After riding the highs of a nine-game win streak, the Boston Celtics finally dropped a game with a 121-107 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. Two of Boston’s four losses on the season have been at the hands of Chicago, and the Bulls came into the matchup hungry and desperate for a win to stop their skid. From early on in the game, Boston looked lethargic moving up and down the court, and Chicago simply lapped them with their hustle and effort.
Monday night’s loss was a prime example of what can go wrong if Boston’s shots aren’t falling, as the team took 50 of their 87 shot attempts from deep, converting 19 of them (38%). In addition to shots not falling, the Celtics racked up 15 turnovers, with 14 of them coming from the starting five. Despite these offensive struggles, the main reason why the Celtics were underwhelming was due to their lack of defense, including getting outrebounded 51-to-38 on the night.
“It puts a little pressure on your defense, you know?,” said Marcus Smart on Boston’s missed three pointers. “It actually puts a lot of pressure on your defense when you’re not making shots. It’s part of it. You’re going to have nights like that, we just have to find a way, and tonight we didn’t. You learn from it and move on to the next one.”
Malcolm Brogdon echoed the same sentiment in his postgame interview. “It definitely does,” said Brogdon when asked about the team’s offense impacting their defense. “I think we’re such a high-level shooting team from the arc, we rely on that and I think we need more balance, especially if those threes aren’t falling, we’re not making shots out there. We got to be able to play inside the arc and still defend for sure. That’s one thing that can’t slip, regardless of how we’re shooting the ball on the offensive end.”
It’s easy to forget sometimes that this team’s identity is not the same as last season. Between adding some new faces as well as an interim head coach, the way that the Celtics approach the game has changed and continues to evolve, and with it comes growing pains. The biggest takeaway beyond defensive concerns is the team needing to get better at winning uglier games when shots aren’t falling; for last year’s Celtics squad, that meant locking in on defense. The idea of leaning on your defense when your offense is struggling was a big principle Ime Udoka preached to the team, and it needs to be reiterated by Joe Mazzulla.
Late in the game, the Celtics were making a push but just couldn’t get over the hump, between their turnovers and the lack of defense. “It’s one of those nights for us,” said Smart of the Celtics’ failed rally. “The buckets they were getting were uncharacteristic from us to give up. We missed a couple switch assignments, miscommunication on some of their players that we can’t have...we missed a lot of shots that we make. You tip your hat off to this team, they played well, they played great and you move on.”
While it’s true that the Celtics are an elite offensive team, there will be nights like this — it’s just a given in an 82-game regular season. It’s Murphy’s Law. But the biggest thing this team will need to do collectively is to find other ways to win games on those kind of nights. Not every game will be a cakewalk, where you hit a franchise record in threes on the way to a comfortable victory. Losses like these should always serve as a learning opportunity, and to their credit, that’s exactly what the Celtics aim to do.
This isn’t a code red by any means for Boston, because this kind of loss was avoidable if the team comes together and plays the right way. They have a majority of the team healthy, and it’s public knowledge what this team is capable of doing on both sides of the ball when they’re fully invested in each. All that comes down to now is applying it. The Celtics will have the chance to do so when they return to TD Garden Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, 7:30PM EST tipoff.