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Udoka: Celtics starting unit had “no spark” in loss to Lakers

Boston’s starters were pulled with just under 5:30 left to play.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After defeating the Los Angeles Lakers just a couple of weeks ago in blowout fashion, the Boston Celtics got smothered at Staples Center last night, 117-102. Jayson Tatum started off the game hot, but things went downhill in the second half.

Boston got outscored by 11 points in the third quarter and would not recover for the rest of the game. This resulted in head coach Ime Udoka pulling his starters with under 5:30 left on the game clock.

At that point in the game, Boston was down 15 points, and the Lakers were leaving the door open for a comeback. Los Angeles missed six shots in a row, yet the C’s were never able to make a serious dent in their lead. It wasn’t until Udoka put in the end-of-the-bench guys that the C’s cut the lead down to 10. By then, it was too little, too late.

Udoka was asked about his decision to pull Boston’s starters so early. The C’s play again tonight on a back-to-back against the Clippers, but he stated that the choice was mainly due to the group’s lack of ‘spark’:

“A little bit of both, obviously the back-to-back played into it, but that unit, there was no spark there… it’s just a feel that there wasn’t much there offensively, defensively, all night that was the case. It wasn’t like we were scoring great with that group anyway, so we wanted a spark there.”

Tatum and Robert Williams both shot well from the field, but outside of that, the rest of the starting unit struggled mightily. Marcus Smart, Dennis Schroder, and Al Horford combined to shoot 6-22 (27.3 percent) from the field. In addition, despite his electrifying dunks over Anthony Davis, Williams was a -20 on the night. The only C’s starter with a positive plus/minus was Horford with a +4.

Defensively, Boston crumbled when it came to protecting the paint. They allowed a whopping 66 points in the paint, 22.6 points more than average this season. Udoka also related this defensive collapse to a shortage of energy from the C’s.

“A little disappointed as far as I feel like we were outhustled and out-toughed a little bit… the effort and lack of toughness, it showed a little bit tonight.”

Whether it was missing rotations or simply letting the Lakers blow past them, Boston’s starters seemed to be stuck in molasses. Their bench unit wasn’t much better, though. It was simply an off-night as a whole for a Celtics team that has, for the most part, brought the energy all year long.

Boston has a chance to bounce back tonight as they play their second game in a row at Staples. They’ll take on the LA Clippers, a team known for their grit and defensive mindset. If the C’s want to avoid falling back down to .500, they’ll need to find the spark that was missing last night.