1. The Boston Celtics regular season effectively ended with Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic. Earlier in the day, Boston had clinched at least the fourth seed and homecourt advantage in the first round when the Indiana Pacers lost at home to the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics had a slight chance of catching the Philadelphia 76ers for the third seed, but it was a very unlikely possibility.
Boston has one more game on the regular season slate, as they close on Tuesday night against the Washington Wizards. But that will be a “game” in name only, as Brad Stevens has already said that the “top 7-8 rotation players will barely play, if they play at all”.
2. The loss to Orlando clinched a season-sweep for the Magic over the Celtics. That’s probably not going to matter, as the two teams are unlikely to meet again this season. But there is an important takeaway for the playoffs, as Boston will face some long and rugged teams: the Celtics are really struggling to control the defensive glass as of late. This is particularly worrisome, as it has come with Boston going big with Aron Baynes and Al Horford starting and playing together. Orlando snagged 11 offensive rebounds. In a game where the Magic shot over 45 percent from the floor, that’s far too many second chances. This is something to watch for as the playoffs start this coming weekend.
3. Jaylen Brown returned to the lineup for Boston and looked pretty good. Brown’s speed and explosiveness are huge for the Celtics off the bench. He’s the yin to Gordon Hayward’s yang. Hayward plays a measured game, whereas Brown is on the attack from the moment he hits the floor. Here you can see Brown get out and running and finish over Jonathan Isaac at the rim, through some contact:
4. Injuries were an issue for the Celtics. The first one to pop up was Jayson Tatum’s left shin contusion. Tatum looked off from the start of the game and asked out after playing just six minutes. Following the game, Stevens said it was something the team knew about, but that Tatum said he was good to go. It’s questionable that Boston should have allowed Tatum to play in a game that only had marginal importance to the Celtics.
5. The Celtics second injury looked pretty bad, as Marcus Smart went down twice with hip/oblique injuries. The first time, it looked like Smart took a hard screen. He tried to shake it off and return to the game, but immediately went back to the floor. At this point, there are conflicting reports of what Smart’s dealing with. Initial reports were a strained oblique. Then it was a bruise. And last was a hip pointer. Further updates should be available soon to clarify exactly what Smart is dealing with and how long Boston could be without their best defender.
6. Tatum and Smart leaving the game with injuries brings up a bigger question: Why were they playing in the first place? Tatum was known to be dealing with something. You can argue he never should have taken the floor. Smart got what looked like a rough injury, yet was allowed to return to the game. Smart is as tough as he comes, but he shouldn’t have gone back on the floor.
Sometimes the job of a coach is to save his players from themselves. Brad Stevens seemed to mismanage this game by allowing Tatum to play and Smart to return to the game. He likely got the OK from the training staff, but the decision to play them falls on Stevens and Stevens alone. If either absence is lengthy and costs Boston in the playoffs, this will be something to return to.
7. The end of the game strategy was just as questionable. Orlando went on an 11-0 run to open up a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter. At that point, Boston could have packed it in and called it good. Remember, Tatum and Smart had already gotten hurt. Instead, Stevens put Kyrie Irving back in the game and continued to play Hayward, Brown and others. This was against a Magic team that was desperate for a win and playing as such.
Now, it’s not entirely fair to say pull everyone. The Celtics didn’t have P.J. Dozier or R.J. Hunter active, so there was only so much emptying of the bench that Stevens could have done. But putting Irving back in a meaningless game was a questionable decision at best. On the flip side, Stevens did hold Horford out for the remainder of the game, which was a smart decision.
8. On a positive note, Irving and Hayward looked good. Irving scored 23 points and helped key a comeback that made the game close down the stretch. Hayward was solid again, with 16 points off the bench on 8-of-14 shooting. Those two, along with Horford, will key the Celtics playoff run. Other players are important, but those three have been the bellwether’s for Boston this year.
9. As noted in the opening takeaway, the regular season is over for the Celtics. Against Washington, it would be a surprise to see many of the regulars even in uniform. In part to help with this, don’t be surprised if Boston fills their final roster spot before Tuesday’s game. Bringing in a player to play that game is one less rotation player that needs to be in uniform and active.
10. Last takeaway is one I think we can all with Kyrie Irving on. When asked if he’s excited for the playoffs, Irving answered “Can’t wait. Can’t wait.” That’s something all Celtics fans are feeling after a roller coaster ride of a regular season.