“Another heartbreaking loss” is the first thing Brad Stevens and Jaylen Brown said to the media after Luka Doncic handed the Celtics another one Tuesday night. Stevens followed up his statement and qualified it by saying, “but it feels a little bit different than it did on Sunday.”
Does it though? It was yet another end of third and fourth quarter collapse brought on by lack of focus and ability to close out games. This is becoming a constant trend of just a bad fourth quarter team.
Before this gets too harsh, the Celtics do deserve credit for fighting back at the very end of this game by putting together solid possessions on offense and actually playing with intensity on the defensive end. An MVP caliber player hit two dagger shots, however, and all of that is for nothing. Earlier in the quarter, the Celtics gave up a huge Dallas run making it a double digit deficit that had to be overcome. That is the core problem. Multiple times this season, they have done this same thing. This graphic from the TNT broadcast says it all:
This image mainly focuses on the offensive stats, but the defense has also been lacking. The team completely turns off all cohesion and success they had for the first three quarters. Time after time, rotations are lazy and made baskets are conceded or fouls are given up. The fouls in this game got out of hand when the Mavericks began shooting free throws for the final six minutes of the game. It had the Celtics playing tentative.
This basket right here should have sealed the game for the Mavericks without the Celtics ever sniffing a close game again. Jalen Brunson was left all alone after a weak attempt to confuse the Celtics on a screen and slide by. Kemba Walker was still steps behind, and Brunson buried a three, extending their lead to 12.
Again, props to the Celtics for storming back and even taking the lead, but this defense is inexcusable. Brunson then went on to hit another three for the Mavericks which answered a Celtics burst. It was similar with Kemba sagging too far in the paint. Both of these defensive efforts gave way too much room on the perimeter for their shooters to covert.
Stevens after the game also spoke on the defense admitting that “we are not as good defensively as we have been in the last few years.” At the very least, he sees the poor defense which means the team sees that, however, there is a disconnect between knowing about it and acting on it. The team still looks complacent with how they go about possessions. This Dallas game was a great back and forth battle which had the Celtics up five in the third quarter. Then, the wheels just started falling off and the team went to sleep.
Here, Luka is able to drive all the way to the basket by Semi Ojeleye, Jayson Tatum, and Robert Williams. Mike Gorman on the call gives Luka the benefit of the doubt saying he “split the defense,” but Stevens was not ok with the clear path to the basket calling a quick timeout. It is smart to switch on Luka, but Semi looked lost guarding him on that possession extending the Mavs lead to six.
Unfortunately, there may not be a quick solution in this article. It could just be a few hundred words of frustration after watching another disappointing loss. Hopefully, things could get better with the addition of Marcus Smart back in the lineup, but there are underlying problems that will have to be addressed. The team knows that they have to do better on defense. They have to get back to the level they have been at before, and let the rest of the pieces fall where they may. In the words of Bill Belichick, “We’re on to Atlanta.”