1. On the back of forcing turnovers and playing good defense, Boston held a 54-51 advantage at halftime. Brooklyn shot 42.1% in the first half and had 12 turnovers. After the break, it was a completely different story. The Nets shot 65.8% and had just three turnovers.
Some of it was that the Celtics defense was neutered due to foul trouble. That’s part of the story. The rest of the story is that Boston was fairly non-competitive defensively after halftime. Whatever impact Tristan Thompson’s size had against Kevin Durant in the first half was negated. Brooklyn went to an extreme isolation game to get Durant going and it worked. He scored 16 points in the third. Combined with Kyrie Irving’s nine points in the quarter, the Nets took control of the game.
2. To start the fourth quarter, the Celtics were trailing by nine points. Not ideal, but far from out of the game. Two problems. First, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were on the bench with four fouls apiece. Not the biggest deal, as both usually sit to start the second and fourth quarters, but it did make it so Stevens couldn’t push hard to begin the period.
The second, and more important issue, Jayson Tatum didn’t touch the ball until the fourth possession of the period, nearly two minutes in. By that point, the Nets had pushed the lead to 13 points. That’s not acceptable. The team’s best offensive player needs to be the one carrying the team in that moment. Not sure who the blame should be placed on here. Was Tatum being passive? Was Brad Stevens not calling enough stuff to get him open? Were the other Celtics not running that stuff? No matter who it’s on, that can’t happen in that situation.
3. During the season opener, Boston’s transition defense was a mess to start the game. Milwaukee scored eight points in the first quarter alone on runouts after Celtics misses. Boston tightened that up, and it was a big part of that victory. Following the game, Stevens spoke about the need to be good in that area against a Brooklyn team that lives on the break.
The Celtics were good for a half. Much like the rest of the defense, things fell apart in transition. The Nets got off and running and never looked back. By the time Boston got things back under control, Brooklyn’s lead was north of 20 points and the game was effectively over.
4. Let’s stay with the negative theme for a couple more Takeaways, and then we’ll close with some positives.
Why can the Celtics never take advantage of being in the bonus?
As Brooklyn took control of the game, Boston got into the bonus with 5:33 to play in the third period. They took a grand total of four free throws the rest of the period, outside of the two Jaylen Brown drew to get the Celtics in the bonus in the first place. One foul came as Brown’s feet got tangled with Kyrie Irving too. So, that means Boston really forced just two free throws while in the bonus. They came on a Semi Ojeleye offensive rebound with 7.4 seconds to play in the period.
This has been a problem for at least the last five years. With players as good as Brown and Jayson Tatum are at getting to the basket, this shouldn’t be happening. And this wasn’t a case of driving and not getting calls. It was just leaving free points off the board by not forcing the issue.
5. It’s really not possible to know why Aaron Nesmith isn’t playing and Payton Pritchard is. Maybe Brad Stevens feels like he needs an additional ballhandler lineup on the floor when Jeff Teague is in the game, and that’s why Pritchard is playing. Maybe Nesmith is struggling on one end or the other, or both, in practice. Because Stevens doesn’t publicly admonish his players as individuals very often, we’ll probably never get the answer.
What is clear is that Pritchard doesn’t seem ready for 20 minutes a game off the bench. He flashes at times, but makes some serious rookie mistakes. Here’s a couple on each end.
Pritchard’s job is to pick up Jarrett Allen until Grant Williams or Jayson Tatum can pick him up. Pritchard stays stuck to Allen, which leaves Taurean Prince wide open. You can see Williams telling him at the very end of the clip that he needs to recover to Prince.
On offense, this shot is about as bad as it gets:
A pullup in transition is fine. We see that shot all the time in today’s NBA. But you have to actually be behind the line. You can’t take a transition pullup with your foot on the line. That’s a wasted possession.
Yes, we’re picking on the rookie a bit here, but it’s more to say: If Pritchard has to play 20 minutes a night right now, that’s asking a lot and something to keep an eye on.
6. Let’s finish on some positive notes. Jaylen Brown continues to look good operating as a pick-and-roll ballhandler. Here, he takes a couple extra dribbles to draw the defense before finding Marcus Smart for the corner three:
Brown also went hard all game long. When the Celtics were in their feelings, he was on the one who put his head down and tried to get them back in the game. Brown’s care factor is off the charts. He’s the kind of young leader, along with Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum, that this team needs.
7. Tristan Thompson gives the Celtics another season with a terrific offensive rebounder. Enes Kanter was excellent in this area last season, with one of the highest offensive rebound rates in the NBA. Thompson is off to a similar start for Boston. The difference is Kanter didn’t give you loud finishes off the glass like this:
8. Grant Williams looks far more comfortable on offense in his second season. As a rookie, Williams was basically a pick-and-pop or spot-up guy. By the end of the year, he would get the occasional post touch on a duck-in against a smaller defender.
This season, Brad Stevens is breaking out some Al Horford sets and using Williams in the Horford role as a playmaker. This was a Horford staple. Tatum pitches to Williams, runs around him, while it looks like a DHO is being set up on the wing. Instead, Tatum immediately cuts if the defenders are slow to rotate. It’s up to Williams to hit the pass on-time and he does:
Second play that was Horford-like was this one:
Fakes a DHO to Brown, fakes a second DHO to Semi Ojeleye, keeps Joe Harris on his hip for the easy layup. It’s good to see Williams growing into a bigger role to start his sophomore season.
9. Aaron Nesmith got in the game in the fourth quarter and scored his first NBA basket. He was also relatively competitive defensively. Maybe he flashed enough to get some real playing time. This hoop, on a very quick-release three-pointer, is hopefully the first of many from Nesmith:
10. The best thing you can do after a blowout loss is get right back at it, and this compressed schedule offers just that opportunity. Due to the NBA limiting travel in these COVID-19 times, the Celtics will play two straight games vs the Pacers in Indiana on Sunday and Tuesday.
Boston split their first two against two of the NBA’s best teams. That’s really not a bad outcome. Now is a test against a team the Celtics should be better than. Winning both on the road is a big ask, but not an unreasonable one. Mostly, it should be a far better showing for Boston against Indiana than it was on Christmas.