1. Jaylen Brown said it best postgame: “Ain’t no moral victories in this shit.”
Now, that’s not 100% accurate for all teams at all times. But for the Boston Celtics, and where they are with the arc of this team, it’s spot-on.
This wasn’t playing the Milwaukee Bucks with nary a starter to be seen. Boston was down three key guys, but they also had a 14-point lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers to open the fourth quarter. They had more than enough to win this game.
To their credit, no one on the Celtics offered any silver linings. Those who spoke owned the loss as a collective failure.
On the criticism front, we got the same old “We need to be better, and we will be.” types of quotes too. But, for yet another flip-flop in this space, they said that a year ago and then actually were better. So, maybe there is something to it.
At the end of the day, the Celtics are basically as close to the three seed as they are to the one seed. There are only 16 games left and actions speak considerably louder than words.
2. The Achilles heel of Boston’s defense has become quick ballhandlers/creators and late-game defensive rebounding.
This possession featured both, as Darius Garland shook free for the initial shot and then got it to fall on the second chance:
The Cavs are blessed with two speedy ballhandlers. They linked up here in transition as Donovan Mitchell found Garland for the transition triple:
3. As far as late-game rebounding goes, it’s a major issue. Joe Mazzulla called it out as a specific area of disappointment for him in his postgame presser.
Cleveland had a whopping eight offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter of this game alone, before adding two more in overtime. That’s 10 offensive rebounds in 17 minutes. That’s really, really bad.
This disappointing part is many were just the Cavaliers wanting it more and beating flat-footed Celtics to the ball. The killer one was the last one:
It’s fair to point out that Evan Mobley has a considerable size advantage here, but if Boston is going to close small, they have to figure plays like that out. Far too often, the Celtics get key stops late in games and can’t finish the possession by rebounding the ball. And it’s really only a late-game issue, as the Boston ranks as the NBA’s best defensive rebounding overall.
Lastly: This isn’t about this game specifically. It’s been a problem for months now. It wasn’t just an issue against the Cavs because Boston was missing three frontcourt players. It’s an issue even when those guys are on the floor.
4. For a positive: it was really good to see Boston get on the offensive glass as much as they did. Cleveland is a huge team, even more so when guys like Al Horford, Rob Williams and Jayson Tatum are out.
The Celtics still managed to snag 15 offensive rebounds. That’s a good sign that effort wasn’t an issue, which also matches the eye test.
5. Let’s go back to the end of regulation…
The Celtics were clinging, like by their fingernails clinging, to the lead with just under a minute to play. The offense became a mess of missed jumpers, layups and bad shots for about a seven-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
But they still had the lead.
Then they tried two kill shots on the same possession:
The White one is probably fine, but the Cavs were scrambled, and he had enough time to drive the ball. White could have even drawn Donovan Mitchell by putting the ball on the floor to open up Malcolm Brogdon for an even better look.
The Smart shot is inexcusable. He was shooting poorly, and Boston could have very easily have reset, run some clock and got a better look.
Hero ball often gets seen as a guy making a million dribbles before launching a contested shot. But it’s often just a guy taking a big shot in a spot where he should move the ball instead. Both of these shots fall in that latter category.
6. Let’s talk about Grant Williams.
For almost 48 minutes, Williams had played a great game when he was on the floor. He looked confident with his shot, played some good defense and did a nice job on the boards. He even did a nice job crashing the glass to earn two free throws with a chance to win the game for Boston.
As you are most definitely aware, Williams returned some trash talk to Donovan Mitchell by saying he’d make both of his free throws.
It’s fair to say that “If you talk the talk, walk the walk”. Williams didn’t back up what he said. You know what? It happens.
And what’s not fair? Expecting him to say nothing. That’s not how it works. We can’t celebrate our favorites for talking trash and delivering and then expect others to say nothing. Even if all Williams was trying to do was pump himself up, then so be it. It’s fine. No one stays stoic with someone yapping in their face. And, had Williams not responded and missed, the same people would be criticizing him for shrinking from the moment.
Yes, Williams failed. But he’s delivered time and time again for this team, including less than a year ago in a Game 7 for the ages. That shouldn’t be forgotten because of a Game 66 in early-March that no one will probably remember by the time the playoffs roll around.
7. What happened to Sam Hauser? He played 6:33 and was pretty effective in that short amount of time. On a night when Boston was struggling to make shots for long stretches of the game AND was shorthanded, Hauser should have seen more minutes.
8. This one is tough, because it’s about this game, but it’s also a bigger issue. How big of a lead and with how little time left before you can feel comfortable Boston will hang on for a win? Blowing leads is a massive issue for this group. The good news? The Celtics clearly recognize it. The bad news? They haven’t figured out how to fix it. And it’s not exactly a new problem either.
9. Related to the above: The Celtics are a good clutch team. It might not seem like it lately, but they are. They’ve got one of the best clutch records in the NBA. They repeatedly have come up big at the ends of games.
Against the New York Knicks, they lost, but they rallied from seven points down with a minute to play to force overtime in the first place. They had four shots to win against the Cavs in the final second of this game. They didn’t win either game in frustrating overtime losses.
But really, and this is where the relation to Takeaway #8 comes into play, Boston has to stop blowing leads. The best way to maintain a good record in clutch games? Stop playing clutch games by holding onto big leads in the first place.
10. No one probably expected an early-March home game against the Portland Trail Blazers on a Wednesday night to be a must-win game for the Celtics, but here we are. With a funky east-to-west six-game road trip looming, Boston has to beat Portland.
That road trip isn’t exactly a murder’s row of opponents. In fact, Boston will likely be favored in every game. But with the way the Celtics have played over the last week or so, no one is going to brimming with confidence in any of those six games.
But that’s also part of the issue. It’s time for Boston to stop looking ahead. Focus on the Trail Blazers on Wednesday. Let the rest come when it comes. Just get this win. And then go about getting the next one. That’s the way to get things back on track.