1. It’s hard to say most losses are “good” losses. It’s even harder when there is less than two weeks to go in the regular season and a loss drops you from first to fourth in the conference.
Yet, the Boston Celtics loss to the Toronto Raptors probably fits in in the good loss category.
The Celtics played without four starters. Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum will all be back, probably as soon as Wednesday night against Miami. Robert Williams will be a while longer, and possibly until next season.
But despite the absences of arguably their four best players, Boston battled. There’s even an argument to be made that they should won. But they fought the whole way. And some players who will need to step up with Williams out showed that they can do more.
Even if it wasn’t a good loss, it certainly wasn’t a bad one.
2. Marcus Smart had to do a lot. He was Boston’s primary creator and one of the few Celtics that was able to get anything going off the dribble. That led to Smart matching his career-high with 25 field goal attempts. The drastically increased usage also led to seven turnovers.
But Smart played solid. His defense was as good as ever, despite the increased offensive role. And he made some scoring plays too. This three-pointer came off the old school weave offense to open the scoring for Boston:
Later in the first quarter, you can see how much chemistry Smart has built with Payton Pritchard and that he trusts Pritchard to come through:
3. No single player has to step up more with Robert Williams out than Grant Williams. Grant has been solid all year, but Boston needs just a little bit more from him now.
This is a really good seal by Williams in transition and a nice find by Marcus Smart. Solid finish through contact by Williams too:
No, Grant isn’t going to be Rob as a shot-blocker, but he’s sneaky on those plays and catches guys like he did here to Pascal Siakam:
4. Next on the list of guys who have to step up without Robert Williams is Daniel Theis. Theis played his best game since returning to the Celtics, and they’re going to need more efforts like this from him.
Because Williams, Al Horford and Grant Williams are such good passers, it’s seemingly been forgotten Boston ran a lot of stuff through Theis in his first stint with the Celtics. This is a really good pass by Theis to find Grant for the layup:
It’s also maybe been forgotten a bit that Theis is pretty athletic. He’s catching lobs near the rim vs the top of the square like Rob, but he can also do things like this on occasion off the bounce:
5. Where did Rob Williams and Al Horford’s absence show up the most? Interior defense. That’s not a surprise, and Boston obviously missed Jayson Tatum’s length and Jaylen Brown’s athleticism inside as well.
Pascal Siakam had his way with the Celtics defenders for most of the night. Toronto scored 66 points in the paint. They also grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 13 second-chance points.
Boston battled, but holding down things inside was an issue. That and turnovers (a whopping 19 of them!) led to this loss. But those are things that personnel and less-tired legs should clean up considerably moving forward.
6. Aaron Nesmith got the start and played some of the best basketball of his career. Nesmith was competitive defensively and made a bunch of plays on offense. This rise-and-fire three without hesitation was great to see. Great find by Derrick White too:
Later in the game, Nesmith did a good job to snag this steal and then drive for the and-1:
And this late three-pointer showed two good things. Nesmith has confidence in himself to make and his teammates trust him too:
7. In their short time together, Derrick White and Daniel Theis are developing some good chemistry. White needs to get comfortable throwing the ball high to Theis, but that will come. And that’s going to be important, given the state of the roster moving forward.
This is a great late cut by Theis on this inbounds play and a terrific read by White:
This is one where the bounce-pass is fine. Good find, good finish:
8. Payton Pritchard seems unfazed by who plays and who doesn’t, and who the opponent is. He just does his thing. But this was a new one. Splitting the trap and crossing over the big to get downhill for a layup a nice sign that Pritchard can do more than just shoot threes:
9. Who knows if Boston will need to count on any minutes from Sam Hauser or Luke Kornet moving forward? The good thing is that both held their own in this one, and it probably won’t be a disaster if Ime Udoka has to call on either moving forward.
This is a strong finish by Kornet through contact to get the and-1:
All Hauser has to do on offense is run to his spots and hit shots like this:
And Hauser and Kornet seem to have a good connection from their time together with the Maine Celtics:
10. Boston will go into Wednesday’s big game with the Miami Heat in third place, because the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers play on Tuesday night. The loser of that game will fall behind the Celtics in the standings.
It’s still unclear how much any of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference really want the top seed. Or even the second seed. With the Brooklyn Nets looming at the bottom of the bracket, we could see lots of seeding shenanigans over the next 13 days.
Assuming the regulars (minus Rob Williams) are all available, expect the Celtics to push hard in that game against Miami. It’s a good measuring stick for the playoffs and what new lineups and rotations might work.
Mostly, this loss to the Raptors proved two things moving forward: Boston is going to play hard and try to win every time out. And underestimate them at your own risk. In fact, they’d probably welcome it if you did.