Keith Smith gave me his column for the day. Big mistake. Huge.
For one, I’m never going to give it back, no matter how much debt I accumulate from Celtic-related therapy expenses not reimbursed by my insurance. Second, I’m going to take all of his followers. All 54.7K of them. What feels worse, Keith: my looming follower theft, knowing that every “Florida man” tweet might apply to you based merely on your location, or that the Celtics will inevitably put some of the TPE toward Terrence Ross? I’ll hang up and listen.
Alright, onto the takeaways. If you don’t mind, I’ll tackle this Zach Lowe-style: here are 10 things (I think) I liked or didn’t like related to last night’s debacle.
1. Since when did Bill Simmons take the Celtics head coaching gig?
Midday on Friday, Dave Dameshek tweeted that Indiana University would be announcing Brad Stevens as its new head coach — following the firing of Archie Miller this week — “as soon as today.” By mid-evening, Brad had put that notion to rest: “I’m not,” he said when asked if he was considering taking the vacancy. He followed it up with this gem:
Brad Stevens: "I'm a 44-year old Masshole. I swerve around others when I'm driving. I eat Dunkin' Donuts and I root for the Patriots."— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) March 19, 2021
In case you’re curious: No, CelticsBlog is not affiliated with The Ringer podcast network.
Wanna see a dead body?
2. Four’s Company
Come and knock on our dooooooooor... We’ve been waiting for youuuuuuuuu... Where the kisses are his, his, his, and his, four’s company tooooooooo.
Coming this fall on Peacock, the remake you absolutely never asked for: Four’s Company, a series in which the stars only share the screen intermittently. In a 41-episode season, in fact, they’ll only have shared the screen for 65 minutes. It’s fine. It’ll get canceled before it ever launches.
This is reality: the four best Celtics — ostensibly, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart — have only seen the court at the same time for a total of 65 minutes this season, per PBP Stats. That’s mindboggling, regardless of the fact that Jayson Tatum is still recovering from the coronavirus, Kemba Walker had surgery on his left knee approximately 12 seconds before the season began, and Marcus Smart’s left calf strain is healthy-ish, if that. 65 minutes is only one-fourth of the length of the Snyder Cut. And those 65 minutes have been just about as productive as the Snyder Cut’s episodic lifespan.
You can’t blame them, as they’ve hardly had the chance to become familiar with any semblance of consistency this season, but that group has an alarming net rating of -14.76, an offensive rating of 116.54 (okay!), and a defensive rating of... 131.30, per PBP Stats. If I wanted to see a group of four quasi-stars play statistically inefficient basketball, I’d rewatch the sixth episode of The Office and uncharacteristically root for the warehouse.
But at the very least, it’s nice to see them grace the parquet at the same time. It’s the first time since the game against San Antonio — on January 27 — that they did. If you want a silver lining from this game, I have very few. But this one’s made of copper. Take it or leave it.
3. Scrambled (and distracted) eggs.
Buddy Hield can’t defend. He often wanders aimlessly inside the arc like my nan does in her care home as she searches for a vanilla pudding pouch. But he’s a lights-out shooter, one who takes advantage of distracted defenses better than Puss in Boots can apply his puppy-dog eyes to a certain vulnerable ogre.
He does it exceptionally well when he’s 1) feeling himself, which is far too often, and 2) when the defense directs its attention to searching for Peregrin Falcons in the rafters. He hardly moves on this play, but he sees all five Celtics watching the ball and waves for a wide-open kick from De’Aaron Fox. He follows it up with a savvy sidestep to throw off a scrambling Kemba. He has no chance.
He shot 13 threes in the game, making six. Fox, a bad shooter (33.3 percent from three this season, the second-best season of his career), made three of seven. Boston wasn’t playing zone; the Kings, and plenty of teams like them with slashing guard duos and nothing to lose, have made them look disinterested in man-to-man situations. Seriously, what the f*** is Kemba doing on this play?
If I’m Grant Williams, I’m grabbing Kemba by the neck of his jersey, telling him you don’t give a damn about his four All-Star honors, and filling his car with popcorn. You want to play like a rookie? Take your car to the cleaners like one.
4. Aaron Nesmith’s showcase game.
He scored two points. But they were the most exciting of the night.
He moves off the ball here, showing a bit of savvy like he’s rarely done before, and is on the receiving end of a pretty crosscourt pass from Tatum, who grows every night as a passer. But once Nesmith gets the ball, he doesn’t fade into a leaning jumper or retreat to reset. He takes it to his strong side, out-muscles his fellow rookie, the defensively-challenged Tyrese Haliburton, and goes up strong for a pretty floater. If I wasn’t wearing my glasses, you’d have to reiterate to me 81 separate times that this isn’t Marcus Smart after a week on Jenny Craig’s premium plan.
Hassan Whiteside is washed, but for future-King Nesmith to have the confidence to give this a go is a welcome sign. He played in just under 14 minutes and tallied the team’s second-best plus-minus on the night (-3, per NBA.com). I’m not saying you start him now. But we should socialize that idea. (Kidding.)
5. Jaylen Brown, sloppy.
Jaylen Brown turned it over five times last night. Let’s watch them all, and cry.
He has so much time here to throw Daniel Theis a nice lob. Richaun Holmes is drifting too high toward Jayson Tatum, and Theis is alone. Apparently, Jaylen Brown and Chris Sales are living out a Freaky Friday situation, because Brown rifles this thing, and Theis has no business being prepared to catch it.
Here’s number two. He extends his elbow, but it’s a Best Actor-worthy flop from Harrison Barnes. The Oscars are on the 25th, Harry. You’ll be in Boston by then. (Right?)
This one might not be Brown’s fault. The fast break is crowded, and Richaun Holmes reads the pass better than most NFL defensive backs. Do you hear what I hear? Al Michaels, is that you? “Something, something, Malcolm Butler...”
This is just depressing.
And this is what happens to Chris when Mrs. Armitage taps her teacup in Get Out. “You are getting very sleepy... you no longer know how to dribble...”
The focus needs to be better. Brad Stevens said postgame, “we need to be more engaged in each other.” The Celtics need to be more engaged in merely holding the basketball. A lot of what went on last night was red-in-the-face embarrassing.
6. Jayson Tatum, disinterested.
I’ll take you behind the curtain for a second: A brief conversation in the CelticsBlog team Slack last night, initiated by Bill Sy, began with a question: “Anybody picking up a vibe with Tatum?” I replied, already knowing what he was referring to but itching to have my limited intellect validated, “what kind of vibe?”
Yes. He was. He scored 15 points, shot 37 percent from the field, and turned it over four times. He putzed around more than... well, you already heard about my nan in a care home.
Seriously: I’d rather spend my evening in a YouTube rabbit hole starring Jake Paul than ever see this again.
Those jerseys are not meant to pay homage to Gumby, but Tatum looks to be about as strong as that flimsy flubber here. Richaun Holmes rips the ball from him like — you guessed it — candy from a baby, dumps it to Tatum’s man, Harrison Barnes, and Barnes flushes an uncontested dunk.
He also forgot that the average NBA wingspan is 6’10. This is lazier than whatever Tucker Carlson tends to do on television for 60 minutes per weekday evening.
On this next play, I’m not exactly sure what Tatum is doing.
He never leaves the left side of the floor, but is hardly playing adept on-ball defense. “De’Aaron... oop, now Buddy... oh, De’Aaron... ah, shit, Richaun!” If you can piece together the end goal here, let me know. I’m followed by 54.7K people on Twitter.
No, my name is not Keith Smith. Why do you ask?
7. Theis, Timelord: meet Richaun Holmes
Tristan Thompson missed his second-straight game due to the league’s health and safety protocols, thus clearing the way for Rob Williams and Daniel Theis to split the minutes they’ll likely share when Thompson is inevitably traded to whatever city Khloe prefers in a month or year or whatever. They were efficient offensively, combining for 26 points on 12-of-20 shooting. But Richaun Holmes scored 25 and bolstered that tally with 11 solo rebounds. He didn’t do so quietly.
De’Aaron Fox — bad shooter — launches a triple, and Holmes lingers behind Williams and Jaylen Brown. He then parts them like Noah did the Red Sea. This is illegal in 21 states.
It doesn’t come against Williams or Theis, but no matter: This kind of passion is illegal in 42.
On to the next: Tatum is so good at splitting defenders after he picks up his dribble, but he never seems to account for the trailing defender, often the one he beats. When it’s a center, he can’t forget. Holmes follows him here, takes advantage, and his block leads to a transition three for Buddy Hield. Sacramento is second in the league in transition points per possession with 1.17, per NBA.com. You can’t give this up.
Holmes gave a lesson in how to play center as a lengthy, non-agile, latitudinally-inept big. Were the Celtics taking notes? Time(lord) will tell.
8. Fourth quarter woe(s) is me.
In 28 “clutch games” this year — where teams are separated by five or fewer points with less than five minutes left in the contest — Boston has an 11-17 record. That’s a .393 winning percentage, 23rd out of 30 in a full-league rank. Over the course of an entire game, Boston flames out. They are as efficient on offense as they are on defense, though that's a trick statement: they’re inefficient on both ends.
That’s a problem when you play Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum for more than 26 minutes per night. You should be giving up 100 points, not 113 or more.
Let’s go deeper. They’re dead last in fourth-quarter net rating (-8.3) per NBA.com. In the fourth, the Celtics can’t hit water if they stick their hands under a faucet and turn it on (that’s the phrase, right?). You can’t win games playing like that, or taking shots like this in a close game.
Go up strong! Break the backboard! Pull up way too early in the shot clock! I don’t care; just don’t do this.
I actually think my heart just skipped six-to-fourteen beats. Cardiac arrest it is.
9. Marcus Smart’s PowerPoint needs a software update.
How do you know Marcus Smart wants to switch? He points with the f***ing fury of a thousand demigods. “GO THERE, YOU SICK FOOL, I’M STAYING HERE. I SWEAR IF YOU DON’T MOVE, I’M TAKING YOUR LUNCHBOX AND DEFECATING IN EVERY SINGLE SNACK BAG. BLESS POSEIDON, HE WHO HYDRATES THE MOUNTAINS AND THE PERISHED LAND.” At least that’s what I tend to hear.
So, why does he just straight-up direct his defense to give up guarding the ball on this play?
The natural move — and the sensible one — would be for Jaylen Brown to stay with Buddy Hield, Daniel Theis to cut off Harrison Barnes, and Jayson Tatum to flash over to De’Aaron Fox. But Theis gets caught on the free throw line looking for the open man, while Brown switches to Barnes, and Tatum sprints away from the cutting shooter to guard a useless Fox on the wing. It’d be three points if Hield knew you could follow through on heat checks. B.E.E.F! It’s an exact science.
Smart was all over the place on a plethora of possessions, and has been since his return. Boston has been particularly bad on perimeter plays like this one; earlier this season, they allowed teams to make 18 or more three-point shots in three-straight games. But even with Smart returning to his usual minute-count, they give up an extra 1.4 points per game. That’s a triple here, a foul there.
Smart is typically the traffic guard, a la Kevin Garnett or Rajon Rondo. Lately, he’s looked like a kid who just wants a window seat on the bus.
10. One — piece, year, lifetime — away.
Again, let’s go back behind the curtain: I sent this message in our Slack chat last night.
That’s reality: The Kings, despite their win last night, are a shade off of being playoff-ready, a seasoned star away from even winning a game in a series against the Lakers or Jazz. In the East, they’d be where Charlotte is currently: young, scrappy, hungry, and .500. In the West, they’re 12th, staring up at the Warriors and Grizzlies, wondering what’s gone wrong.
Here’s what’s gone wrong: Marvin Bagley never panned out, and Luka Doncic was sitting stage left, unselected when Bagley’s name was called. De’Aaron Fox is playing on a max contract without turning in max-worthy box scores night after night. Tyrese Haliburton has his limitations, none of which are too crippling, but will most certainly hinder him in his quest to be a transcendent stud in the NBA. Harrison Barnes might be headed out of town in a week, if you don’t believe reports. They are fun, but they might suck. They are as close to this year’s Boston Celtics as you’ll find in the NBA
The Celtics are incomplete, but they’re sort of close to being title-ready. They’ve made three out of the last four Eastern Conference Finals, and not undeservingly. This season, they just seem dejected. They can hang with the league’s elite, but never beat them (they’re 0-8 against the best teams in the NBA this season). No one smiles anymore; Marcus Smart just told reporters that the Celtics weren’t having fun anymore.
They lack energy, and it feels like a matter of time before one of the Jays requests more money or a trade, before Kemba Walker skips town, or before Brad Stevens sees a shiny new gig waiting for him in Indiana, where he once led Butler on national championship runs where he met Kyle Singler’s Duke and Kemba’s UCONN. Their time is borrowed? Try past-due. The minimum fine is your soul, joy, and custom-made Tacko Fall jersey. Pay up, chump.