The Boston Celtics seven-game homestand is off to a terrible start with back-to-back losses to the Orlando Magic. We said after Friday’s loss that Orlando is better than most realize, especially now that they are getting healthy. But this is still a team Boston should be handling at home, even if Jayson Tatum is out.
The Celtics have the New England Patriots to thank for keeping them off the front page as a “What’s wrong with the Celtics?” story and as the lead topic of every sports radio show. The Pats epic debacle in Las Vegas knocked the Celtics off the map for at least a day or so.
2. Boston cleaned up a lot of their defensive issues from the first lost to Orlando. That included the defensive rebounding…for most of the game.
Late in the game, it became a problem again for the Celtics. And, as per usual when this is an issue, Boston is just outhustled for the ball.
No one gets a body on Markelle Fultz here and he finds Franz Wagner for the second-chance triple:
Down by one, the Celtics get the stop. But Two-Way player Kevon Harris outraces everyone to the loose rebound. Also, why is Grant Williams holding is block out for so long and not pursuing the rebound?
Needing to get a stop again, Boston comes up with one. But once again, Fultz outhustles everyone to come up with the big rebound:
Three times in the final two minutes of a close game the Celtics let guards beat them to the boards. That can’t happen.
3. The last Markelle Fultz rebound above didn’t come back to kill Boston, because Fultz committed a turnover on the inbounds play. Unfortunately, the Celtics gave it right back.
It’s unclear who was at fault here and no one was talking postgame, beyond “Didn’t execute”. Did Grant Williams lead Jaylen Brown too far? Did Brown stop his cut too early? Either way, this was bad:
Still, the Celtics had life. Down three, there was more than enough time left to get a good look up. Credit to the Magic for having everything covered, but the Celtics have to get a better shot than this:
Ball game. Back-to-back losses and four losses in the last five games.
4. The above were just the late-game follies that cost Boston. The main issues throughout the game were poor shooting and turnovers.
Only Malcolm Brogdon (3-of-6) and Marcus Smart (3-of-7) were decent from downtown. Everyone else combined to shoot 6-of-34 on three-pointers. And, for what it’s worth, Brogdon and Smart combined to shoot 2-of-10 on two-point shots.
When you start out historically good from behind the arc, there’s only one place to go. The Celtics have rapidly gotten to that place in the span of a week or so. Will that re-level some? Of course.
Right now, Boston is going through it. The shots are still mostly good ones. We don’t want the Celtics to pass up open or wide-open looks too often, but finding another way to score is a must.
As for turnovers, the overall numbers are starting to creep up. Jaylen Brown is clearly frustrated with getting called for so many travels. There seems to be a fairly easy answer for that: stop traveling so much. None of the calls against Brown are bad ones, nor are they him being officiated unfairly. He’s traveling and he’s getting called for it.
Marcus Smart and Grant Williams both had four turnovers on Sunday. Smart’s will come, to some extent, as a result of his role as the team’s point guard. But he’s committing some bad giveaways by trying to make highlight plays when a simple pass will do.
For Williams, he’s just trying to do too much sometimes. His improvement has been so good, that it’s fine for Williams to explore the studio space on occasion. But he has to remember his role and dial it back too.
5. The defense was better. Much better, actually. But Jaylen Brown falls asleep off-ball and gives up a layup at least once per game. In close games, these plays are killers:
Brown has no idea Markelle Fultz cut out of the corner until Fultz is catching the ball and laying it in. For a team with title aspirations, Brown has to be better than this.
6. The Celtics could be 81-0, lose the regular season finale and someone would suggest they need a trade. That’s sort of how our overreactionary world works now.
Boston doesn’t need a trade. They need the guys they have to play better. Sure, the next month-and-a-half may unveil a need for something Boston doesn’t have right now. But today, in mid-December, the Celtics don’t need to make a trade.
Also: If you say they need a trade, be prepared to suggest who Boston should trade for and, just as importantly, who the Celtics should trade away. And make sure it’s reasonable and legal too. There’s an awful lot of “Payton Pritchard and a first for (insert borderline All-Star here)” stuff out there that is completely nonsensical.
7. That said…the Celtics do need to shake up the rotation some. We hinted at this last Takeaways, but here’s a more fleshed out idea. Note: This is most effective when Rob Williams is able to play 25-30 minutes (which should be his top-out range in the regular season).
· Rob Williams
· Al Horford
· Jayson Tatum
· Jaylen Brown
· Marcus Smart
· Malcolm Brogdon
· Derrick White
· Grant Williams
· Payton Pritchard
· Luke Kornet
In this scenario, Boston returns back to their starting group that dominated the NBA from January until Rob Williams got hurt. Brogdon and White get their 25 minutes per game off the bench, but by playing a lot in three-guard alignment. Both can hold their own against bigger players. Grant Williams plays his customary role as the third big. (On nights when Horford or Rob Williams sit, it’s Blake Griffin time.)
That leaves Pritchard and Kornet to get about 8-12 minutes a night as deeper depth. That should keep everyone fresh and rested, while still affording Joe Mazzulla the lineup versatility that makes the Celtics special.
Eventually, Sam Hauser can regain his rotation spot. But Hauser needs a little while to reset. When he gets back to making shots, drop Kornet or Pritchard, depending on what the game calls for.
8. Monday and Tuesday will be the first time the Celtics have had two consecutive days off without travel in a month. That means Tuesday should be a practice day, and that should do Boston wonders.
NBA teams rarely practice in-season. There just isn’t time. The every-other-day nature of the game schedule rarely affords it. The day after a game is a recovery and film day. The guys who are out of the rotation may scrimmage, but the regulars will get in a recovery workout and do film work.
With a practice day, and a healthy roster, Joe Mazzulla and staff can address some of the recent issues and maybe install a few new wrinkles. This practice day is hitting at the exact right time for the Celtics.
9. This is the last time we’ll address it (hopefully!), but Rob Williams looked good again. Williams hit the floor a couple of times, which was enough to catch the breath in the throat of Celtics fans. But he bounced right up and got back to it. Rhythm and conditioning are off for Williams, but that will come within the next week or two.
Yes, the last week has been crappy for the standings and the play on the floor. But if Williams stays healthy and the Celtics get back to being the Celtics again, this mid-December stretch of woe will be just a footnote.
10. As noted above, Boston doesn’t play again until Wednesday. That’s a couple of days to get things right. The Indiana Pacers are tough. They come at you in waves, as they play pretty fast. Indiana can get loose with a bunch of different guys who can shoot the ball.
This is a nice test for the Celtics and their mindset. Boston lost a couple to good teams out west and then came home and seemed to think they could just walk over the Magic. If they take a similar casual approach to the Pacers, the Celtics will lose again.
After a couple of days off, and a practice day, let’s hope Boston can rediscover what made them special to start the season. This is a good chance to get back on track building up to the big Christmas Day matchup against the now first-place Milwaukee Bucks.