1. Another home loss. Fourth one in the row. In all four defeats, Boston held a double-figure lead. 11, 17, 18 and 21-point leads all blown. The NBA is a game of runs, but that’s just silly. The only solace, and this is some real “glass half full” thinking, is that all four losses were against playoff teams. On the flip side, none of those teams is a surefire contender. It’s a frustrating stretch in the dog days of the NBA season.
2. Before we get into what wrong, let’s start with some positives. Gordon Hayward returned and looked pretty good. After a bit of a slow start, Hayward was Boston’s best player. The offense just works better when he’s out there, witness this drive and dish to Daniel Theis:
Hayward’s been underrated on defense too. Because of Boston’s switching style, players have to be able to hold their own against all sorts of opponents. Hayward has been particularly good against bigger forwards. Here he draws Danilo Gallinari and stuffs him in the paint:
We’ve shown Hayward’s fallaway and pull-up jumper out of isolation a lot this season. This pull-up came out of pick and roll. It’s good to see him look for the shot, as Hayward is usually a passer in these situations:
When he’s available, Hayward is one of Brad Stevens’ top choices to run something on an ATO. Here he gets it and uses his chemistry with Theis to read him slipping the screen for a dunk:
3. It wasn’t the best offensive game for Jayson Tatum. After his scorching February, he’s cooled off a good bit in March. He was just 8-of-22 against Oklahoma City, but still managed to make some good plays. This spin move is something Tatum has gone to a couple of times with success this season:
This post-up where Tatum bullies Terrance Ferguson is the kind of play that should make people giddy:
In transition, Tatum is learning to be patient and let things open up the best play. Instead of putting his head down and barreling to the rim, he takes his time and lets Hayward open up for the three:
That last play is something that both Tatum and Jaylen Brown have improved upon greatly in their young careers.
4. That steal above was a nice example of Boston having active hands throughout the first half of this game. The Thunder had 10 turnovers before the break. Only one of those was unforced. That’s the sort of ball pressure and intensity the Celtics can play with on a regular basis. It also allows them to use their size effectively. As the team continues to return to full-health, and has the depth again, look for that style of defense to pick up.
5. One of the players always involved in in picking up the intensity is Marcus Smart. Sometimes that leads to some wild plays on both ends, but this season Smart has been a little better about keeping it in check. Here, instead of forcing an off-balance shot, Smart wisely kicked it back to Tatum:
This one is a more typical Smart play. He just wants the ball more than anyone else and it leads to a 3-point play:
Smart has also become a good playmaker in transition. As he’s improved as a shooter, it’s caused defenses to pick him up higher. That opens up driving and passing lanes, as it does here:
6. On the flip side, Kemba Walker really struggled again. He just doesn’t look right. Walker says his knee feels good, but the eye-test tells us differently. As a small guard, Walker relies on his quickness and explosiveness to make plays at the rim. Since he’s come back, Walker has really struggled to finish inside the paint. That’s cause him to rely more on a jumper that isn’t falling. Walker’s always been a bit of a streak-shooter, and right now he’s in a cold spell. But if the knee doesn’t allow him to get easy ones inside, he becomes a lot easier to guard as a jump-shooter only.
7. Romeo Langford’s playing time continues to fluctuate from game to game. Sometimes it’s easy to see he doesn’t have it and is just sort of out there. Those nights it’s a short stint. When he’s engaged on both ends, he sees more time. That allows him to have an impact on defense like this:
After a trap in the corner on Dennis Schroder, Langford tags Adams in the high post, then recovers to his man on the cut before a nice blockout for the rebound.
And this sort of athletic play, where Langford goes over all the OKC bigs for the putback slam, is something to be really excited about:
8. We’re getting to the end of the game, but here’s something that was a game-long problem. Chris Paul is an all-time point guard. He’s built his Hall of Fame career by controlling games and getting to his spots. He’s better at that then almost anyone else in the game, even at his advanced age.
The problem? Boston made it way to easy for Paul to do exactly that. For a fifth straight game, the Celtics allowed one player to largely beat them. That’s becoming an issue. This space wondered about scrapping the switch everything defense to use Smart as a stopper after Mike Conley went off for Utah. That’s still an open question.
9. The end of this game got wild. To start it off, Tatum blocks a corner-three. Never an easy feat. Then there is the double-save, which leads to Tatum running out for the layup:
Tatum then was called for a really tough foul after picking up what looked like a steal against Steven Adams inside. Adams missed both free throws, but Paul snuck in for the offensive rebound. After he missed a shot, Adams batted the ball out of bounds. Celtics ball with 13 seconds to play and one timeout.
Let’s go there next: Why didn’t Stevens use that last timeout? With a one-point lead, the assumption is that you can get the ball inbounds and that you’ll get fouled. Even if you make both free throws, OKC has a chance to tie. You save that timeout in case you need to advance the ball and draw up a game-winner. You also keep it in case you struggle to get the ball inbounded.
In theory, that should have been how it went down. Instead, we got this:
Why Walker would dribble back towards his own end and into the corner? That is a fair question. He was clearly hoping to turn the corner on Paul and use some clock before getting fouled. But with a balky knee, was this the best decision? Probably not. And yes, maybe Stevens could have called timeout before the steal, but it all happened so quickly. And then you’re just setting up for the same situation, only without a timeout.
After OKC scored, the timeout was used and this is what Boston went to on the ATO:
If Tatum is your guy now, or he’s being groomed to be the guy in the future, this is the right call. And Tatum is both the guy now, while also being groomed for the future. No issues with him getting the last shot. Walker was struggling all game. Maybe you could have gone to Hayward, but Tatum got a decent look. That’s a shot he’s made a lot lately.
Basically, you can live with that call in that situation. The problem is it never should have come to that. Not in a fourth home loss in a row where you led by double-digits. It’s not just an end-game issue for Boston. It’s a 48-minute focus issue for the Celtics.