Let’s lead with some good news. The Celtics are one of the better teams in the league at taking care of the ball. They rank 9th, giving up just 13.6 turnovers a game. The twenty-two TO’s on Wednesday night against the Clippers are just the second time this season they’ve eclipsed twenty in a game.
Hopefully, in the grand tapestry that is this 2020-2021 season, this is just a blip and an ugly aberration to what is normally a very sure-handed squad. But let’s also credit the Clippers and head coach Tyron Lue’s gameplan. They flummoxed the Celtics with a zone and when Jayson Tatum started heating up, they even through a box-and-1 at him in the second half. Boston reacted uncharacteristically and coughed it up for 24 points for the Clippers, eight more than Boston has averaged all year.
As head coach Ime Udoka noted, “a lot of it was self-inflicted with the turnovers,” but if we’re being honest, some of them were frankly just silly. Jayson Tatum, who was just a point shy of his fourth consecutive 30+ point game, was responsible for six of them, but two of them came off of ticky tack offensive fouls.
To Tatum’s credit, he takes responsibility for his others. “I think that’s on us. We gotta be tougher and take care of the ball,” Tatum said after the game. “I think in a lot of areas, we beat ourselves — especially in that area. ... 23 turnovers, that’s unacceptable.”
Robert Williams tied Tatum’s total with six, too. One of Williams’ strengths is his uncanny vision and knowing where everybody is on the floor at all times. He’s obviously one of the best lob catchers in the league, but where the four-year man has trouble is catching the ball in traffic and making a decision off the catch. So many times on Wednesday night, Williams would either rush into his move before gathering the ball or hesitate and lose it because he waited too long. As a vertical threat, the decisions are pretty binary: alley then oop. But against an active defense, especially vs. a zone, he’ll have to get better as a playmaker.
Marcus Smart had four turnovers on the night. Sure, he also had four steals to balance the ledger and was a huge spark in the near comeback, but over the last three games, he’s been really loose with his passes and had eleven turnovers between Portland and both games in Los Angeles.
On one hand, you want to credit him for trying to generate easy looks for his teammates. On the other, a turnover is a turnover and on the second night of a back-to-back, every possession is valuable because when the third and fourth quarter come rolling around, you just don’t have the legs to mount a big comeback.