1. Normally, the Takeaways try to be balanced, with a slightly positive lean. Things are never really as bad as they seem for the Celtics. While there certainly are a couple of positives to take from the loss to the Pistons (How good is Jaylen Brown right now? The defense is rounding into form.), there aren’t enough to try to achieve that balance.
This was a bad loss. Boston was bad to start the game and bad to finish the game. In the middle, they were fine. This Celtics version of “fine” isn’t enough to offset their version of “bad”.
Quite simply, this was a bad loss and we’re going to treat it as such.
2. When did it all go wrong for Boston? Oh, starting around 7:09 PM ET when the ball was tipped.
Postgame, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all said versions of the same thing: “We weren’t ready to play.” When Brad Stevens was asked, he said the same, but had no answers as to why the team wasn’t ready to go.
While no one seems to know why they weren’t ready to play, at least they all recognized they weren’t. The Celtics had eight of their 21 turnovers in the first quarter. To really round it off, they shot just 5-of-19 from the field. That’s how you score only 12 points and fall behind by 15 after one period.
And, in case you didn’t watch or don’t care to remember: The Pistons weren’t really playing lights-out defense. Five of Boston’s turnovers in the opening period were unforced. Many of the 14 misses came on wide-open shots.
Not ready to play indeed.
3. The turnovers persisted as a thing through the first three quarters. Sadly, the unforced theme hung around too. The Celtics coughed it up 18 times during that stretch of the game. Once they got the turnovers under control, Boston rallied and made it game.
4. Resiliency is a great trait for a team to have. You want your team to get after it when the chips are down. No one wants to support a quitter.
Relying on being resilient isn’t a winning formula.
During the Brad Stevens era, we’ve seen that the Celtics are regularly down, but rarely out. The number of times Boston has been blown out under Stevens is quite low. The penchant for rallies is disproportionately high to the number of blowout losses.
But, again, rallying back simply isn’t a winning formula. It takes an incredible amount of energy and effort to get back into a game after falling behind. Against the Pistons, the Celtics got back in the game and looked to be in a good spot. Then, it all fell apart.
Was it a lack of legs to finish the game after putting everything into the comeback? That’s hard to answer and we’ll never know. But it’s an all-too-familiar story for Boston.
5. Most of the rally had to be keyed by the Celtics starters. Outside of Jeff Teague and a little bit from Grant Williams, the bench was bad in this one. Right now, Boston’s depth is very shaky. Robert Williams has been steadily solid off the bench, as had Payton Pritchard until this game. Besides those two, the rest are unreliable.
Teague has been up and down. Grant Williams has largely been bad. Semi Ojeleye is still very limited, despite some flashy moment to open the year. Aaron Nesmith looks like he’s a long way away from understanding how to play in the NBA. Things got so bad in this one, Stevens turned to Carsen Edwards hoping for a spark. As good as he was against Memphis in garbage time, Edwards had nothing when called upon to play meaningful minutes.
Kemba Walker’s return will help, as he’ll push everyone back to more comfortable roles. Romeo Langford showed some ability to be a nice wing last season, so he could help as well. The challenge lies in relying on (hoping for?) both to stay healthy.
It’s too early for trades. No one is making moves until towards the end of this month, at the earliest. That said, adding quality, veteran depth, is where Danny Ainge has to be focused with the TPE. You can dream about adding another really good starter with the $28.5 million TPE, but splitting it up to get a couple really helpful players might be better in the long run.
6. How bad was the finish to this one for Boston? Really bad. Jeff Teague hit a three-pointer with 4:15 to go in the fourth quarter to give the Celtics a 93-88 lead.
Boston wouldn’t score again, as Detroit finished the game on an 8-0 run to claim victory. Sadly, it’s even worse than that looks.
The Celtics were 0-for-10 over the game’s final 4:15. This included going 0-for-7 on three-pointers. Of those seven missed threes, six are classified as open to wide-open.
Boston was also unable to complete stops on the defensive end by coming up with rebounds. During this stretch, Mason Plumlee had almost as many offensive rebounds (three) as Boston had defensive rebounds (four).
What stings the most? Stevens drew up two beautiful plays to get his best players shots in the waning moments. Tatum missed the most open corner three he’s had since his rookie year. And Brown missed an open three that would have tied it at the buzzer. Was it a lack of legs after all the energy to come back? No idea. We just know two pretty plays resulted in zero points.
7. You can already see the storyline being written on Sunday: “Celtics bounce back with big win over Pistons”.
Bouncing back is nice. Resiliency, right? It’s a great trait. Bouncing back after getting blasted by the Nets on Christmas is a good thing. It shows you aren’t as bad as you looked in that game.
Bouncing back if you randomly lose Game 47 to a bad team on a Tuesday night on a back-to-back? This is also acceptable. Everyone has a few bad losses on their ledger by the end of the season.
If the Celtics win on Sunday over the Pistons, it will be a bounce-back victory. The problem is that it’s an entirely unnecessary one. You can say a bad loss is a bad loss no matter when it occurs in the season. So, why weigh this one so heavily? In a shortened season, every game matters just a bit more. There isn’t the ability to carry as many bad losses, because there isn’t time to make up for them.
There is also the matter of just how avoidable this loss was. Simply by not throwing the ball away, as it if were discarded Christmas wrapping paper, the Celtics probably win the game. They were sloppy to start and finish the game, and that’s not really acceptable.
8. What happens now? Sadly, probably more of the same. This team is nowhere near bad enough to bottom out. That isn’t happening. They also aren’t good enough to just show up and win against bad teams. Not right now, at least.
As it stands at the moment, the Celtics are a perfectly average team. It’s not what anyone expected, nor what they should accept. It is, however, a currently accurate descriptor. We can preach patience and no judgements until Kemba Walker is back, and that’s reasonable. But to expect anything more than inconsistent play until then is perhaps asking too much.
Boston’s ceiling has never seemed further away, while the floor has never felt quite so close, as it does right now.