1. The first item in 3 Questions related to making Bradley Beal work and containing everyone else. Unfortunately, Beal didn’t have to work all that hard, as he scored 35 points in 33 minutes. There were some turnovers in there and a few contested shots, but it wasn’t a tough afternoon for Beal to find points.
Containing others was a mixed bag. Rui Hachimura scored 15, Russell Westbrook nearly had a triple-double and several others contributed. Only a couple shot well, but it was enough to get the win.
2. Why was it enough to get the win? Boston’s offense was abysmal, minus Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics shot poorly from everywhere. They hit 35.6% overall, 25.7% from three and missed an embarrassing 12-of-30 free throws. And to boot, Boston turned it over 17 times too.
The worst part? This was against a bottom-of-the-barrel defense. Washington hadn’t stopped anyone all year And the Celtics were lucky to crack 90 points. We’ll talk about why later.
3. The last of the 3 Questions was: Who will step up to help the Jays? The answer was Kemba Walker. He scored 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Most importantly, he looked like Kemba Walker for the first time this season. Not glimpses or flashes, but the entire time he played. This drive-and-score is a good sign that Walker is maybe feeling more confident in his knee and his burst is back:
Unfortunately, Boston was going to need a lot more than Walker stepping up. Jayson Tatum was just 3-of-14 from the field and looked out of sorts all game. Jaylen Brown was good and the rookies flashed. But that was that for good stuff.
4. Let’s stay positive and stick with the rookies for a couple more takeaways…Aaron Nesmith played his best minutes in the NBA. He was the first player off the bench and he was active and engaged. He only hit one shot, but his defense and rebounding were pleasant surprises. Here, Nesmith did a really nice job defending the much bigger Rui Hachimura:
First, Nesmith scrambles Kemba Walker off the mismatch. Then he did a nice job staying in front of Hachimura, but not taking contact. That resulted in Hachimura shooting a fallaway, which Nesmith nicely contested.
Later in the period, this was another nice defensive moment from Nesmith. He gets skinny to avoid the screen from Robin Lopez. Then, Nesmith does a great job of contesting Bertans on the three-point attempt, when Bertans was clearly hunting a foul:
5. It wasn’t an overly productive afternoon from Payton Pritchard, but he showed off a couple of new shots worth checking out. To this point Pritchard has been mostly a spot-up shooter and straight-line driver. Meaning, he’s either taking jumpers or getting all the way to the rim. Here’s a nice baseline floater after driving the closeout:
Later, Pritchard drove and hit this push-shot floater in the paint. It’s good to see him already diversifying his game early in his rookie season:
6. Alright…if you want rainbows and unicorns, you probably want to stop reading here. No sunshine the rest of the way.
This was a bad loss. It topped the Detroit loss, just two days prior, as the worst loss of the season. It wasn’t losing. Everyone has bad losses on their leger. It’s how the Celtics lost these last two games that is worrisome. Let’s dive in.
This was sloppy on both ends. On offense, the turnovers are getting to be too much. The Celtics are down to 17th in turnover rate and are falling. Considering they are also a below-average shooting team and middle-of-the-pack in free throw rate, they can’t have this many giveaways. So many against the Wizards were unforced too. By a rough estimate, 10 of the Celtics 17 turnovers were unforced. That’s not winning basketball.
7. Also sloppy was the defense. Weird thing to say in a game where they held the opponent to under-40% shooting and 7-of-30 on three-pointers, right? But Boston fouled at an absurd rate. It’s not the challenges at the rim (War on Theis anyone?) that get you here. It’s the lazy ones on the perimeter that beat you.
There isn’t a real way to look this up, but the Celtics may lead the league in two categories you don’t want to lead in: Fouls away from the play and fouls 25 feet or greater from the basket. It’s a constant thing. The Wizards piled up 36 free throw attempts. That’s huge on a night where they couldn’t make shots.
It used to be that Boston’s biggest defensive issue was completing plays with the rebound. The Celtics are now floating around the top-10 in defensive rebound percentage. The issue now is the unnecessary fouls. It’s got to the point where it’s costing the team games.
8. Two worrisome items emerged after the last couple of games. The first is the Celtics lack of ball movement. In the game against Toronto, it looked like Boston figured it out. They racked up 30 assists and had the ball pinging all over the place. The last two games, they had 29 total assists. In case you are wondering, the last two games are not the outlier.
For the season, the Celtics are 27th in assist rate. They also play at a slow pace (23rd). When the stats match the eye-test like that, it tells the full story that scoring can be a grind for this team.
What’s really worrisome is that the players have clearly noticed now too. Following the game, Jaylen Brown was asked about the lack of ball movement and he said: “(long pause) I have no comment.”
The long pause said most of it and “no comment” said the rest.
9. It’s been building to this point, but in the last week both players and Brad Stevens have finally said that the team doesn’t play with enough effort. Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have all called it out directly now, saying versions of “We don’t play hard enough.”
Following the loss to the Wizards, Stevens said he’s going to prioritize playing players who “run hard to their spots, execute, move the ball and play hard. He followed that up with “That’s clearly an issue.”
That is as close as you will get to hearing anyone on the Celtics call anyone out. They aren’t going to do it by names, but it’s clear that no one is happy with the effort level right now .
10. So, what’s next? Back-to-back home games with the Nuggets and Hawks, followed by another home game in a mini-series against Atlanta. Given how weird this season is, Boston will probably drill Denver and look great. Then they’ll struggle in at least one of the Atlanta games in a way that is incredibly frustrating.
We try to avoid excuses here, but health is clearly an issue for Boston. Key guys have missed a lot of games. The teams that have been most successful have largely been healthy. With their lack of quality depth, this is a major factor in the Celtics poor record.
Related to that, it looked like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are a little worn down. They carried a huge load in the bubble playoffs with Gordon Hayward out and Kemba Walker not 100%. Then, after two months off, they returned to carry an even bigger load with Hayward off to Charlotte and Walker out. It looks like they both have some tired legs.
Unfortunately, the schedule offers no breaks. The grind continues, at least until the All-Star break. And with it, likely some continuing uneven play.