Each time Horford comes out, he’s being worked on extensively on the sideline. This involves stretching, massage and other treatments. Stevens openly acknowledged that Horford is working through some knee soreness and will get days off the rest of the regular season. It appears he’s going to continue to get lengthy in-game rest as well, as Boston tweaks the rotation to accommodate him.

5. Down the stretch in the second quarter, the Celtics involved Nikola Jokic in defending 16 consecutive possessions. This ranged from straight post-ups to guarding pick and rolls. This continued into the second half, as seen in this clip. Smart and Horford catch Jokic hanging out in no-man’s land and Horford gets an easy hoop:

6. As for the Celtics defense…it wasn’t very good for a lot of the game. They continue to struggle with defending pick and rolls themselves, as Horford just isn’t moving the way he usually does. And the transition defense was again an issue. On this play, Will Barton goes coast-to-coast and is 1-on-3. Boston opens up the lane for him to get the easy layup like Moses parting the Red Sea:

7. It was the first clunker of a game that Jaylen Brown has played in a while. After so many good games in a row, you knew a bad one was eventually coming and it was a mess. Brown did make one nice play, late in the third quarter, when he grabbed an offense rebound and instead of forcing a tough shot, he was patient and found Baynes for a short jumper. (Couldn’t find a working video link. Sorry!)

8. Stevens and the players, and the media, and the fans, talk a lot about how much better Boston is when the ball moves. On this play, they moved the ball as pretty as they have all season long:

9. The end of the game was a mess. And a lot came from the Celtics simply not making the easy plays. They missed a bunch of layups and open jumpers. They also threw and kicked the ball all over the gym. And allowing Gary Harris to get an offensive rebound this easily, when you are trying to come back, is completely unacceptable. Three Celtics are in position (Irving misses the block out on Harris), but Harris beats everyone to the ball.

10. The sloppiness started earlier than late in the fourth quarter however. It started late in the third quarter on a sequence as bad as any Boston has had this year. Stevens called a “use it or lose it” timeout to set up an end of quarter Hail Mary. It resulted in this mess from Marcus Morris:

OK…not the end of the world. Length of the court passes aren’t easy for anyone not named Jae Crowder. What happened after this was the real disaster. Brown completely loses track of Torrey Craig, who gets a dunk. If you slow the clip down you can see the “Oh crap!” moment for Brown.

Those back-to-back plays summed up yet another frustrating loss for the Celtics.

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