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Process over results

A blown layup and a pair of missed free throws doomed Boston’s clutch time performance in Charlotte, but the thought process was sound.

Boston Celtics v Charlotte Hornets Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images

After a frustrating 121-118 overtime loss to the 4-9 Hornets, Jayson Tatum said, “we gotta regroup. We’ve won 6or 7 games in a row. It may be easy to get complacent, things like that. We paid for it tonight.”

The Celtics didn’t play their best basketball on their 3-1 road trip. Toronto was a tight rope and Memphis came down to two missed shots on the Grizzlies’ final possession that could have won the game. All that poor play seemed to catch up with them on the back end of a back-to-back in Charlotte. Head coach Joe Mazzulla said that they didn’t pay attention to the details and took some plays off. All those observations would be true even if Boston had found a way to continue their winning streak, but let’s break down the Celtics’ breakdown in the closing minutes and determine whether the process was good despite the bad results.

Up six with over two minutes to go, it’s a four-possession game. A score here would make it extremely difficult for the Hornets to make a comeback. The Celtics go to one of their bread-and-butter actions: the Jaylen Brown-Kristaps Porzingis pick-and-roll/pop.

Side note: as frustrating as Brown has been as a playmaker at times, I love Mazzulla using the early part of the regular season as a training ground for this two-man game.

Yes, Jayson Tatum was on a heater and maybe giving it to the guy that had already torched the Hornets for 40 large is a good idea. And yet, they strike gold here again. Brown is patient and eventually draws two defenders. Porzingis subsequently times his cut perfectly, sucks in Jrue Holiday’s defender, and Brown finds Holiday for an open 3.

Again, the JB-KP pick above the three-point line. They get the switch, but it’s not exactly a favorable one. Instead of forcing the issue at the rim against Mark Williams, Brown elects for the fadeaway. Over the last two years, that’s become one of Brown’s signature moves and he’s one of the league’s best in the mid-range. It’s not the best shot (a kick out to Sam Hauser was seemingly available), but after milking the clock down, it might have been the best in the moment.

Can’t really argue against the decision-making here either. Boston 1) gets it to Tatum on the wing against Gordon Hayward who he had been getting by all night and 2) Tatum draws two and immediately finds the cutting Holiday in the restricted area and Holiday pings it to Brown open behind the arc. You want to see the ball move faster than the defense.

If there’s room for criticism, it might be that slight hesitation to hit Hauser with the defense in rotation, but I think Brown ultimately reads it correctly. Brandon Miller sticks to Hauser so Brown has to take a slightly contested 3.

A loose ball foul gives the Celtics the ball back with just over a minute to go and again, Joe Mazzulla seemingly makes the right call again, isolating Tatum above the break against his former teammate. Unfortunately, he blows the layup. Good decision, bad result.

After a Porzingis block and a Williams put back, it’s a one possession game. To this point, they’d gone to their two franchise cornerstones to some success. Curiously, to finally ice the game, it’s Holiday dribbling out the clock, muscling LaMelo Ball to the cup, and drawing free throws. And again, that worked. All in all, it’s hard to be critical here.

If you think Boston’s late game decision-making is an issue, their problem might stem from not having that go-to play in the clutch. On Wednesday, we’ll surely see a bunch of Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo running a ton of PnR. We’ve already seen Joel Embiid work out of the high post. But for a Celtics roster loaded with talent, there hasn’t been that one thing, that one play that they can hammer teams with when they absolutely need a bucket. As former CelticsBlogger Keith Smith said, “Boston is playing a little bit too much ‘equal opportunity offense.’”

Or, maybe that’s what makes them really dangerous.

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