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Looking lost: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Pacers

Boston lost their third straight game (all at home) and fifth game in their last six

Indiana Pacers v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

1. Well…here we are again. It’s late-December and we’re wondering just exactly who the Boston Celtics are. Feels awfully similar to how last season’s December closed out. And that’s not an experience anyone with an interest in the Celtics wanted to repeat.

Every team goes through a rough patch in their schedule. That’s generally a spot where the team faces a slew of tough games in tight period. There might even be a bad loss or two in there.

For the Celtics, they’ve played bad basketball for nearly two weeks now. Boston lost on the road to the Golden State Warriors and LA Clippers in games that weren’t really all that close. They had a miracle comeback, combined with the calamitous collapses to win the road trip finale at the Los Angeles Lakers.

Coming back home, the schedule looked favorable. A seven-game homestand with five games against teams that have struggled all season. Yes, the road trip was tough, but the Celtics would get back to their winning ways.

Only, that hasn’t happened. Boston dropped three in a row to under .500 teams with back-to-back losses against the Orlando Magic, followed up by getting drubbed by the Indiana Pacers. That’s five losses in the last six games overall, and it probably should be a six-game losing streak.

Let’s look at what happened in the latest in a bad batch of basketball.

2. Things started out well enough for the Celtics against the Pacers. They got up 8-2 and forced an early Indiana timeout. Then everything fell apart.

Boston was outscored 69-35 for the remainder of the first half. And it was as bad as that score-line looks.

Indiana out-hustled Boston. The Pacers repeatedly got runout baskets because the Celtics didn’t get back. In the halfcourt, Boston would make one effort against Indiana’s initial action, then they’d quit, and the Pacers would get a good shot.

Yet, somehow, the Celtics offense was even worse. The ball was sticking with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown far too much. The two combined for 22 attempts, which isn’t a terrible number. But it was how those shots were coming. Tatum and Brown facilitated a lot of one or no-pass possessions.

The two Celtics stars were a combined 8-of-22 at the half with three turnovers and only one assist. It was Boston’s most miserable half of basketball this season, and Brown and Tatum led the way.

3. We’ll get to him later, but Jayson Tatum picked up his play in the second half. Jaylen Brown did not.

This was probably Brown’s worst game of the season. He shot just 8-of-23, including 1-of-5 from behind the arc. Brown gave it away four times, against just two assists.

Bad shooting games happen. And, at this point, we should probably just assume Brown is going to be a fairly high-turnover player. His overall offensive profile remains strong.

What’s hit the point of unacceptable is Brown’s effort, or lack thereof, on defense. He’s regularly lost off-ball. Multiple times per game, Brown gets back cut for layups, or he loses track of his man for an open jumper.

On-ball, Brown used to range between fine and very good. That’s waned this season. He’s getting driven on a fairly regular basis now. Brown used to be quite good at battling bigger players for position, but he’s also let that go now.

The offensive stuff is probably a blip. Brown’s just in a slump. The defensive stuff is no longer a blip. It’s not even really a recent trend. It’s just sort of what it is now. And that’s a problem for Boston.

4. In 22 games through October and November, Derrick White averaged 11.1 points on excellent 49/45/87 shooting splits.

In 10 games thus far in December, White is averaging 6.4 points on 26/22/88 shooting.

26% shooting overall and 22% from behind the arc on 3.7 three-point attempts per game. For a three-week stretch.


In December, White has hit double-figures in points just twice. The Celtics don’t need White to be a scorer. They’ve got that covered. But they need him to do his part. And they need him to be a threat from the outside. Over the last few weeks, he’s regressed to the mean in the cruelest way possible, and it’s coincided with the Celtics slide.

5. Grant Williams’ slump hasn’t been quite as drastic as Derrick White’s, but Williams is going through it right now too. For the season, Williams is shooting 43.5% on three-pointers.

Over the last six games, where Boston is 1-5, Williams is at 30.4%.

In part, Williams seems to be struggling with some yo-yoing playing time and his role. Over the last four games, Williams has played 31 minutes, 19 minutes, 31 minutes and 16 minutes.

With Robert Williams back in the lineup, Grant Williams is likely to see his role reduced. It’s up to him to figure out how to be impactful in a lessened role.

6. It’s way too early to call Aaron Nesmith “one that got away”. WAY too early. But watching Nesmith make some of those signature “Crash Nesmith” plays was glaring. Throughout the game, Indiana was quicker to loose balls than Boston was, and Nesmith was a big part of that.

It’s always fun to see a former Celtic blossom with more opportunity elsewhere. It was just tough to see that on display against the Celtics, in Boston no less.

7. Jayson Tatum was great, especially in the second half. Tatum shot 10-of-15 after the break for 28 points. He had several highlight plays. This was a “climb on my back fellas” performance from Tatum. He almost singlehandedly led Boston back.

8. It was almost singlehandedly for Jayson Tatum, because Rob Williams was great too. Instead of focusing on how Williams looked, it was easy to just see his impact. Williams was everywhere. He got all over the glass, including seven offensive rebounds.

Boston was able to unleash him fully on defense for the first time too. Williams dropped back into the “roamer” role for a while, where he “guarded” T.J. McConnell, but really floated around the paint as a helper.

Where Williams really stood out was when the Pacers pulled McConnell. Boston went back to the “switch everything” defense and Williams held his own against everyone from Tyrese Haliburton to Myles Turner.

Boston’s defense was rapidly improving before Williams returned. But Timelord is the key to the Celtics getting back to being a special defensive team.

9. In late-December of 2021, the conversations about the Celtics were bleak. Was hiring Ime Udoka a mistake? Was it time to break up the Jays? Did Brad Stevens build a bad roster?

The conversations aren’t quite as dark this time around, but Boston has stuff to get figured out.

Multiple times during this stretch of five losses in six games, Celtics players have talked about an unacceptable effort level. Just as concerning, they’ve talked about needing to be mentally tougher when playing through stretches of bad shooting and tough officiating.

We thought we were past all of that. Sure, it’ll pop up from time to time. It’s hard to bring 100% effort for 82 games. And, once and a while, guys will check out. It happens. But this isn’t a once-and-a-while thing right now. It’s become an every-game thing for the last couple of weeks.

A lot of that falls on Joe Mazzulla. He can continue to say postgame that he likes where the team is at and how they are playing, but that feels hollow. Mazzulla is either seeing something no one else, including his own players, sees, or he’s perfectly fine with poor effort, execution and communication that leads to losses.

No, Boston doesn’t need Ime Udoka back. That ship has sailed, for perfectly valid reasons that should be accepted and respected. Quite frankly, it’s disturbing how many Celtics fans want to overlook the team’s decision and Udoka’s transgressions.

That said, the Celtics could use a little more fire from their current leader on the sidelines. It’s not about calling players out or breaking clipboards or anything like that. But Mazzulla should recognize that the recent slide is more than just “missing open shots” or “an off night defensively”. Recognizing that some things actually need fixed is the first step to fixing those things.

10. The Celtics host the Minnesota Timberwolves in the middle game of the seven-game homestand on Friday. It’s the last game before the big Christmas Day matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. Somehow, it feels like the Wolves game has become a must-win situation.

But Boston can’t expect to beat Minnesota by just showing up. This is yet another chance against a middling team for the Celtics to get back on track. They have to seize that opportunity, as opposed to hoping it just happens.

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