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Same old, same old in San Antonio: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Spurs

Boston continues to struggle in their annual trip to the home of The Alamo

NBA: Boston Celtics at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

1. This version of the Takeaways is going to be a little different. No clips, just some scattered thoughts. It’s not that there aren’t good things to pull, as well as plenty of bad. It more that both of those categories are starting to feel a little redundant. It’s that redundancy that is getting worrisome, because it’s the same stuff every game. Sort of like how Boston will seemingly never win in San Antonio on any sort of regular basis.

2. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are both stars now. Their scoring games are better than they have ever been. But what’s lifted them to start status is their passing. They see stuff now that they didn’t before. That allows the ball to move and to create easy looks for their teammates.

The lone downside to Brown and Tatum having developed as passers is that they are sometimes too willing to pass the ball. As good as they are as scorers, you can live with a couple more forced shots. Especially if those forces come near the rim and draw free throws.

3. Boston’s turnover issues have gotten to the point where they are really hurting the team. They are now 21st in the league at 15.1 turnovers per game. The sad thing? The Spurs game was an improvement, as they only had 12.

What wasn’t an improvement? Tatum coughing the ball up on back-to-back possessions to end the first half. That put the capper on a real stinker of a quarter and put the Celtics in catchup mode in the second half. For what it’s worth, Tatum took full responsibility for the two bad plays, but that really can’t happen. It’s weird to see Boston be this careless with the ball for this long of a stretch of a season.

4. Robert Williams played well off the bench again. It’s hard to run a three-big rotation, when only one big plays at a time in most lineups. That’s going to cap the playing time for at least one of the three. It’s getting to the point where the Celtics may need to live with the occasional lapse from Williams, because he generally has an impact when he’s on the floor. Don’t let the fact that he was a -6 in this game fool you. That was hardly all on him.

5. The reason you can’t pin the -6 on Robert Williams is that Boston’s interior defense stinks right now. But he’s a big part of that interior defense, right? Yes, but only to a point.

Where the Celtics are failing is at containing drivers. Right now, ballhandlers are getting into the paint with ease. Williams, Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson are doing what they can, but when they give help, that is opening up other players.

The Spurs were 27-of-33 in the paint for 54 points. That was in a game where they scored very few fastbreak points. Letting the opponent shoot 81.8% is an overall systemic failure for the defense.

6. It’s a shame that Boston was so bad at controlling ballhandlers, because they had active hands and forced the normally-reliable Spurs into 20 turnovers. Yet, the Celtics scored just 16 points off those turnovers. That’s not taking advantage nearly enough.

7. In part because they “couldn’t stop a nosebleed” in the words of Brad Stevens, Boston switched to a 2-1-2 zone defense. They stole a page from the Miami Heat’s book and put Jayson Tatum up top, where his length was a factor. This zone was a new look and worked for a while, as it helped Boston climb back in the game.

Stevens said after the game that he’d like to play a bunch of defenses well, but that the Celtics need to play one defense well first. Clearly, he’s frustrated with his team’s 110.1 defensive rating. That’s easily the worst number since Stevens has been Boston’s coach.

What’s weird is that this is mostly the same personnel as a year ago for the Celtics, when they had the fourth-best defense in the NBA. Sure, there have been absences and that’s caused continuity issues. But to drop from fourth to 14th can’t be explained away by just that. It seems more related to effort and focus that has been very inconsistent from game to game.

8. Marcus Smart got the last shot. It was a fine shot too. If Boston went too slow to make sure that shot went to Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Kemba Walker, the Spurs could have fouled. San Antonio is also simply too good defensively to allow a great look. Most importantly, Smart was open in the corner, where he’s a 42.9% shooter. He just missed.

You can scream that shot should never go to Smart there, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But that’s a little off-base when the mantra of good basketball is “Find the open man”. It wasn’t a situation where the Celtics had time to draw up a play. It was all on the fly. That’s going to lead to other guys taking shots.

9. There’s already a discourse starting that the Celtics are better without Kemba Walker. This game was the first one with almost all of the main rotation players available. To draw any conclusions from one game against a good team in a place where Boston never wins, is nonsensical and foolish.

As both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum said postgame: it’s going to take time to get everyone in rhythm. And Brad Stevens said he’s “More focused on our team as a whole. We’ve got a lot of problems, none of them are those guys.”

10. The Celtics now have two days off before playing the Los Angeles Lakers in Boston on Saturday night. It’s the first ABC Saturday night showcase game of the season. There will be a lot of eyes on this one. That means there are going to be a lot of definitive opinions drawn from this one game.

The advice here is simple: Don’t fall into that trap. The Celtics are figuring things out in a weird season, as are many teams. Look at the Miami Heat and their struggles to open the year. The answer isn’t to start making trades today. The season is a month-old. The trade deadline is two months away.

Rise above the “Kemba doesn’t fit” and “Smart’s gotta go” and “Ainge never does anything” nonsense that fills the internet. Some of it is baseless trolling designed to get a rise out of you. Some of it is innocent ignorance from not watching the Celtics regularly and tuning in now that the NFL season is over.

If you’re reading this, you probably watch the Celtics more than 99% of the population. You likely have a better understanding of what’s happening with the team than your average caller to sports radio or Twitter troll. Be that calming voice of reason vs throwing gasoline on the fire.

Even if the Celtics lose to the Lakers (gasp!), it’s too early to make sweeping generalizations and calling for firings and changes to the roster. Try to eat a cake sometime when it’s only a quarter-done. It’ll be a mess and will probably taste awful. Boston’s only a quarter-done. Let’s get this cake baked first before we figure out how to ice and decorate it.

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