1. Brad Stevens, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker all said that the Celtics had no hangover from Game 3’s stunning last-second loss. It sure looked like there was a hangover. Boston was a step slow and off their game all night. The defending champs simply outworked the Celtics. And that was enough to get the series evened up at 2-2.
2. Second-chance points were huge in this game. The Raptors only had eight offensive rebounds, but they converted those into 17 points. Toronto also converted their six team offensive rebounds into seven more points. All total, the Raptors outscored the Celtics 24-12 in second-chance points, which is a huge margin in a seven-point game.
Toronto regularly looked like they wanted the ball more, and it started right away. When a guard drives, he should never be the one to get his own rebound off a missed layup. Four Celtics are in the picture here. Who comes up with the ball? Kyle Lowry.
3. Jaylen Brown was off his game. Big time. Brown shot just 4-of-18 from the floor, including 2-of-11 from behind the arc. He also spent a lot of the game in foul trouble. Also, after excellent defense as Pascal Siakam’s primary defender in the first three games, Brown allowed Toronto’s All-Star forward to get going.
While it was good to see Brown stay confident with his three-point shot, he did regress into some bad habits late. This drive in the second half was the Jaylen Brown of his first couple of seasons. Head down, spinning layup without seeing the floor, into a charge and turnover:
4. Brad Stevens made some curious rotation decisions. Yes, the Celtics are down some players, but Stevens still had a few head-scratchers.
First, he went to Robert Williams immediately in the first half. That was a good move, as Williams was solid in his initial stint. The challenge was Williams played just two minutes in the second half.
Those second-half minutes for Williams were part of a weird Williams, Grant Williams, Jaylen Brown, Brad Wanamaker, Kemba Walker lineup at the end of the third quarter. That group started a two-minute stint with Boston down 70-64. By the time Stevens subbed again, the Celtics were trailing 79-68.
Why Robert Williams came out is likely from these two plays. First, Williams strays way too far from Serge Ibaka. This is a horrible decision and angle. There is no screen for Kyle Lowry. What is Williams doing here?
Then, on Toronto’s next trip, Williams loses focus. He cuts off Fred VanVleet’s drive, but doesn’t stay with him. Now, you can say Walker should have switched back and picked up VanVleet, but it’s obvious there is no communication there:
That stretch basically did Boston in. They never really recovered, despite chipping away a few times. Nick Nurse has leaned on seven players, including several playing the entire second half. It might be time for Brad Stevens to take a page out of Nurse’s playbook.
At other points, Stevens was clearly searching for something that would work. Grant Williams played a lot, even when his impact seemed minimal. Semi Ojeleye played one of his best stints as a Celtic, but then was rarely seen after that. It was odd decision-making from Stevens to say the least.
5. It’s easy to see the Celtics are really missing Gordon Hayward. Boston could use his shooting and playmaking, especially when the Raptors go to zone defenses. At one point in the third quarter, on consecutive trips, Toronto went man-to-man, then box-and-1, then triangle-and-2. Boston was slow to see the changes and struggled to adapt.
But…it’s not like the Celtics don’t have a lot of experience playing without Hayward. So, while it’s a reason, it’s too convenient to be used as an excuse. And one thing that can’t happen when you’re down a main offensive player? Kemba Walker taking only 9 shots and having only 12 shooting possessions. That’s got to change. Walker took accountability saying his aggression level was “unacceptable”. But it’s also on Stevens to make sure he’s getting his looks as well.
6. The Celtics missed a lot of shots. With the Raptors defensive style, Boston is getting a ton of corner threes. They’ve got to make them. They didn’t in Game 4, as you can see from this shot chart:
It’s become a running joke to say the NBA is a “make or miss league”, but there is truth to it. Boston was 2-of-11 on open threes and 3-of-10 on wide-open threes in Game 4. Toronto was 8-of-23 on open threes and 7-of-14 on wide-open threes.
Just a guess, but Brad Stevens won’t have an issue with the Raptors shooting 15-of-37 on open and wide-open threes. He will have an issue with Toronto getting 37 open and wide-open threes to begin with.
7. After the game Brad Stevens said when shots weren’t falling early, the Celtics tried to “hit home runs”. That showed up in at least five transition drives where the Raptors had players back, but Boston players forced it anyway. Jayson Tatum tries to do too much himself on this play:
8. The Celtics have lost the turnover battle in all four games. That’s unusual for Boston. The Raptors are one of the NBA’s best at forcing turnovers, but the Celtics are usually a fairly low-turnover team. The challenge is also showing up with live-ball turnovers. That’s leading directly to the next issue.
9. Boston’s transition defense is an issue. Sure, they’re controlling Toronto’s fastbreak offense. But the Raptors are piling up points in non-fastbreak transition offense. Of the Raptors non-second chance and non-free throw points, somewhere around 30 of 61 came in transition. The Celtics simply have to be better in that facet of the game.
10. Despite it all, Boston had the ball down just five with 32 seconds to play. It’s remarkable that on a night where it all seemingly went wrong; the Celtics were still in right until the end.
But now the series is 2-2. This is right where most expected it to be. Sure, Boston could (should) have been up 3-0 with a chance to put Toronto away on Saturday night, but it wasn’t to be.
One thing is clear: The Celtics still haven’t played very well, and yet they could have won each of the last two games. But they also didn’t win either game. Now it’s a best-of-three series.
Everyone who spoke from Boston said there was no Game 3 hangover leading to the Game 4 loss. It didn’t look like that held true for most of the game. Game 5 will tell us just how capable the Celtics are of putting disappointment behind them and focusing on what’s next.