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Not attacking leads to a loss: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Hornets

Boston failed to take any free throws despite being in the bonus over the final 9 minutes of the game

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

1. This wasn’t a bad loss for the Boston Celtics because of the opponent. The Charlotte Hornets are a good team. But it was a bad loss for the way it happened.

The Celtics got themselves in foul trouble early, especially Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams. In fairness, some were questionable calls, but Tatum and Williams also committed some dumb fouls themselves.

Maybe because of absences and lack of rhythm, Boston never found their shooting touch. The Celtics were 14-of-46 from behind the arc. Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined to shoot 2-of-18 from deep.

The maddening part of the above? Boston scored 40 points in the paint and seemingly got layups whenever they wanted them. They simply didn’t attack enough.

That, along with a few other things we’ll cover soon, is why this was another bad loss in a season full of bad losses.

PS: It also really strung that Terry Rozier hit big shot after big shot down the stretch.

2. Dennis Schroder was a bright spot for Boston. He had 24 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Despite some defensive miscues, Schroder was the Celtics best player in this one.

This was a really nice extra pass. Schroder passed up two shots to get Jaylen Brown a good one here:

This is a good action. Al Horford sets the initial screen and Jaylen Brown reads the blitz. As he swings to Schroder, Horford is already moving to the next screen. As the Hornets rotate, Schroder finds Grant Williams in his money spot:

Here’s Schroder again using a Horford screen. This time he gets right downhill against Mason Plumlee for the layup:

Stray lineup thought: When Marcus Smart and Robert Williams are back, it’s probably worth investigating pairing Schroder and Horford on the second unit. Most teams won’t be able to defend against their two-man game with reserve units on the floor. That could help Boston avoid the offensive droughts they are so prone to.

3. He showed up in the plays above, but Al Horford did more than set screens. He turned in a solid game with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. If anything, Horford should have seen more touches and shots.

This is a good example that Horford can still play bully-ball with smaller defenders:

4. The final Celtic to have a good game was Romeo Langford. Langford got minutes in this one because Boston was without two starters and Aaron Nesmith was unable to play due to a sprain ankle. Like Nesmith in the prior game, Langford made the most of his opportunity with 11 points off the bench.

Langford did a nice job on this play of hanging around the paint. Then he put himself in position for a layup off a pretty nice pass from Payton Pritchard:

This rim attack was good to see from Langford. He’s been tentative so often this season, but here Langford went right to the glass for the layup:

5. Alright…on to the bad stuff. Ime Udoka said pregame that stopping the Hornets in transition was a priority. Boston limited Charlotte to nine fastbreak points, but their transition defense was bad. Especially with getting matched up.

This clip starts just after Dennis Schroder and Enes Freedom have blown getting matched up in transition. Freedom wanted no part of guarding Kelly Oubre Jr. on the perimeter and tried to get Schroder there. The result is this blowby and Jayson Tatum picking up a foul:

At the end of the clip, you can see Schroder and Freedom discussing the issue too. That’s how you know there was some form of miscommunication.

6. This isn’t one of those “They showed no effort!” takeaways. It’s more that it’s sloppy defense and leaving your teammates out to dry. The play starts with a turnover. That happens. Both Jaylen Brown and Dennis Schroder hustle back to break up the fastbreak. That’s good. But they are the only ones that even bothered to run back. By the time another Celtic is in the picture, the Hornets are tossing up an alley-oop:

7. The Hornets are a small team. Mason Plumlee is the only center they play regular minutes. P.J. Washington masquerades as a five behind him. Because of this, Charlotte is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.

Because of the above, even though Robert Williams was out, it’s pretty unacceptable for the Celtics to allow 11 offensive rebounds and to get worked on the glass. Boston plays too good of initial defense to keep letting stops go wasted because they can’t finish them with the rebound.

8. Outside of the poor three-point shooting, but related to it, the most egregious part of this loss was the Celtics lack of an attack mindset in the fourth quarter.

Boston was in the bonus with 8:40 to play in the fourth quarter. With players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Dennis Schroder, they should have piled up free throws throughout the end of this game. Heck, posting up Enes Freedom would even draw some freebies against the porous interior defense of the Hornets.

How many free throws did the Celtics actually take during that stretch?

Zero.

Zip.

Zilch.

After Langford took his two shots on the bonus-drawing foul, Boston never went back to the line. For 8:40 seconds they didn’t take a single free throw.

During that period, the Celtics shot 7-for-16 from the field. That’s not bad, but they were 4-of-12 from behind the arc to close the game. They took three total shots inside the paint over the final 8:40 of the game.

Boston had the bonus and all the free throws they could want against one of the worst interior defenses in the NBA and they just launched three after three.

Postgame, Ime Udoka said they talked about attacking the paint while in the bonus. Udoka also said the Celtics created a lot of good looks, despite not taking advantage of the penalty.

This was simply a case of not playing with force and being the aggressor. Boston could have forced the issue and got to the line. They simply stayed content to throw up dud after dud from deep.

9. Jayson Tatum doesn’t offer up excuses for his poor play. He also doesn’t offer many reasons, usually reverting to some form of “I was terrible” followed by “I have to be better”. Tatum didn’t speak after this loss, but what’s happened to his jumper is one of the NBA’s greatest unsolved mysteries this season.

Tatum is now shooting just 41.5% overall and 31.7% from three. The poor three-point shooting is compounded by his high volume of 8.2 three-point attempts per game. Tatum and Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz are the only players in the league taking at least eight three-pointers per game and making that low of a percentage of them.

Again, Tatum doesn’t offer up excuses, but could it be that he’s worn down? Since the summer of 2019, outside of the NBA pause in 2020, Tatum has had little downtime. He played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, then he finished 2020 in the bubble. After a shortened offseason, Tatum carried a heavy load during the 2020-21, with Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker dealing with injuries. Tatum then went right to the 2021 Summer Olympics. And then right back to camp for the 2021-22 season. During that period, Tatum has also had two bouts with COVID, including having to use an inhaler during the second half of the 2020-21 season.

It could be that all the time has finally added up and Tatum is worn out. Good players don’t lose it like this without there being a good reason. Especially not ones as young as Tatum is.

10. Boston hosts a banged up and bad Portland Trail Blazers team on Friday. The Celtics drilled the Blazers in a road game in early-December and could use a repeat effort. That game is a must-win, because this team can’t afford to drop games against bad teams the rest of the way.