1. That sucked.
It was awful.
A complete no-show.
Your intrepid author here considered batting around the idea of simply writing “If the Celtics don’t care to show up, why should I bother with Takeaways?”
But let’s try to be a bit better.
The Boston Celtics got destroyed by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. Correction: The Boston Celtics got destroyed by the Oklahoma City Thunder without star player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
At the end of the Takeaways from the loss at the Denver Nuggets, we wrote the following:
The Celtics now head to play at the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder aren’t a good team, but they have enough talent to trip up good teams who don’t show up. Boston can’t go in expecting that simply arriving at the arena is enough. With a big game looming against Luka Doncic in Dallas on Thursday, the Celtics need to be focused on the next task on Tuesday in Oklahoma City first. Otherwise, it’ll be a two-game slide heading into playing Doncic and the Mavericks.
We aren’t going to make this a whole deal where people need fired, traded, tarred-and-feathered and drawn-and-quartered in Boston Common. There’s enough of that going around the internet already. But this was really bad.
The Thunder play really hard. Some nights they show the promise of what’s the come. Gilgeous-Alexander is one of those talents that can single-handedly win games. He’s that good.
But he didn’t play. Oklahoma City started a group that went 6’7’’, 6’6’’, 6’6’’, 6’4’’ and 6’7’’. They looked like a mid-major NCAA team, both in terms of size and some of the talent on the floor.
And the Thunder scored a franchise-record 150 points and won by 33. And it wasn’t even really that close.
Postgame, Joe Mazzulla and the various Celtics players who spoke all said versions of “Playing without effort and energy is unacceptable.” Malcolm Brogdon open said that when Boston found out Gilgeous-Alexander was out, they relaxed. It was clear from the jump that the Celtics to a man thought simply stepping foot on the floor would be enough.
The Thunder made eight layups in the first quarter on their way to 34 points. Bad starts happen, but this one never got better.
OKC scored 40 points in the second quarter and 48 points in the third quarter. The Thunder had a whopping 70 points in the paint. By the time the fourth quarter started, Oklahoma City players were actively looking for Celtics to put on posters. And they succeeded time and time again.
There aren’t any silver linings from this one for the Celtics. No “Well at least…”. Not from this one.
This wasn’t a bad shooting night where you shrug and move on. It wasn’t a night where the other team simply couldn’t miss. Well, they couldn’t, but that’s because the Thunder ran a layup line for a lot of the game. If it wasn’t a layup or dunk, they had wide-open jumpers.
You can even excuse a game or two each year season where the team just sort of doesn’t show up against a bad team. The dog days of the midpoint of the season are a real thing.
But this happened only a few weeks after a string of tough road losses, followed by baffling home losses. Coming off a loss to the Nuggets, the Celtics should have shown up and blown out the SGA-less Thunder.
Whenever something bad happens, we always say “You know what? We should have known back when…”. You never really know everything is going sideways in the moment. It’s sort of like putting on weight. You don’t notice the first few pounds you put on. Then you catch a sideways glance in the mirror and, horrified, you exclaim “What happened? How did we get here?”
It’s really, really important that Boston doesn’t let this debacle in Oklahoma City turn into their “We should have known back when the Celtics got killed by the Thunder without SGA”.
When the calendar changed from 2021 to 2022, the Boston Celtics changed. They got serious about bringing effort on a nightly basis and they laid waste to the rest of the NBA for about a three-month period.
This season started that way too. It looked like Boston was on a mission to bounce back from losing the NBA Finals by rampaging their way to Banner 18. They weren’t just winning games. The Celtics were destroying teams.
What happened in the middle of December? Where did that team go? Why does this group look so much like that dispirited, disjointed, disconnected 2021 team again?
It’s one thing to say all the right things. The 2021 Celtics said all the right things. Over and over and over again. One day, right around the turn of the calendar, saying became doing.
It’s time for the 2023 Celtics to stop saying the right things and to start doing them again. We know they are plenty capable. We saw it last season and we saw it to open this season.
No more talking. Actions speak louder than words. Don’t tell us that you’ll be better. Be better. And start on Thursday night in Dallas.