1. This most recent Boston Celtics loss can be broken up into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Let’s start with the Good, because there is a lot more Bad and Ugly to cover.
Jaylen Brown’s box score will show that he scored 26 points. Most of them came on strong drives to the basket like this:
That’s Brown getting by an overmatched defender, then powering through a weak defender at the rim for a nice finish. The above basket was also the last time Boston had the lead over the Atlanta Hawks in this game.
2. In the last Takeaways, we showed you this same set as one the Celtics often run to open games. Here it is again on an ATO. Jayson Tatum backscreens for Robert Williams. If the defenders drop to protect against the lob, Tatum pops for the jumper. If they stick with Tatum, Williams is open at the rim:
This play is one Boston gets a lot of mileage out of. They should use it more often.
3. We beg the Celtics to cut more often. Good things happen when they don’t stand around and watch as off-ball players. Here’s a good cut and finish by Jayson Tatum for the and-1:
Also, notice Marcus Smart working in the post. Boston got a lot of good stuff out of Smart posting up Trae Young throughout the game, but went away from it late.
This is a different sort of play, but again shows the value of cutting. Dennis Schroder makes the aggressive drive and Josh Richardson times his cut from the corner perfectly. The end result is an easy layup:
More off-ball movement. Please!
4. Alright, let’s move onto the Bad…
Boston did a good job making Atlanta defend for a lot of the game. They were fairly aggressive about attacking the hoop. Well…sometimes.
Twice, in the second and third quarters, the Celtics were in the bonus for more than half of the quarter. In the second quarter, Boston got into the bonus with 7:59 to play. From that point forward, they took only four free throws. And two of them came on a really bad call against Trae Young.
In the third quarter, the Celtics were shooting free throws for the final 6:44 of the period. They only took two free throws.
In a game where jumpers weren’t falling, that’s unacceptable. The Hawks have a lot of defenders that couldn’t handle Boston’s players. It was a lack of aggressiveness, or a lack of driving the ball with a plan that let Atlanta off the hook.
The Celtics either have a lot of turnovers in a game or they have very few. Rare is the standard 10-turnover game. In this one, Boston gave it away 18 times. 12 of those came from Jaylen Brown (seven) and Jayson Tatum (five).
Brown’s turnovers were because he looked like the guy from his rookie year. He put his head down and drove into traffic without a plan. That often led to a wild shot attempt or forced pass.
Tatum’s giveaways came from a lot of lazy passes. No zip on the ball on skip passes. And he was throwing soft, floaters to players near the basket. That’s easy money for a defense.
It was a bad turnover night, but when the two best players are keying it, it feels even worse.
6. The Celtics shot 7-of-36 from behind the arc in this one. That’s 19.4%. Per John Schuhmann of NBA.com, that’s the fourth time the Celtics have shot worse than 20% from deep this season. That leads the entire NBA.
On the season, Boston is shooting 34% on three-pointers. That ranks 22nd in the NBA. What makes that figure even more damaging is that the Celtics rank 11th in three-point attempts per game and 13th in three-point attempt rate.
Essentially: Boston launches a lot of three-pointers, but they don’t make a lot of them.
In games where Boston hits at least 34% (their season average) from three, they are 20-9. The league average is 34.8%. So, if the Celtics could hit even slightly below average most games from distance, they’d have one of the best records in the league.
7. Let’s get into the Ugly now…
The late lineup decisions from Ime Udoka weren’t great. Most of the bellyaching is coming from Udoka pulling Romeo Langford out in the fourth quarter to go back to Dennis Schroder. In fairness, Langford had run a long stint and was really huffing and puffing. So, that substitution is generally fine. But running with Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder together doesn’t seem to work.
Udoka attempted to go with a grouping that featured the two point guards, alongside Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams with 8:20 to go and the Celtics trailing 87-84. Two-and-a-half minutes later, it was 97-86 Hawks, and the game was functionally over.
The Smart-Schroder pairing doesn’t give the Celtics enough shooting on the floor, and Schroder isn’t good enough defensively to close games. In theory, that duo should add to the playmaking, but every possession they use is one where Tatum or Brown doesn’t have the ball.
In addition to the above, Al Horford only played 16 minutes. Udoka said the Hawks went small on the second units, so he downsized to match that. But Horford was having an effective game and was doing a solid job on both John Collins and Clint Capela. Maybe it was managing his minutes on the first night of a back-to-back, but it feels like Horford should have been out there more.
Also, the Robert Williams, Horford, Tatum, Brown and Smart starting group has been pretty effective, despite a lot of moaning about “Two bigs again?!?!”. Why not close with it once and a while too?
8. At least semi-related to the above was the Celtics inability to close quarters. It was really ugly in this one.
Atlanta outscored Boston 12-2 to end the first quarter.
Atlanta outscored Boston 10-0 to end the second quarter.
Atlanta outscored Boston 18-2 after the Celtics cut the Hawks lead to one-point in the fourth quarter.
You don’t need to be a basketball scholar to know you aren’t winning many games allowing runs like that in key moments.
9. During the competitive portion of the game, Atlanta’s bench outscored their Boston counterparts by a 43-11 margin. That was a major difference in the first matchup as well, as the only Celtics reserve to even score in that game was Josh Richardson.
It’s fair to point out that Atlanta has better depth than Boston by a good margin. Bogdan Bogdanovic would start for a lot of teams. Danilo Gallinari is a longtime Celtics-killer. And Lou Williams could have the Sixth Man of the Year award named after him.
But this is a good example of the Celtics not getting enough from their vets (Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder) or their kids (Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams), even if some of them flash at times.
10. The Celtics are back to .500 on the season, as they continue to vacillate between a game over or under that mark. They get right back at it at the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night in the second game of a back-to-back. The Pelicans also played Friday, but have the benefit of not having to travel, as they fell at home to the Denver Nuggets.
When Boston played New Orleans just a couple of weeks ago, the Pelicans got off to a great start. Then in the second half, the Celtics played some of their best basketball of the season. Boston will need more of that if they want to be above .500 going into a home matchup against the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat to close out January.