1. This was a bad loss for the Boston Celtics. Sure, the Chicago Bulls are probably better than their record, and they’re finally healthy. Yes, Boston was missing a couple of key players in Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams.
This was still a bad loss.
The Celtics should have beaten the Bulls. There is a seven-game gap between the two teams in the standings for many reasons. Taking this sort of loss late in the season when you are a good team is one you shrug off and move on from. With this version of the Celtics, you still shrug, but you add a sad sigh. It’s more disappointment in a disappointing season.
2. Let’s move on, shall we?
While it’s a bad loss, not all that much really changed in the standings. Miami won, so Boston dropped to 7th (the first Play-In Tournament spot) in the Eastern Conference. But the upcoming two-game set vs the Heat in Boston was always going to decide who finished higher between those two teams.
The Knicks also lost, so the Celtics didn’t lose any ground in their hopes of still reaching the 4-5 series. And Boston still has New York on the last day of the regular season, should that game have meaning.
The Celtics missed an opportunity to make life easier on themselves, but all is not lost.
3. Jayson Tatum was due for a stinker, and boy did he ever have one. Tatum couldn’t find his jumper all night, as he went 0-for-7 from behind the arc. Overall, Tatum was 3-of-15 from the floor. This is one ugly shot chart:
No one should ever tell Tatum to stop shooting. He’s one basket away from a hot streak every night. But on a night where the jumper isn’t falling, it would have been nice to see him force this issue to get inside. Even if that just meant barreling to the rim with the only intent being to draw free throws. That’s what still separates Tatum from the game’s best true scorers.
4. Kemba Walker was excellent again. Against Orlando on Wednesday, Walker had a season-high 32 points. He topped that with 33 against Chicago. For a moment in the middle of the fourth quarter, it looked like Walker was going to lead another huge comeback.
This sort of shot, where Walker confidently gets into his step-back jumper, is huge for gauging how he’s feeling:
5. Evan Fournier put together a second strong game in a row too. He scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. If anything, Fournier probably should have taken more shots throughout the game. He’s still deferring a bit too often. On a night like this, where he’s hot and his teammates (aside from Walker) can’t hit anything, it would be ok for Fournier to be a bit selfish.
On this play, Fournier shows what he’s capable of. He uses the screen well, but doesn’t loop all the one around it. When he sees the defender go under, Fournier pulls the ball back and hits the three:
6. Despite the poor shooting, the ball moved well for the Celtics. Here’s two examples of some gorgeous ball movement creating some open shots. All five players touch the ball on this play. Look at Kemba Walker after he makes the pass. He’s positive Evan Fournier is burying this jumper:
This one doesn’t have as many passes as the clip above, but it starts the same way: the ball hits the paint. When Boston drives, it collapses the defense and opens up the outside shots. The Celtics are always at their best when they play inside-outside like this:
7. In the clip above, you see Grant Williams bury the three-pointer. Williams has slipped in the rotation recently, but he always stays ready. Williams remains at his best when he’s playing as a small-ball five. In a game where no Celtic had an answer for Nikola Vucevic, Williams did the best against the Bulls All-Star center. That’s enough to show Williams still has a role in certain matchups this season.
8. Immediately following that three from Williams, Boston came up with a steal. Kemba Walker missed an open three in transition and that was basically the game. The Celtics shoulders collectively slumped after that miss, which would have cut Chicago’s lead to just five points. Vucevic scored the other way and Boston never really threatened again.
That’s the sort of thing that has been far too present this season. One play doesn’t go the Celtics way, heads drop and everything comes crashing down. If they make the playoffs, Boston has to be for more mentally tough than they’ve shown for a lot of this season.
9. A look at the box score doesn’t show Daniel Theis doing much. He was just 3-of-9 from the floor. But Celtics fans know better. The sad thing? The front office and ownership know better too.
Theis wasn’t traded to Chicago for any basketball reason. It was simply to dip back under the luxury tax line, avoid the repeater tax clock starting and to save money down the line. The thinking was Boston had enough up front with the emergence of Robert Williams alongside Tristan Thompson. Unfortunately, Williams is hurt again and the other options to pair with Thompson all have the same issues they’ve always had.
Boston could use Theis. If they are a big man short in the playoffs, it’s going to be hard to explain to the fans that the only reason was that ownership didn’t want to pay the luxury tax this season or next.
10. Boston’s fate in the postseason will go a long way towards being decided on Sunday and Tuesday with a two-game set vs Miami. If the Celtics can sweep the Heat, they’ll have a leg up in the race to avoid the Play-In Tournament. Boston would be up a game and would hold the tiebreaker over Miami.
Pending how the Knicks brutal West Coast trip ends, the Celtics could make up some ground in the push for a spot in the 4-5 series as well.
Despite what some will have you believe, nothing is decided just yet. In many ways, Boston still controls their own destiny. As a wise man once said: they just have to “do the thing”. We’ll see starting Sunday afternoon how capable the Celtics are of “doing the thing”.