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Sloppy, shorthanded loss: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Bulls

Boston six-game win streak was snapped in a messy performance at home

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

(Note: No clips today due to technical issues)

1. Danny Ainge was on the broadcast for the Celtics Monday night alongside Brian Scalabrine. Ainge was a broadcaster for a while previously, so he has plenty of experience as the color man on a call. The challenge this time around was that Ainge could only say so much about the Bulls players. Because of the NBA’s tampering rules, Ainge was fairly muted in his comments on Chicago. It was things like “He’s a good shooter. Can’t leave him open.” and “He’s always been a good rebounder”. Benign analysis that didn’t give you a sense of Ainge’s thoughts on a player.

What weren’t benign were Ainge’s thoughts on the Celtics. Without going completely in, Ainge was clearly not happy with his team’s defense throughout the game. He also didn’t appreciate the offensive approach at points either. At several points, Ainge’s frustrations came through.

On one hand you can say “This is the roster you built. Be frustrated with yourself.” but that’s not entirely fair. It wasn’t that Ainge was frustrated with the players, but more with how they were playing. And that’s entirely fair. Some guys who Boston has gotten a lot out of over the last couple of weeks had some struggles.

Overall, it was an interesting perspective to hear Ainge on the call. It would have been nice to get a little deeper into his evaluation of certain players, but that probably wasn’t the time nor place for that sort of discussion.

2. It was a bit of cruel irony that Jayson Tatum recorded the first triple-double of his career while playing one of his worst offensive games of the season. Tatum couldn’t find the rhythm with his jumper, as he finished 3-of-17 from the floor. He did quite well as a passer, as he piled up 10 assists. But the Bulls were happy to have Tatum functioning as a distributor vs the blistering scorer he had been over the last week or so.

Tatum was due for an off-night, after so many great ones recently. The good news is that he still managed to get to the free throw line eight times. The passing and drawing fouls are signs that Tatum is rounding out his game on nights when the shot won’t go down.

3. It’s an understatement to say Boston really missed Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart, never mind to add in Robert Williams and Evan Fournier. But the absence of the two playmaking guards is where it was felt most.

The Celtics never really got the offense humming in this game. The first quarter was solid enough, but there were a lot of defensive breakdowns by Chicago to create good looks for Boston. After that, the Celtics had a hard time creating quality shots.

Payton Pritchard has had a really nice rookie season and he looks like he’ll be at least a high-end backup point guard for his career. He’s not much of a playmaker for others though. He drives looking to score. And he’s only so-so in pick-and-roll.

That put pressure on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to create, and to a lesser extent, Romeo Langford. Tatum did quite well with finding others, while Brown was able to get himself some good looks. Langford did surprisingly well when running the offense during a brief period in the first half. It was a bit bumpy, but considering it was his first time as the lead ballhandler in the NBA, Langford did a nice job.

Mostly, this confirmed the value of Walker and Smart to the Celtics, beyond what they are widely recognized for. Both have the ability to keep Boston organized and to make sure the offense flows. That was missing in this game.

4. It would be ignoring the elephant in the room to not comment on Grant Williams’ tough night. He was just 1-of-6 from the floor for five points, while struggling defensively as well. But that doesn’t excuse the vitriol thrown at Williams across all forms of social media.

Is Williams a perfect player? Not even close. Is he fine as a 9th or 10th man? Yes. To suggest he should “Never play”, or far worse (some of the comments are disgusting), is over the line. Williams, especially his defense, was a big part of the win streak. He’s a 4/5 defender who generally has some ability to stretch the floor on offense. When he’s overly involved, as he was against Chicago, Williams’ flaws are magnified. But if he’s playing 10 minutes a night, he’s fine and often has a positive impact.

The guess here is that when the playoffs roll around, Williams, Semi Ojeleye and Jabari Parker will morph into one player that sees 10-15 minutes. Who plays will be heavily dependent on situation. Need some defense on a big? Williams gets the call. Need defense on a big wing or a primary ballhandling big? That’s Ojeleye. If offense is needed, it’s Parker’s night.

5. Speaking of Jabari Parker, it’s hard to have envisioned him having this sort of impact already. The funny part is that it’s very clear he doesn’t know the offensive sets of defensive coverages yet. Multiple times, teammates were pointing and occasionally physically positioning him on plays.

More than anyone, Parker will benefit from the team not having games over the next two days. He’ll be able to work with the coaches on Tuesday and then with the entire team in an actual practice on Wednesday. That’s needed to get him up to speed.

All of that said, Parker being able to score eight points on seven shots in 16 minutes is huge. And he held his own defensively as well. The former is good to have confirmed that Parker can still get buckets. The latter is what he needs to show to be able to play. So far, so good.

6. This game took on a bit of a tenor of “Let’s just get it over with” at times for the Celtics. Shorthanded and with six straight wins in the bank, it’s not uncommon to see some let up. If this was the only “bad” loss on the leger, it would be no big deal. You shrug and move on. But this is where the previous bad losses add up. Boston is in a dogfight for seeding in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics are in the mix for the 4th seed, but are only a couple of games ahead of the 8th seed. The East standings are likely to remain compact until the very end of the season. Avoiding the Play-In Tournament is crucial for a couple of a reason. First, you don’t want to win games just to get in to the playoffs. Second, if you land at 7 or 8, you have to play a team that you will be a major underdog against. Lastly, the 1-6 seeds will all get five or six days off between the end of the regular season and their first playoff game. That’s huge following this grind of a season.

7. This was a game where Jaylen Brown could have stood to be a bit more selfish. With Tatum struggling to find his shot, Brown scored 23 points, but only took 15 attempts. Boston needed offense and it would have been a nice night to see Brown take over.

8. After a rookie season that showed some promise, Tremont Waters has barely looked like an NBA player this season. It was nice to see him unearthed late in the game and take advantage of the opportunity. Waters was a pest on defense and made a few shots as well. He’s probably still a third-string point guard at best, but at least Waters still shows some potential after a rough year.

9. To bring it back around, this isn’t really a loss to lose sleep over. Win streaks eventually end, and they often do so when the wheels come off. All the things the team did right during the streak go wrong and the team loses. Add in some missing players and you have this result for Boston. Tatum was due for an off-night, Brown didn’t get enough shots, the depth wasn’t there and the big rotation was pretty meh. Even against a Bulls team that was missing Zach LaVine, that’s a formula for a loss.

10. In relation to the above, the loss isn’t great, but what matters now is how the Celtics respond. They have two straight days without games. That feels extremely necessary and beneficial right now. Everyone will get the chance to recover on Tuesday and then Wednesday will feature an actual practice for the first time in a long time.

Following the mini-break, Boston will play vs the Suns, at the Nets (on a back-to-back), before facing the Hornets twice sandwiched around a game vs the Thunder. Those latter three are pretty close to “must-win” status. The Suns and Nets games are going to be tests and good measuring sticks. Are the Celtics the improved team they’ve appeared to be for the month of April? Or was that just a hot streak?

Assuming health, which is always a bad assumption this season, Boston should go at least 3-2 over the next five games. Anything better is a bonus. Anything worse should be cause for concern that they may be backsliding again.

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