1. Well…that was a tough loss. Not because the Dallas Mavericks are a bad team. They aren’t. They are a lot like the Boston Celtics. They struggled early on, but then locked in on defense and have really taken off in 2022.
What made it a tough loss was that it was Kevin Garnett Day. With Garnett in the house, you wanted to see the Celtics pull one out. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men…
The good news? Boston played with plenty of effort in a defensive battle that was a throwback to the KG days. The bad news? The offensive execution was poor.
And it wasn’t just down the stretch, although that wasn’t great either. It was all night long. Boston had just 16 assists (on 33 made baskets) in the game. The ball and player movement weren’t really there, as Dallas’ trap-and-recover system threw the Celtics off their game.
In the end, it was a game where most Celtics played poorly. And they were right there until the end. A loss is a loss, but this is more of a “tough” loss than a “bad” loss.
2. One of the lone bright spots of the day was Al Horford’s play. Boston looked like they were going to play through Horford from the first set of the day:
On the next trip, it was more of the same:
Dallas quickly switched Luka Doncic off Horford. He ended up defending either Marcus Smart or Robert Williams quite a bit, while also acting as the Mavs designated doubler on Jayson Tatum. But the Celtics still should have played through Horford more than they did, no matter which defender he drew.
3. Horford had it going on defense too. The Mavs offensive strategy was to isolate the Boston bigs on Luka Doncic or Spencer Dinwiddie. Dallas would then attack in those 1-on-1 situations. Horford was up to the task for the most part.
To open the second quarter, with Doncic on the bench, Dinwiddie found it to be tough sledding against Horford:
And again, on the same possession:
Horford also tied his career-high with five steals, along with 17 points and six rebounds. Unfortunately, he didn’t get as much help from the rest of the Celtics.
4. The initial thought here was to say the Boston bench was bad. But really, most of the Celtics outside of Al Horford had tough nights. Rob Williams was solid on offense, but didn’t have his usual impact on defense. Everyone else held their own defensively, but the offense was a mess.
Outside of Horford and Robert Williams, who combined to shoot 10-of-14, the remaining six Celtics that played combined to shoot 23-of-74 from the floor, or 31.1%. The three bench players (Payton Pritchard, Derrick White and Grant Williams) combined to shoot 6-of-23 overall, including 2-of-13 from behind the arc.
When asked about the Mavericks double-teaming Jayson Tatum, Ime Udoka said he thought Tatum made the right play more often than not, but the Celtics just didn’t make shots. That included Tatum himself too. He was probably due for a cold game after a scorching stretch, but no one else really picked up the slack.
5. For the last handful of takeaways, we’re going to focus on the end-game sequence. In a back-and-forth game, especially one that is a rock fight like this, any mistake can cost you big time. On this play, Payton Pritchard overhelps and gets caught:
You should almost never help off the strongside corner, especially when you are one pass away. Unless it’s an end-of-clock situation to challenge a shot, stay home. Jaylen Brown was going to be fine to recover to Spencer Dinwiddie, but this is also about knowing your personnel. Dinwiddie is hitting 33.5% from three this season (albeit much better with Dallas!), while Dorian Finney-Smith is at 46.2% on corner threes. This is a blown defensive assignment at a critical time.
6. For whatever reason, this was one of the rare times that Dallas didn’t double Jayson Tatum off the catch. On a rough shooting night, Tatum did exactly what you want to see. He attacked off the screen and got right to the rim:
7. Dallas threw a little wrinkle at the Celtics. Marcus Smart has done a really good job of getting to the right spots when teams play zone or when they double-team. But the Mavs didn’t overreact. They were going to let Smart beat them, if he could.
On this still, provided by the great Tom Westerholm, you can see Dallas not stepping up to Smart and opening up the lob to Rob Williams:
Interesting defensive wrinkle by Dallas here: Rather than stepping up to Smart when a Tatum double team created a 4-on-3 (which invariably leads to a Rob Williams lob), they were content to let him shoot. Smart seemed startled and passed to Jaylen.— Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA) March 14, 2022
I bet we'll see this more. pic.twitter.com/5LqkbXFTU5
Smart kicked it out to Jaylen Brown and here’s how the possession ended:
Everyone stays home. If Smart beats you with foul line jumpers, you tip your cap and move on. Look for more teams to employ this strategy moving forward. It will be up to Ime Udoka and his staff to find the correct counters.
8. Remember how we said Dallas wanted to work with Luka Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie isolated against the Boston bigs? This isn’t bad defense by Rob Williams. He’s just in a virtually impossible spot. And that little shuffle half-step he took was all the room Doncic needed:
9. This one, however, is bad defense. Jaylen Brown has Luke Doncic here. And Marcus Smart slides over to provide additional help. There is no reason for Robert Williams to leave Spencer Dinwiddie:
This is the kind of pressure Doncic puts on a defense. He forced this overhelping and it opened up Dinwiddie for the game-winner.
10. The Celtics now have a couple of days off before heading out west. It’s a mixed trip, in terms of opponents and locations. The games against the Golden State Warriors (Wednesday) and Denver Nuggets (Sunday) look tough. Those are good teams and tough places to get wins. The games against the Sacramento Kings (Friday) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (next Monday to end the trip) look very winnable.
But we’ve learned that the schedule on paper only tells us so much. There’s a reason they play the games after all. The unspoken goal should be a 2-2 trip. 3-1 would be gravy. 4-0 a dream. Anything less than 2-2 would be a major disappointment.
By the time the Celtics get back to Boston, there will only be nine games and two-and-a-half weeks left in the regular season. Despite the loss to Dallas, not much changed standings-wise. It’s all still there. The Celtics just have to take it.