A tip of the cap. A shrug of the shoulders. The colloquial “it happens” type of night.
When everyone on the other team is drilling shots, sometimes there really isn’t much you can do. The Boston Celtics found that out on Wednesday, losing at home to the Brooklyn Nets 123-104. It simply felt like Brooklyn couldn’t miss on this night.
The Nets, a talented offensive group, were on from top to bottom. James Harden (20 points, 11 assists, 4-9 from deep) hit a pair of his patented late-clock step-backs in isolation over good contests. League-best 3-point shooter Patty Mills (23 points, 7-10 from 3 on Wednesday) was supernova hot from deep. Kevin Durant (21 points, 8 assists) was still wheeling and dealing in isolation and went 8-12 from two-point range. Sprinkle in 17 points from LaMarcus Aldridge and the Nets four best scorers put up 81 right off the bat.
Boston’s defense had been best in the NBA since November 1st. Over their last eleven games, the Celtics were first in points allowed, giving up only 96.5 points per game, according to Celtics.com’s Taylor Snow. The Nets hung 123 on them last night; the most they’d allowed in that span was 113 to the Milwaukee Bucks in an overtime affair.
After the game, Ime Udoka came in with some blunt critiques of the Celtics’ effort on the defensive end. “That was the first game in a while where I felt we got out-hustled and out-worked,” said the first-year head coach.
An energetic spurt in the beginning of the fourth quarter helped cut the lead down to as close as twelve. The Celtics went on a 17-0 run, inspired by full-court pressure and some luck on the offensive end. A few key plays by Durant and Mills once again extended Brooklyn’s lead, and the game was out of reach before there were four minutes remaining. Udoka reached into his bench at the 4:08 mark, bringing in Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith for Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder, the waiving of the proverbial white flag.
While Brooklyn was red hot from deep, the Celtics were colder than a stepmother’s kiss. They finished the night 11-48 (22.9%) from downtown while several stalwarts came up empty. Jayson Tatum (1-9 from deep, 4-16 from the field overall) wasn’t seeing the ball go in. Jaylen Brown (0-8 from deep, 5-15 from the field) was arguably worse. When those two stars aren’t knocking down jump shots, the Celtics will struggle to generate enough offense to win games. Getting over the century mark when those two combined for 28 feels like a miracle.
Unfortunately, those two and the entire Celtics squad let their lack of success on the offensive end turn into less effort on the defensive end. Brooklyn’s assault on the rim wasn’t met with much resistance in the second or third quarters. After a tough game, Al Horford seems to be the veteran presence to take the podium and deal with the media, bringing his calm yet rational perspective to the table. Horford had a few zingers about the stale offense Boston was playing on Wednesday.
Al Horford: "I think at times we were just a little too stagnant on offense."— Jay King (@ByJayKing) November 25, 2021
Al Horford: "When I was out there it felt like we were taking good shots, but it does feel like we need to put more pressure on the rim." pic.twitter.com/alIItDcyOA— Greg Dudek (@gdudek10) November 25, 2021
Both ones are common critiques for this Celtics squad: an offense built on iso-ball instead of ball movement and a team reliant on their jump shots falling. We saw the downfalls of such an approach. The two stars fail to get going (a combined 1-17 from deep) and no other Celtics really generate easy points. Boston’s three-point rate was high (53% of the shots they took were from long range) but that’s due as much to lack of rim pressure by their attackers as it is by design.
An optimist would find a few bright spots in this performance to focus on. Romeo Langford was good! He attacked closeouts hard, rotated well on defense and went 2-3 from deep in 23 minutes. Marcus Smart (20 points, eight assists) had his best offensive showing in a while and was the energetic sparkplug that revived the Garden in the fourth in the midst of that comeback. The team scrapped back twice in the fourth quarter from major deficits to cut Brooklyn’s lead to twelve or fewer as a result.
Still, the Nets had too much firepower on this night. What can the Celtics do in the future to hang with them? Slight defensive and tactical adjustments will help, as would a healthy Rob Williams and getting Jaylen to one-hundred percent.
Mainly, the Celtics can simply hope they don’t go this cold again on the same night their opponent gets hot. It was a devastating combination for the C’s on Wednesday and ultimately lead to their downfall.