1. Sometimes all you can do is laugh. It beats crying. Just when you think the Boston Celtics have lost games in every conceivable way, they have a game like this against the LA Clippers. It was almost unfathomably bad. Sure, the defense was fine. But the offense was such a complete and utter trainwreck that it felt worse than the ultimate nine-point loss it was. Let’s dig in, shall we?
2. Courtesy of ESPN, we know that the Celtics suffered one of the all-time worse shooting nights in NBA history. 4-of-42 from behind the arc. 4. Of. 42. Here’s the shot chart:
There’s less red on the floor in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
For some more context: the Celtics shot 0-for-12 on open three-pointers and 4-of-24 on wide-open three-pointers. And of course, they missed all six guarded three-pointers they took.
One more weird and not-good stat: Boston is sixth in the NBA this season on open three-pointers. That’s pretty good! Somehow, the Celtics are 28th in the NBA on wide-open three-pointers. That’s really bad!
And before you ask, it’s not all about the “bad” shooters being left open. Even the “good” shooters have similar swings. It’s just an unexplainable oddity.
3. We’re going to make the next two takeaways about Jaylen Brown. Both this game and with a wider lens. For this game, Brown was awful. There’s been a lot of shouting that “It’s not Brown’s fault that his teammates couldn’t make a shot!” and that’s fair. Except that Brown wasn’t exactly a playmaking machine.
By now you probably know Brown finished with 36 field goal attempts and zero assists. Brown did generate eight potential assists (passes where his teammates missed a shot). So, do we need to look deeper?
Potential assists are converted at a 50% rate. So, if Boston had a normal shooting night vs a horrendous one, Brown would have had four assists. Four assists against 36 shots and three turnovers is bad. Really, really bad.
Here’s Brown’s shot chart:
That’s a lot of misses deep, but there’s also a ton of misses in the paint too. For all the concern about his finishing, Brown is actually at a career-best 77.3% at the basket. Unfortunately, he’s at a career-low with only 16.9% of his shots coming at the rim.
Where the big drop-off has come is in the paint/floater range. Brown is shooting just 35.7% in that range. And he’s taking 21.5% of his shots from that area.
For what it’s worth, 40.8% of Brown’s shot attempts are three-pointers, and he’s down to 35.2% from behind the arc on the season.
To flip the script a bit (perhaps searching for hope here), Brown was clearly hampered by the hamstring injury for a large chunk of this season so far. If he’s still getting to the rim this little after a healthy stretch, it’s cause for concern. But more shots at the rim are definitely needed to up Brown’s efficiency, especially when you combine that with him getting a career-best 5.2 free throw attempts per game. More attacking would balance out his game in a welcomed way.
4. Let’s look again at one other part of Jaylen Brown’s game: playmaking. For the last few years, we’ve harped on the need for Brown and Jayson Tatum to up their playmaking for others. It’s been a patient, but steady climb. It was also going to take time for both, as their entire lives they’ve been asked to score. That’s generally how it works for good wings.
Brown’s growth as a passer has been notable. He averaged just 0.8 assists as a rookie. Last year that climbed all the way to 3.4 assists per game. And his turnovers seemed to level out around just below three per game. An even assist to turnover ratio isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s fine for a wing player whose primary role is to score.
This season, it’s all sort of fallen backwards for Brown. He’s turning it over 2.9 times per game. Again, not terrible. But that’s against just 2.6 assists per game. Through 21 games and 709 minutes, Brown has 61 turnovers and 55 assists. That’s…not great.
Last night was an extreme example, as Brown tried his best to win the game for a Celtics group short on scoring. But it was still AN example. In Year 6, if Brown is going to be a consistent All-Star wing, it’s fair to expect more from him as a playmaker.
5. Somehow the Celtics remain middle of the pack in defensive rebounding rate at 77.7%. It sure doesn’t seem like it based on the final minutes of close games. Oh, that’s because Boston is an abysmal rebounding team late in games!
By now we all know the Celtics are just 6-14 in clutch situations this season. That’s tied with the Indiana Pacers for the most clutch losses this season. Late-game rebounding has been a major factor in those losses.
As stated above, Boston is 13th in the NBA in overall defensive rebounding rate at 77.7%. In clutch moments, the Celtics fall to 20th in the NBA and grab just 67.9% of defensive boards. That’s a drop-off of nearly 10 percentage points.
So, when Grant Williams called out Boston’s inability to “finish stops with a rebound”, it’s not something to be blown off. What’s even more maddening? The Celtics aren’t leaking out on the break and leaving the boards unprotected, because they play at a snail’s pace in clutch moments. It’s simply an inability to get big rebounds late.
6. Another thing that is becoming a worrisome trend is Boston’s inability to solve zone defenses. They fell to pieces against the Minnesota Timberwolves when the shorthanded Wolves went zone. The similarly shorthanded Clippers zoned most of this game and we saw the results.
Some of it is lack of shooting. Well, probably most of it. But it’s also a shocking lack of recognition that they are being zoned. Going back to the bubble, it seems to take the Celtics somewhere between three to five possessions to realize the other team is in zone. This is a spot where Ime Udoka has to see it earlier and help his team through these moments.
Also, get more shooting. Somehow. Somewhere.
7. Postgame Grant Williams also called out “over-dribbling” as a source of struggle for the Celtics. We’ll keep this one short, but Williams is spot-on. Boston isn’t a good passing team. The best passers on the team are Marcus Smart (who is limited by teams playing him to pass), and Al Horford and Robert Williams (both bigs).
When your best passers are a limited shooter and two big men, that’s rough. And that’s what leads to possessions where Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Dennis Schroder pound the ball for 16-20 seconds of the shot-clock hoping the Room of Requirement will magically reveal itself, full of clean scoring opportunities.
8. This one is going to be one of the shortest takeaways in the history of the Takeaways: Let’s stop any chatter about “Maybe Jayson Tatum is the problem?”. He’s not. Full stop. These two games should have ended that for all-time. Tatum isn’t perfect, but he’s the Celtics franchise player and they need him. Desperately.
9. One bright light? Robert Williams was active. After a poor game against the Timberwolves, Ime Udoka called out Williams for being undisciplined. He was better in this game. When Williams is focused on both ends, he raises the Celtics ceiling by a decent amount.
One minor (or major) quibble: Williams needs to take some of his ferocity on the offensive glass and translate it to the other end. Williams is too good and too athletic to be as ineffective of a defensive rebounder as he is.
10. “A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last”
Counting Crows didn’t write that about the Boston Celtics, but it has indeed been A Long December. The month mercifully comes to a close with an afternoon tip against one of the NBA’s best teams on New Years Even when the Phoenix Suns come to Boston.
After that, we can say “Maybe this year will be better than the last”.