1. When the Boston Celtics lost to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, it was understandable. Sure, the Nets were shorthanded, but so were the Celtics. And Brooklyn’s depth is a lot better than Boston’s is. That’s not a loss to sleep over.
Getting blown out at the Charlotte Hornets and then following it up with a home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (who were on a 14-game losing streak and on a back-to-back) are more than worrisome losses. They can be panic-inducing. The Thunder loss is the latest in a growing list of “worst loss of the season” for Boston.
It’s getting too late to continue to believe in the “we’ll figure it out” talk coming from the locker room. At some point, you are what you are. The Celtics seem to be a slightly above-average team. They can beat anyone when they play well. When they don’t, they can be beaten by anyone.
What makes losses like this one even more frustrating is that over the last week, Boston has gotten help in the standings. The Knicks, Hawks and Heat have all lost some games. Despite that, the Celtics haven’t been able to take advantage and move up. And it’s not for lack of chances. They continue to drop winnable games and that’s costing them in the playoff race.
2. Boston played without Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. Tatum seemed to get a “rest” day more than anything else. And it was clear that he was in need of one. Walker’s absence is a little more troubling, because Brad Stevens already declared him out for Wednesday night’s game as well. Walker is dealing with a strained left side, after an awkward closeout vs Charlotte on Sunday afternoon.
Without two of their best players, Boston needed some guys to step up. Jaylen Brown predictably was one. Payton Pritchard, in what probably should be predictable at this point, was another. And Luke Kornet was a nice surprise off the bench as well. The next few Takeaways will look at how they contributed.
3. Jaylen Brown scored 29 points on 13-of-26 shooting. He did his part to try and will the Celtics to a victory. While Brown’s jumper is much-improved, he’s still at his best when he attacks the rim. This is a strong finish for the and-1 here:
This play is an example of Brown getting it done on both ends. First, he comes up with the steal and then he’s off the other way for a layup:
Brown’s grown from a “nice player” to a true All-Star. His ability to take over stretches of games bodes well for his and Boston’s future.
4. Payton Pritchard had a big night off the bench. He played a career-high 32:58 and scored a career-best 28 points. Pritchard got started early with a nice pullup out of pick-and-roll:
Late in the first half, Pritchard did a good job to get Boston a 2-for-1 opportunity. He drove quickly to hit the hanging floater:
Like Brown, Pritchard did his part. At worst, Pritchard has proven he’ll be a high-end backup guard. At best, he may end up a lot more than that.
5. The last, and least expected, player to step up was Luke Kornet. With Robert Williams still out and Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams playing ineffectively, Kornet played 20 minutes off the bench. He scored 10 points to go along with seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Up until this point in his career, Kornet has been mostly a pick-and-pop and spot-up shooter. The Celtics have used him more as a roller, allowing him to get shots at the rim, or to function as a passer. That has Kornet engaged and he’s using his size inside for put-backs like this:
Because defenses are still mostly disregarding him around the basket, Kornet is doing a nice job taking advantage of the lack of attention. Here’s a nice slip to the rim for the alley-oop finish:
Brown, Pritchard and Kornet all stepped up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, as they got very little help from the other Celtics.
6. Every once and a while Marcus Smart has a disaster game. In these games, his jumper doesn’t fall and his defensive impact just isn’t there. Smart was just 4-of-17 from the floor, including 1-of-10 from distance in this game. He did snag five steals, but that was more about the Thunder being incredibly sloppy than it was Smart making great plays.
On his rough nights, Smart’s flopping stands out as a huge negative. This is a terrible decision here and the officials, rightly so, did not reward it:
If Smart doesn’t flop, he can stay attached to Dort and the open three probably doesn’t happen.
7. It’s really nice to see Romeo Langford drive and finish through contact like this for an and-1:
What isn’t nice is seeing Langford miss all three of his three-pointers. It’s especially not nice when all three were classified as open to wide-open looks. We’re not going to bash Langford for that, when this is kind of like his second rookie year. But that’s an area where he must improve in order to find regular minutes.
8. Speaking of finding regular minutes…Aaron Nesmith is figuring things out. He was very competitive defensively in his 12+ minutes of play. On the offensive end, Nesmith is showing signs of being more than a spot-up shooter. The other night he drove a closeout for a pull-up. Here Nesmith does a nice job in pick-and-roll. He gets the defender on his backside and then keeps him on his left hip for the floater:
It’s all about finding positives for a player who desperately needs any sort of court-time he can get after a rough transition from college to the pros.
9. The number one reason the Celtics lost was that they didn’t take advantage of the Thunder’s whopping 27 turnovers. 29 points off that many turnovers is not nearly enough. A very close second, or even reason 1A, was poor defensive communication. Multiple times, Boston let OKC get good looks when a simple switch, or even a stay, would have worked.
The lack of cohesion is expected when it’s players who have played around five minutes together all season. Payton Pritchard and Tristan Thompson have played 251 minutes together over 38 games. That’s more than enough for both to know what should happen here. Either switch this “action” (it wasn’t much of one) or stay with your man. Either one prevents this three-point attempt. Instead, Pritchard and Thompson do neither and it’s an easy bucket for a hot shooter in Ty Jerome:
10. There isn’t any way to slice this one beyond it’s a bad loss. Yes, Boston was without three key players, but look at the lineup the Thunder rolled out there. It was younger in average age than the Baylor Bears NCAA title team this season. Oklahoma City had lost 14 straight games. They were hungry for a win and simply played harder than the Celtics did. As Jaylen Brown said postgame “We have to play well. We aren’t good enough to simply show up and expect to win.”
Boston is right back at it with what feels like a must-win against Charlotte on Wednesday night. That’s followed by a bunch of games that look winnable on paper. But what’s on paper and what’s on the floor have often been drastically different things for the Celtics this season.