1. Every so often, the Takeaways aren’t about a whole bunch of plays. Sometimes a bigger theme emerges and it’s so dominant that there is only one takeaway to be had. This is one of those times.
That was bad. Really, really bad. Worst loss of the season for the Celtics by far and maybe the worst of the Brad Stevens era.
Losing games is tough. Losing home games is even tougher. Losing home games where you blew a big lead is the toughest of all.
Being without one of your best players is tough. Losing another of your best players is even tougher. Losing a third one of your best players is the toughest of all.
All around, Boston losing that game to Brooklyn last night stinks badly. Have you ever forgotten to take out the trash for trash day? What about forgetting after a weekend where you cleaned out the deepest recesses of the fridge? That stink just sort of lingers in your garage/back hall for a while. And you have no one to blame but yourself.
The Celtics are in the exact same spot today.
Let’s give credit to the Nets. Caris LeVert was amazing. Even when your team is on the other end, it’s hard not to appreciate a player having one of those “in the zone” moments. Every time LeVert touched the ball in the fourth quarter and overtime, it seemed like he would score.
Brooklyn also played a series of different zone defenses and it really threw Boston off their game. It was a very good game by Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who benched several of his regulars and rode the guys who got them back in the game. The Nets closed with LeVert, a key reserve (DeAndre Jordan), a guy who has been out of the rotation all season (Rodions Kurucs), a guy who was on a Two-Way contract (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) and a guy who is still on a Two-Way contract (Chris Chiozza). Guaranteed a lot of Celtics fans were watching and said to someone “Who are these guys?”
So, give all the credit to Brooklyn for somehow hanging around in a game where they had 20 turnovers.
The Celtics? Not so much credit. It wasn’t that Boston didn’t have good plays or players who played well, because they did. There is a whole page full of good stuff the Celtics did in the Takeaways notebook. It’s just that... they sort of stopped doing it in the fourth quarter. On the first night of a back-to-back, Boston went into coast mode way too early. By the time they tried to turn it back on it, it was too late and there was no one left to flip the switch.
Jayson Tatum was sick and missed the game. No big deal. That happens over the course of a long season. Kemba Walker was on a minutes’ restriction as he works his way back from left knee soreness. Marcus Smart had shaken off an illness and was able to play, despite possibly being limited. All were known thing going in.
The unknowns? Gordon Hayward suffering a bruised right knee when Daniel Theis fell into him late in the first half. And Jaylen Brown coming down with a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter. Add to it that Smart fouled out early in overtime and Boston played the majority of the extra period without their five best players. But it never should have come to that.
The Celtics were up by 21 points in this game. The Nets steadily chipped away, but Boston was still up by 10 points with just over four minutes to play. Heck, the Celtics were up by three points with seconds to play when Smart fouled LeVert shooting a three-pointer. Overtime can be excused away because Boston played a lineup that looked more like a Summer League team than an NBA team, but overtime never should have happened in the first place.
The Takeaways strives to be a balanced place. The good stuff is celebrated (probably too much) and the bad stuff is criticized (maybe not enough). One thing we try to avoid in the Takeaways is wild overreactions that call for trades or firing Brad Stevens or Danny Ainge. The NBA season is way too long to ride that roller coaster all year.
All of that said, this is one where Boston fans should be mad. They should be angry. No one needs to be fired, but anger is certainly well-founded. You have your pick of things to be upset about.
Are injuries pissing you off? Fair. It was pretty great that a bout of the flu was all that was between the Celtics and a full roster for the first time. Now? Who knows how long it will be before we see everyone play together again? Stevens and Ainge have preached patience and belief that a fully-healthy Boston team can beat anyone. The problem is: will we ever see a fully-healthy Boston team?
What about the bench? They weren’t bad against Brooklyn, but it’s fair to be upset about them too in the aggregate. If fully-healthy, you can trust Marcus Smart. The rest? A whole bunch of question marks. Kanter does what he does, but that’s valuable against only some teams. The kids all have worlds of potential, but who cares about potential when you’re staring the playoffs in the face in a month? Ainge didn’t do a deal because he didn’t like any that presented themselves and because he believes in his roster. It’d be nice if those guys paid back that faith on a regular basis.
Are you mad at Stevens? That’s fair too. Boston was slow to adjust to the Brooklyn zone defenses. That’s been an issue a handful of times this year. And against reserve-heavy lineups, teams will go zone because they don’t fear anyone lighting them up off the Boston bench. And the rotations were all out of whack because of the injuries, but Stevens clearly punted the game once Smart fouled in overtime. It was about giving up on the battle to try and win the war. But, again, it never should have come to that point. Stevens was unhappy with his team’s effort, but he let it get to that point.
How about directing a little bit of that anger at the fans who were in TD Garden on Tuesday night? As the Celtics watched the lead slip away, a loud group of fans decided it was important to serenade the Nets with a chorus of “Where is Kyrie?” chants. On a day where Irving had season-ending shoulder surgery no less. Several Brooklyn players admitted to hearing the chants, but said it didn’t matter. The tone of voice in their answers told a different story. Boston fans like to say they’ve moved on and don’t care about Kyrie Irving anymore. It’s beyond time to grow up and act like that’s actually true.
What about just being mad about losing two in a row at home where the team had a big lead? That’s probably the one that you are most OK to be angry about. The Celtics had the Rockets and wilted when Houston turned up the intensity. The Celtics had the Nets and instead of running them out of the gym, they got casual and lost the game. That’s not a great sign.
It’s on to Cleveland, but with who? Walker is out. Brown, Hayward and Tatum are probably out too. Smart may end up with a suspension, as he went after the officials pretty hard when the game ended. We’ve often joked about seeing the Summer Celtics play a real game. We might get that chance against the Cavaliers.
Brad Stevens was as angry and frustrated following Tuesday’s loss as we’ve ever seen him. He’s usually very even-keeled. Never too high and never too low. After this one, Stevens called out his team and said they “deserved to lose”. He also said he doesn’t know who is going to Cleveland, but that he just wants “8-9 guys who will play hard all game”.
That’s all anyone really wants. It’d be nice if those guys featured Boston’s best-five. If not, then roll with what you got. At least it’ll be an effort worth cheering on for a full 48 minutes.