1. The Boston Celtics have lost three of their last four games. It very easily could have been four straight losses, if not for an incredible comeback to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. During that stretch, this is the first loss that qualifies as a truly bad loss.
The Orlando Magic are better than their 10-20 record. They’ve won half of their games during their current five-game win streak. As they’ve gotten healthy, the Magic are starting to show they can play.
But…they were 1-11 on the road coming into this game. Boston was 11-2 at home, with both previous losses coming in overtime. And the Celtics have vastly more experience.
Simply put: Boston should have won this game. No matter how well Orlando is playing right now, they shouldn’t be coming into TD Garden and putting a beating on the Celtics. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.
2. A major contributor to the loss was poor shooting by the Celtics. After hitting everything over the first month-and-a-half of the season, the Celtics have cooled off considerably over the last couple of weeks.
Boston started 5-of-7 from deep in this one over the first five minutes or so. They finished the game at 11-of-46. That’s 6-for-39 over the final 43 minutes of the game.
Even worse? The Celtics shot a truly awful 5-of-27 on wide-open three-pointers. If we dial it down to just open threes, Boston was 3-of-14. That’s 8-of-41 on open or wide-open shots.
In a game where the Celtics got to the free throw line on a regular basis (they took 34 free throws), it might have served Boston well to pass up some three-pointers. But, do we really want a team that has been as hot as they have passing up open to wide-open looks? Probably not.
3. Orlando isn’t a good shooting team, and they play huge lineups. That’s a recipe for a lot off offensive rebounds. When Mo Bamba grabs five offensive boards and Moe Wagner snags four, you can kind of shrug it off. But when you allow 15 total offensive rebounds for 20 second-chance points, that’s a problem.
What’s really bad is allowing Markelle Fultz to snag three offensive rebounds himself. Fultz was pretty regularly the smallest or next-to-smallest player on the floor. But he was getting to the offensive glass at will.
Long rebounds are always iffy for the defense, but Fultz is simply quicker to the ball than anyone from Boston here:
This play starts with Fultz on the floor in the middle of the paint. It ends with him outhustling two Boston players for the board:
Rob Williams is just getting back, so his timing is clearly not there. But he doesn’t get any kind of body on Fultz until it’s way too late here:
4. The Celtics had 14 turnovers, which isn’t a terrible number. But Boston also had an additional eight near-turnovers. All game long, the ballhandling and passing were sloppy, especially from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Brown had seven giveaways himself, and he had four other plays in the first half alone that should have been turnovers. Tatum only had two giveaways, but he mishandled the ball several times, which threw himself and the offense out of rhythm.
That’s sloppy basketball. Only Boston’s good transition defense and Orlando’s own sporadic offense, kept the points off turnovers from being a major problem.
5. Al Horford was ejected from the game early in the third quarter. Horford threw an elbow at Moe Wagner on an inbounds blow and replays show he made contact. It’s unclear what had Horford upset enough to throw the elbow, even if Jayson Tatum said postgame that Horford was just trying to get himself free.
No matter what, the Celtics started to unravel after that play. The Magic ripped off an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 19. Boston made a few runs, but never truly threatened after that.
Tatum picked up a technical foul himself during that Orlando run. He had gotten hit on a prior drive, so his complaint was valid, but taking it to the point of a technical foul, as things were getting away from Boston, was unnecessary. The Celtics should be past this by this point, but all too often let the officiating get into their heads.
6. Boston’s off-ball defense, Jaylen Brown in particular, continues to be baffling bad. In the switching defense, the Celtics ask everyone to hold up against whoever they pick up. Too many times this season, when he’s away from the play, Brown has lost focus. This is a simple back cut by Moe Wagner for the easy dunk when Brown falls asleep off-ball:
There are a lot more clips like that from this season. Brown isn’t the only offender, but teams have realized they can cut him for easy looks when he’s guarding away from the ball.
7. Let’s focus on a couple of positives. The bigs were back and they both looked pretty good!
Starting with Al Horford, he played well before getting tossed. The Celtics really missed him being a threat from deep over the last several games. This trailing three is a big part of the offense that Boston didn’t have on the west coast swing:
Horford has also been the team’s best rim protector. He’s regularly given his teammates help inside. This is a smart play to drop off his man to block the shot from Franz Wagner:
Horford can still hold his own in 1-on-1 defense too. This is good stuff against Paolo Banchero:
8. We saved him until near the end to end on a high note, but Rob Williams was back! And he looked pretty good too. Williams looked quick and bouncy. Best of all? He didn’t seem to be favoring his leg/knee at all. There was none of that dragging himself up and down the court that we saw during last season’s playoffs.
Williams made his presence felt by hammering home a lob from Marcus Smart after being in the game for less than two minutes:
After picking up some rust-impacted fouls during his early run, Williams was better in his latter stints. To open the second quarter, he did what only he can do on this team by sending this shot into the seats:
There’s always a worry when a guy is coming back from injury that he could tighten up at halftime. Williams was ready to go. This was a loud putback dunk:
A little later, Jayson Tatum threw it up in the general vicinity of the rim, trusting Williams would take care of the rest:
Welcome back Rob! It’s great to have you.
9. Consider this a modest proposal…Should Joe Mazzulla consider changing up the rotation?
Some of that is going to happen naturally with Rob Williams back. He’ll take most of the minutes that have gone to Luke Kornet and Blake Griffin. But Mazzulla could do a little more too.
Sam Hauser started off red-hot this season from behind the arc. After going 3-of-6 from downtown in a blowout win over the Charlotte Hornets, Hauser has hit a shooting slump. He’s at just 24.2% from behind the arc over his last nine games.
It might be time to consider going a little smaller and giving Payton Pritchard some minutes. That means more three-guard lineups, but that’s fine. Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White can both hold up guarding small forwards, and with Rob Williams back, he’ll help clean things up inside.
Hauser doesn’t need to be out of the rotation permanently. He’s earned better than that. But giving Hauser a few games to clear his head could be helpful. And Pritchard has played well when he’s been given minutes. It’s time to change things up for at least a few games.
It also wouldn’t hurt to expand the rotation to 10 men on a game-to-game basis. That would help keep minutes down for everyone, while keeping guys ready for when they’re needed.
10. The good news for the Celtics? They can get the bad taste out of their mouths immediately. Boston hosts Orlando again on Sunday afternoon.
The Celtics have hit a rough patch, but still have the league’s best record at 22-8. It’s not panic time…yet. If Boston can’t rally back and get this win, it’s still not time to panic. But it will be time to start asking a few questions.
Look for a better and more-focused effort on Sunday. That’ll get Boston back on track and get this homestand moving in a positive direction.