It was another concerning night for the Boston Celtics as they fell to the San Antonio Spurs 115-96. It was the worst home loss of the season and only sparked more questions for this team resulting in a post game team meeting. That is the fourth loss in a row with eight games to play before the playoffs.
Most of the post-game coverage following this game was about the continued lack of change on the offensive end. The Celtics have been settling for three-point shots over and over without trying to drive to the hoop at a higher frequency. Even as solving this should be a big priority moving forward, there was one other issue that stuck out in a big way during this game. It is the lack of front court depth which hinders the team against big men such as LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridige finished his night with 48 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. He completely destroyed the Celtics from start to finish. In their last match up, he had a smooth 32 points and 9 rebounds. The style of his game seems to give fits to the Celtics’ big men.
This becomes a bigger cause of concern because of the nagging knee soreness Al Horford has continuously had throughout the past few months. The Celtics have been aware of this as Horford is logging his least amount of minutes per game of his Boston career. Over the past three years, his minutes per game have dropped from 32.3, to 31.6, to now 28.9. The team is being more thoughtful of his miles on the court because of his importance to the team in the playoffs. To put these regular season numbers in context, his playoff minutes per game was 33.9 minutes in the ‘16-’17 and followed by 35.7 minutes for the ‘17-’18 post-season. That much of an increase shows you how important Horford is to this lineup. With his status uncertain for Tuesday as well, the team is clearly taking all the time he needs to come back at full strength for the playoffs.
Last night, the absence of Horford loomed large as Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis just could not stop LaMarcus Aldridge at any point during the night. It was only these two trading the majority of the minutes for this position as new addition, Greg Monore, was not ready for big minutes. Spurs coach Greg Popovich knew this and took advantage from the tip letting Aldridge go to work.
For Baynes, his strengths are mainly around the rim and paint as a low post scorer and defender. He can get physical with opposing players and unnerve them which is not seen as much in today’s game. He uses this to his advantage normally coming off the bench in spurts changing the pace. Against Aldridge last night, Baynes was not nearly quick enough to guard his fast release mid-range shot, which has become a staple for him.
Both of these clips show possessions where the Spurs were just punishing that match up relentlessly. Aldridge took Baynes outside of the paint where he does not feel as comfortable defending and took advantage. It is the biggest flaw of Baynes’ defensive game which is where Horford plays such a large role.
This doesn’t only happen with LaMarcus Aldridge either. Against Denver, the same problem arose when Baynes matched up against Nikola Jokic. As seen in this clip, it is the quick jump shot that Baynes does not have an answer for.
Now, as for Theis, he comes in much less than Baynes with a full healthy roster. However, as we saw last night, when he has to play a good chunk of minutes, most of the same problems arise. Theis is much more comfortable being around the rim as a rim protector affecting shot attempts. He still struggles in some pick-and-roll actions which limits his time on the court. Remove him from the paint, and the flaws of his defense accentuate. Not an ideal situation for any Al Horford-less Celtics’ roster.
While giving up 48 points to LaMarcus Aldridge is less than ideal, it derives from something deeper with the Celtics that hopefully will not rear its ugly head in the playoffs. This team does not have the front court depth behind Al Horford to play big minutes each game of a playoff series. It is imperative that Horford is fully rested/healthy for the playoff run however long that may be. It may not be the main problem the Celtics have right now, but Baynes and Theis need to challenge themselves to take a step up on defense. If Horford needs rest in front of a non-traditional big man, the Celtics could be in trouble with either of the two on that match up.