Every team is bound to lose matchups. It’s a part of basketball, especially in an 82-game season. After starting a league best 5-0, the Boston Celtics suffered consecutive losses against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers. And to be fair, their last few matchups were coincidently against two of the best defensive teams in the league.
Wins are hard to come by in the NBA, especially on the road. For the second straight matchup, Boston did not shoot efficiently. Over the stretch against the Timberwolves and Sixers, the C’s shot 39.3 from the field, and 30 percent from long range. But as terrible as they shot the ball, Minnesota and Philadelphia only had a combined eight-point differential over Boston. This leads me to believe, with better execution, these teams are beatable.
It’s 2023, and it’s a new season. With last year in the far distance, the Celtics players and management are only focused on Banner 18. In a three-point heavy shooting league, the Celtics are going to average anywhere from 30-40 long range attempts per night. Especially, with the amount of talent and spacing they have.
“I honestly feel like we moved the ball really well,” said Jayson Tatum. “We just didn’t shoot the ball how we would’ve liked. 40 percent from the field, 30 percent from the three, I think that was the toughest part. We just didn’t shoot the ball great tonight.”
Am I concerned? Not in the slightest. Boston is still at top-6 offensive team, who’s second in the league in three-point percentage (42.4). However, what worries me is shot selection and production off the bench. Matchups will heavily rely on the C’s top-6, which is arguably the most talented in the league. The Celtics starting unit with Kristaps Porzingis at the five ranks third best in the league with 241 total points.
On Wednesday night, the Celtic’s offense looked stagnant, even with the return of Derrick White. The starters shot just 30-73 from the field. While Mazzulla’s squad executed better in terms of ball movement, they were outscored by 16 points in the paint. While the Sixers shot 64.4 percent in the high and low post, the C’s shot 33.6 percent in the low, high post, and top of the key.
Whether it’s more pick-and-rolls, inside looks, pick-and-pops, or inside-out basketball, the Celtics will struggle if they continue to force certain shots, especially at the top. For me, it’s not the amount of three-pointers taken; it’s how they are taken, and how players can execute and get open. Better yet, how can the second unit better support the stars?
Post game, Joe Mazzulla had an interesting defensive exchange with The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn, over the concern of settling for three pointers. I can understand the frustration on all sides, dating back to the Celtics 103-84 loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s hard to bring up, but many can’t forget that Boston shot 9-42 from long range against the Miami Heat.
“I just finished reading a great article you wrote in 2016 that the Celtics shot too many threes. They shot 42, and that was seven years ago. And we only shot five more tonight,” Mazzulla told Washburn.
It’s nice to see Mazzulla loosen up a bit at the podium, as he flashed some of his dry humor in the post presser.
“They lost 121 to 114 and you blamed the offense, but not the defense,” continued Mazzulla. “What’s your fascination with too many threes?”
I get where coach is coming from. Rather than focusing on the shots, Joe honed in on turnovers and defeat on the offensive boards. However, at some point, Mazzulla needs to address how this team can score in various ways outside the three on a nightly basis.
As top heavy as the Celtics are, they got production from Sam Hauser with 13 points on 3-6 (50 percent) three-point shooting, but where was the rest of the bench? Boston may not have the depth as some other teams. However, they do have snipers that can fill in, especially when the starters are struggling.
Boston currently ranks last in bench points per game with 8.3. If the Celtics continue to start Holiday and White, Mazzulla will need Payton Pritchard to increase his production. After an offseason extension, Pritchard is off to a disastrous start, averaging just 3.1 points and 15% from behind the arc. A player that’s designed to spark a fire off the bench is 0-11 in his last three matchups. Why not give Svi Mykhailiuk some minutes? Lamar Stevens and Oshae Brissett are guys that can defend and they could’ve gotten some playing time, too.