Note: This is a shortened version of the Takeaways due to it being trade deadline week!
1. It sounds weird to say it this way, considering the Celtics are again under .500 at 21-22, but this wasn’t a bad loss for Boston. They were shorthanded without Tristan Thompson (health and safety protocols), Kemba Walker (back-to-back), Romeo Langford (a figment of our imagination) and Jayson Tatum (late scratch due to illness).
That Boston was in range to win is somewhat remarkable, and that’s what makes it sting. As Jaylen Brown put it “We had this one”. That part of the loss is tough to swallow. It would have been easier to shrug after a blowout and move on.
The other solace is that the Eastern Conference is incredibly mediocre behind the top three of Brooklyn/Philadelphia/Milwaukee. Despite their loss, the Celtics are just one game behind the Atlanta Hawks for fourth place in the conference. 21-22 and one game away from homecourt advantage. It’s all still there for Boston, assuming they can figure it out.
2. Continuing a years long pattern, the Celtics play fine when they are down some of their best players. Maybe it’s guys feeling pressure to step up. Maybe the ball moves more because the teams know it will take all of them to create offense. Maybe the effort on defense is just a bit more there. Well, maybe not that last one in this game.
On the ball movement front, Boston had it popping around the court all game. 31 assists on 47 baskets is a pretty good ratio. Five different Celtics had at least four assists. Everyone was engaged and together on offense.
3. Let’s talk about the defense for a minute, because it was bad. You can find excuses fairly easily, but they would be just that: excuses. Boston allowed 80 points in the paint. That’s far from being the fault of Daniel Theis and Robert Williams alone. They owned part of it, especially the lack of blocking out on rebounds, but everyone had a hand in this mess.
The Celtics perimeter defenders couldn’t keep anyone in front of them all game. The Grizzlies lived in the paint for layups or kick-out passes for easy jumpers. And when Memphis did miss a shot, they came away with the rebound 17 times. That allowed the Grizzlies to get up a whopping 110 shots, 20 more than the Celtics hoisted.
Even missing players and on a back-to-back, the defensive effort has to be better. Performances like this are why Boston is floundering around .500.
4. Let’s close on some positives! Jaylen Brown stepped up and had a nice game. He wasn’t hot from deep, like he was against Orlando the prior day, but he still made lots of plays. Brown’s care factor is extremely high, which is part of what makes him a great player. You could tell postgame that he was very bothered by this game slipping away from the Celtics. On nights when he’s the lone available star, Brown feels pressure to lead the team to wins. That’s the type of attitude you need from a young leader.
5. Jeff Teague played his best game as a Celtic. He made a ton of plays to keep Boston in the game. It won’t be like this every game, of course, but Teague can be better than what he’s shown for a lot of this season. Even a reliable 10-15 minutes a night would be huge at this point. Games like this show Teague has that in him.
6. The young trio of Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams and Robert Williams all looked pretty good. Nesmith looks more and more comfortable with each passing game. Grant Williams seems to be understanding how to better play to his strengths, while avoiding being something he’s not. And Robert Williams has largely been good all season. Given the team’s depth issues this season, this sort of development is very welcomed.
7. It’s the middle of trade deadline week. The deadline is Thursday at 3:00 PM ET. Boston, as per usual, is caught up in the middle of all sorts of swirl. That can weigh heavily on players, as they follow all the rumors and reports as closely as fans and media do.
The Celtics have one more game, at Milwaukee on Wednesday, before the deadline. It’s another chance for Boston to show they can compete with one of the best teams in the East. Will Danny Ainge bolster this group for a playoff run? Or will Ainge put off big changes until the summer? We’ll know a lot more over the next couple of days.