Note: Because it’s a holiday week, and your author is doing some traveling today, these Takeaways are being done in the style of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
1. The Good: The nine-game win streak was snapped, but it happened! There should be no doom and gloom about where the Boston Celtics are heading this season based off this one result. Does the team have issues? Sure, they have a few. But mostly, this was an off night against a desperate team that badly needed a win.
The Celtics are fine. Even the things we’ll call out here are aberrations (for the most part) or they are things that should (or, at least, could) be fixed eventually.
2. The Good: Malcolm Brogdon was excellent. He scored 23 points in 25 minutes off Boston’s bench. Brogdon also added six assists and was one of the few Celtics to put together a decent defensive effort in this one.
A funny aside…Brogdon has a unique shooting motion. In a game where he took several spot-up threes, it really stood out. Brogdon starts his shot relatively low, and it looks like the effort to get it up to the rim is all he can manage. At times, it looks like Brogdon is shooting a medicine ball while playing through a torn rotator cuff:
But he’s wildly effective, so it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Just a funny observation.
3. The Good: Despite a somewhat high turnover night (more on that next), the Celtics continued to move the ball quite well. They tallied 28 assists on 38 baskets. Marcus Smart returned and led the way with eight assists, Jayson Tatum continued his playmaking with seven helpers and, as mentioned above, Malcolm Brogdon had six dimes off the bench.
More than anything else, the willingness to share the ball was the most encouraging part of this loss for Boston. No one went into extreme hero ball mode, and that’s a welcomed departure from past losses.
4. The Bad: Turnovers were a thing. 15 turnovers are above Boston’s average, but not by an incredible amount. Instead, the bad part was when the turnovers seemed to happen.
Four different times in the second half, when the Celtics made a run at the Bulls, and it seemed like they were snatching momentum away, they’d cough it up.
But the stars were guilty earlier in the game too. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are carrying a heavy playmaking burden, but such is the life of a star player. That will come with some turnovers, as they are a part of being a high-usage player. The ones that are killers are the unforced ones. In the first quarter, Jayson Tatum dribbled directly into a Bulls help defender for a steal. And then this was just a really, really bad pass late in the first:
As for Brown, this could be on a teammate, as the spacing was all wonky here. But Brown can’t continue to get up in the air without a plan:
Is it nitpicky to call out the stars for sloppy play? Yeah, maybe a bit. But they’re held to a higher standard.
5. The Bad: The defense…ugh. This was one of the first times this season where the Celtics offense didn’t show up and wasn’t enough to bail out another bad defensive performance.
A year ago, Boston was historically good on defense. They finished atop the league in all three opponent field goal percentages allowed. The Celtics held teams to 43.4% overall, including 33.9% on three-pointers, and they were the only team in the NBA to hold opponents under 50% on two-pointers at 49.7%.
This season, the Celtics are the 20th ranked defense. The two-point defense has remained strong, if not quite at the level of last year. But the three-point defense has dropped way, way off.
The Bulls walked or stepped into jumper after jumper on above-the-break three-pointers. Overall, Chicago was 13-for-24 on non-corner threes. Of those shots, the Bulls were 9-of-18 on shots classified as open to wide-open.
When 18 of 24 shots are that good of looks, Boston was actually fortunate they didn’t shoot a bit better. Shooting 4-of-6 on defended threes made up for that, but the lack of closing out to shooters over and over and over was a glaring issue in this loss.
The kind of good news? The players recognized it and were quick to call out that they didn’t hustle or put in the effort they needed to win in this one.
6. The Bad: We’ll keep this simple, and it’s related to one of the Ugly points too: Where was Payton Pritchard? Yes, Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon both played, but there should still be room for Pritchard too. He’s played too well to simply be buried on the bench again.
Also, playing Pritchard could help keep the minutes down for some of the vets and key rotation guys.
7. The Ugly: It was one really bad night after a string of good ones, but that Al Horford shooting line is brutally bad. Horford was 0-for-9 overall, including 0-for-7 on three-pointers. More than anyone, Horford had one of those nights. It happens, but it was tough to watch.
8. The Ugly: The rebounding wasn’t great. Chicago shot 51.7% but still managed to rebound eight of their 43 misses. That’s an 18.6% offensive rebounding rate. Not horrendous, but when you combine it with the Celtics corralling just five offensive rebounds of their own, it’s fair to say the Bulls dominated the glass.
9. The Ugly: Boston was in comeback mode, but Joe Mazzulla let the dream live for too long. Each starter played between 34 and 37 minutes. In a game where Chicago had control for the entire second half, there was no reason for the minutes to be that high.
Al Horford logged 35 minutes in a game where he was ineffective on both ends. This was one that screamed for him to be at or under 30 minutes. In his first game back, while playing on a sore ankle, Marcus Smart played 35 minutes too. With how well Malcolm Brogdon was playing, and with how well Derrick White has played, Smart didn’t need to carry that sort of load.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum played 38 and 36 minutes, respectively. Those both could have gone down by around five minutes and the result would have been the same.
The minutes from a late-November game might seem small in the bigger picture of the season. But several Celtics, most notably Tatum, admitted they ran out of gas in the Finals last year. Given minutes loads are a cumulative thing, and that getting back to the Finals is the goal, it’s time to start lessening that burden when and where possible.
10. The Celtics get back in action on Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks in Boston. Luka Doncic and the Mavs have pulled off a few miracles to beat the Celtics in heartbreaking fashion in recent years. Dallas comes in scuffling a bit at 9-7, but they are still a dangerous opponent.
Time to see if Boston can get the holiday weekend off to a good start and start a new streak.