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Celtics fall victim to themselves again

Eight turnovers in the first quarter buried Boston.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Well, the mini winning streak is over, and we’re back to scratching our heads, wondering what is happening before our eyes. You can accept losing, but when the same mistakes come back to haunt you, that pill becomes far tougher to swallow.

For the Boston Celtics, one of the most prominent flaws this season has been their ability to take care of the rock. Careless passes, ill-judged shots, and ego-centric drives to the hoop have all played a part in how this team has continually shot itself in the foot. If this Celtics roster was a movie character, right now they would be Cheddar Bob from 8 Mile.

What makes things worse, is you can see the players are trying, but something isn’t clicking. Oftentimes, it’s like we’re watching a group of strangers playing a pick-up game, not knowing where each other likes to receive the ball, or how they like to attack when in possession. There’s a lack of cohesion within this roster, and it’s leading to some disjointed performances, and that’s something you can get away with for the most part, but when you play a team that’s locked in, you’re going to get exposed.

And that’s what happened in Friday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers; the Celtics got exposed.

The above play is Jayson Tatum’s third turnover of the first quarter, and it’s the perfect demonstration of the lack of cohesion that’s hindering this roster from taking the next step on offense. There’s not a basketball fan alive that doesn’t know Enes Freedom is going to roll to the rim after setting a screen. He doesn’t have a reliable jump shot and isn’t a great passer out of the short-roll. Tatum, who has played with Freedom before, drives the rock, encounters some stern defense, and nonchalantly hook passes back towards the free throw line. No one was there.

With so much time left on the shot clock, was a bail-out pass necessary? Couldn’t Tatum have reset the offense and waited for a better shot?

Here’s Jaylen Brown doing the same thing. Granted, Tatum is one pass away, and it’s an easy one, too. But you have to spot Matisse Thybulle, he’s positioned directly in the passing lane. Heck, he didn’t even need to move his feet to deflect the pass. Just an outstretched arm, and boom, another turnover.

You know coming in, that the Sixers are going to pile the pressure on ball-handlers, and that they’re going to swarm anytime they see the slightest bit of tentativeness in your play. Teams gameplan for that type of defense, and we’ve seen the Celtics overcome that style. Yet, for the umpteenth time this season, Boston came out with a lackadaisical approach and got punished for it.

The team had 20 turnovers in the loss to the Sixers, eight of them came in the first quarter, with Boston’s two star wings accounting for 6. Yet you can live with the passing turnovers to some extent, even the ones where Tatum and Brown gift wrapped them for Thybulle. Live dribble turnovers, well, they’re a worrisome development.

Seven of the Celtics turnovers last night, came courtesy of live dribble mistakes. Be it getting the ball poked away from behind, losing the dribble, or just moving quicker than their body would allow. Seven. Take those mistakes away, and you only give up 13 turnovers - a far more palatable amount.

For all the talk of Marcus Smart as the starting guard on this team, it’s clear that his playmaking is an important aspect when games get chippy like this one. Tatum and Brown are still developing that aspect of their game, and as such, are susceptible to bad passing nights, which then makes them try to do more, and as a result, get loose with their dribble.

Take the above play as an example. We’ve seen Tatum attack drag screens like this countless times, but a sloppy crossover leads to a pilfer. Usually, the St. Louis native is far more aware of his surroundings and operates at his own pace, but this possession, like many others, felt a little rushed.

“I don’t think I was being aggressive enough coming off those pick-and-rolls, sometimes I wasn’t even looking at the basket. Trying to do too much, trying to create something out of nothing. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to be aggressive, and that will open things up as well. Especially at the beginning of the game, that’s what was wrong from my standpoint, we were being a little too passive, being careless with the ball,” Jayson Tatum said after recording 7 turnovers in the Celtics loss.

There’s no such thing as a perfect game. Plays will always break down, careless passes will get fired off, and someone will always call their own number. But, when these types of games with 20 turnovers are becoming a frequent part of the team's performance, it’s clear that something is missing, or too much is being asked of the roster. Right now, Tatum and Brown are tasked with being the Celtics' primary scorers, playmakers, wing defenders, and chipping in on the boards.

For two players that are 25 and under, that’s an incredible burden, which will take time to become second nature for them. Perhaps some rotational tweaks or a shift towards a more fluid starting five could help alleviate the burden on their young shoulders. Regardless of how the team could fix these passing and playmaking issues, you can’t escape the fact that Boston is now among the league leaders in 20-turnover games, and with that, we clearly see what this team is missing.

Let’s all hope for a better performance when the team faces the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night, so we can chalk this loss up as a blip in what was becoming a promising start to 2022.

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