After a four-game win streak to close out 2022, the Boston Celtics have faltered to start the new year. They lost their first game of the year to the Denver Nuggets, but their Tuesday-night loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was a bit more emphatic.
Oklahoma City put up a franchise record 150 points, all without star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And that was the problem. According to Malcolm Brogdon, when the Celtics found out Gilgeous-Alexander would be out, they relaxed a bit.
“We took a deep breath and relaxed. Honestly, we should know better than to come out and not play with aggression, not play with energy and urgency.”
Defensively, the Celtics rolled over. As noted by Brogdon, there was a severe lack of urgency shown by the Celtics, especially on defense, and it allowed an otherwise lackluster Thunder offense to put up incredible numbers.
Heading into the contest, the Thunder ranked 24th in the league with a 110.5 offensive rating, and only one player on the team was averaging over 15 points — the absent Gilgeous-Alexander. But Boston’s pre-game relaxation gave Oklahoma City enough breathing room to put up record-setting numbers. Five players scored 20 or more points, a feat that hadn’t occurred since 2019 (when it was also accomplished by the Thunder).
“May not be the most popular thing to say, but you gotta go through some s*** if you want to get to where you want to get to, whether it’s good or bad, and that’s just how it is. And so we have to go through it and we’ll be judged by how we handle it.”
But even Mazzulla, who has been adamant about the importance of learning from losses and persistent in his optimism, was taken aback after Tuesday night’s outing. “I didn’t mean that bad,” he said.
Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 29 points, with Jayson Tatum not far behind at 27, but their offensive presence didn’t come close to making up for their defensive lapses. Every single Thunder starter cracked double digits, and two more players off the bench managed to pour in 20 or more.
The Celtics had been making some defensive progress in the month of December. Over the course of the month, they were the second-best defense in the league (107.2 DRTG) and had climbed up to seventh overall on the season (110.4 DRTG). But through the first few days of 2023, their defensive rating has been 130.6.
Now, Boston will turn their attention toward the Dallas Mavericks, who they are set to face on Friday, January 5. The Mavericks will enter the contest ranked 6th in offense (115.3 ORTG) and 17th in defense (113.1 DRTG); however, the Mavericks are on a 7-game win streak and will be already be smelling blood in the water, so Boston will need to bring their A-game if they want to notch their first win of 2023 at the third time of asking.