1. The first of our 3 Questions for this one was about the three-point shooting battle. The Celtics won it definitively, as they went 17-of-44 from downtown to the Suns 8-for-29 effort. The Celtics got it started early with this nice skip pass from Jayson Tatum to Grant Williams:
Overall, it was a great shooting night from three for Boston. What didn’t keep pace was the two-point shooting. The Celtics hit only 16-of-49 from inside the arc. That was the difference in a close loss.
2. Phoenix won the pace race. The Suns want to play slow and use a lot of the clock on each possession. In the second half especially, Phoenix was running it almost all the way out. By shortening games, they allow Chris Paul to key what has been an excellent defense. And because Paul and Devin Booker can create great looks on offense, playing late into the clock rarely bothers the Suns.
3. The third question got split into two: How would the Celtics score and how would they defend Devin Booker? The answer to both: not great! Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker combined to shoot 12-of-42 from the floor. The Celtics aren’t winning games when their main two guys can’t make shots.
As for defending Booker, Boston held him to just 16 field goal attempts, many of them contested looks. Some of that came from great efforts from undersized players like Carsen Edwards here:
First Edwards pushes Booker out to almost the arc on the catch. Then he forces Booker to where he knew he had help from the bigs.
Sadly, those efforts weren’t enough to keep Booker from controlling the game. Because Boston chased him off some shots, Booker was content to be a playmaker. He piled up 11 assists, as the Suns role players beat the Celtics.
4. Since he got a DNP several games back, Grant Williams has bounced back with much better play. He’s engaged defensively and he’s making plays on offense. Most of his scoring has come as a result of knockdown three-point shooting, but Williams can work in the post too. Look at this quick spin for the bucket here:
This a long backdoor pass to Jeff Teague (who actually played well!). The great part of this is Williams sees the pass before it’s actually open:
5. Brad Stevens said postgame that he feels like Payton Pritchard is often tentative on both ends when he first enters a game. This is a good example of tentative defense, as Pritchard is late to close to Mikal Bridges, which opens up an easy driving lane:
Stevens only called it out to stay he wants Pritchard to be aggressive from the moment he hits the floor. And that’s a great point, because Pritchard has such a positive impact when he’s aggressive. His defense and shooting were a big part of the Celtics staying in the game until the late moments.
6. Despite the poor shooting night, Boston was able to rack up 19 assists on 33 baskets. Here’s some good ball movement ending in a three from Daniel Theis:
Theis is now up to 41.9% from behind the arc. Inside the arc, Theis leads the NBA at 68.8% shooting. For all of the Celtics issues, Theis isn’t part of them.
7. When you actually dig into the numbers, Boston isn’t as bad a third quarter as it may seem. This is probably one of us media folks overdoing it when it is bad and completely ignoring it when it’s not.
That said, this was a bad third quarter. The Suns only won the quarter by five points, but that was more the fact that Phoenix doesn’t push pace and run up a lot of possessions. The Celtics couldn’t hit anything after the break. They were 7-of-22 overall and 2-of-11 from deep in the third period.
8. Phoenix was aggressive about double-teaming Jayson Tatum and making sure he couldn’t get to good shots. Tatum did a nice job of accepting those coverages and making plays as a passer. On this play, the Suns make sure Tatum won’t beat them, so he goes over the top to Daniel Theis on the alley-oop:
9. Kemba…oh Kemba. This was a rough one for Kemba Walker. He shot just 4-of-20 and couldn’t get it going. He 0-for-9 on two-pointers, including missing all six of his shots in the paint.
Walker looks good physically, with the lone exception being when he drives. Small guards have to be quick and able to explode when they drive, otherwise they can’t finish. Right now, that explosion doesn’t seem to be there for Walker. He’s getting by players and getting to the rim. He just can’t finish. Hopefully that comes back, or it’s going to be hard for Walker to be the scorer he was before he hurt his knee.
The jumper seems off because of lack of rhythm. As many have noted, Tristan Thompson looked awful for much of his first month, as he got himself going. Let’s hope it’s the same for Walker, as he’s a very important part of the Celtics ceiling as a team.
10. Boston needs a win in Utah to come home with a winning road trip. That’s a big ask. The Jazz are playing great right now and are always tough at home. 2-3 isn’t a bad result, especially with two of the games being played without Jaylen Brown and the entirety of the trip without Marcus Smart. But 3-2 would just feel a lot better.
The good news is that the schedule lightens up considerably after the trip. The next five games are at home for the Celtics. No fans, but it’s still better to be in your own environment than not. And lots of the games are ones Boston should win. This is a chance to bank some wins and get on a roll heading into the All-Star break and the end of the season’s first half.