Two good wins, one baaaad loss — another week of Boston Celtics basketball has come and gone. Let’s discuss.
Boston Celtics, Week 14: 2-1 record, +23 differential
W @ Dallas, 119-110
W @ Miami, 143-110
L vs LA Clippers, 115-96
Blowout losses sure have a way of taking the air out of your sails, don’t they? It happens to every team, to be sure — some nights, you feel invincible, and others, you feel helpless. But that serves as small relief when the latter comes to pass, and even the best teams feel plunged into uncertainty when one occurs.
Saturday’s loss to the Clippers was such a case. The game started out poorly, but manageably so, yet spiraled out of control at an increasing rate from the second quarter onward. This was one of the ever-frustrating shooting variance games that these Celtics are prone to; they chucked up a massive volume of three-pointers, and converted on very few of them, and the hot streak to pull them back into contention never materialized. Los Angeles had all the answers and flat-out dominated the Celtics for the evening.
We’d probably be thinking about this week differently if this loss had started the week, rather than closed it. Both of the team’s other outings were impressive. They took care of business in Monday’s reunion with Grant Williams, downing the Dallas Mavericks by nine points in a game where Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 73 points. That Williams tallied just two points on 1-of-5 shooting was just icing on the cake.
On Thursday, the Celtics traveled to South Beach for a matchup that always causes a little bit of indigestion these days — Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. Any apprehension was quickly put aside, though. The Celtics absolutely trounced the Heat, 143-110, in a game that was not altogether different from the loss they’d absorb against Los Angeles a couple nights later. Those are good wins, but the Clippers loss understandably removed some of the shine.
Player of the Week: Jayson Tatum
3 GP, 34.4 MPG, 28.7 PPG (48% FG, 37% 3PT), 10 REB, 3.3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, +17
A few weeks ago, we discussed how the blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was so bad as to be functionally irrelevant to the Player of the Week discussion. If nobody on the roster had a good game, how can we consider anyone’s performance against Milwaukee as part of the equation?
Saturday’s loss to the Clippers approached the same status. The only two players that seemed present for the proceedings were Luke Kornet and our winner, Tatum. Kornet would have made a worthy pick in his own right; he recorded two more double-digit scoring performances in a week where Porzingis suffered a sprained ankle and only recorded 21 minutes of court time. A hamstring injury was an unfortunately sour ending to the week, but this was otherwise another nice stretch for the seven-footer.
We’re going with Tatum, ultimately, because of his brilliance earlier in the week and his general state of “having a pulse” that the rest of the team lacked against Los Angeles. The performance against Dallas was the headliner — a dominant, two-way exclamation point that saw him record 39 points (19 free throw attempts), 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks in 40 minutes of court time. Tatum was a +27 in a nine-point win, which just about says it all.
Against Miami, Tatum was only restrained by the score. His 26 points led the team, but were capped by an early exit to the night, as he hit the bench for some early punch-out with a little over six minutes to play, with the Celtics leading by 32. Given the team’s propensity for making things a little too interesting down the stretch in recent years, seeing some well-earned extra rest is a welcome sight.
Free throws were the name of the game this week. Over the years, Tatum has taken leaps and strides as a scorer inside the arc; once a weakness of his, it might now be his best attribute. Alongside that improvement has come an increased pace of free throw attempts, but those had largely stagnated this year. After a career-high 8.2 FTA per 36 minutes, he’s ticked down a hair to 7.2 this season — still the second-best mark of his career, but one that leaves a feeling there might be fruit left on the tree.
This week suggests a renewed emphasis on getting to the line. The win over Miami completed a stretch in which Tatum attempted 41 free throws over three games (though he did miss six). Continuing to find his way to the charity stripe will help keep the Boston offense balanced and their opponents’ defenses honest.
The Parquet Play: Interception!
These are the most fun or most frustrating plays to watch, depending on which end of it your team is on. It’s a powerfully unaware pass, and on Thursday night, it was a pretty nice summation of the proceedings for both teams.
Around the League: An old friend in Miami, as the trade deadline nears
Thursday’s blowout against the Heat was notable for another reason beyond the final score. It was the debut of the Heat’s shiny new point guard, one that should be very familiar to anybody reading this: Terry Rozier.
Miami is having an eerily similar season to the one they had last year. Their record has been nearly identical to this point, with a prevailing feeling that they’re not quite living up to their own lofty standards. Obviously, nobody of sound health and mind will write them off at the midpoint of the season after what they accomplished last summer, but to this point, the team has been essentially average. The front office clearly feels the same, pulling the trigger on a swap of Kyle Lowry and a 2027 first round pick for Rozier.
Does Scary Terry change the equation for this Heat squad? I’m not so sure. Lowry is near the end of the road, but he’s still a useful veteran presence who puts in work as a playmaker and defender. Rozier excels at neither of those things. He’s a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer who certainly excels at shot creation, but hasn’t shown much in the way of contributing to winning basketball since leaving Boston. Bam Adebayo might be Miami’s best passer now. That’s a rough spot to be in.
Given the Celtics’ struggles with Miami in recent postseasons, it’s understandable to see this as an eye-roll-worthy, “of course they did” kind of move. Rozier does have postseason experience, and it’s not unimaginable to see him getting hot and swinging a playoff game between these two teams. Logically, though, his level of name recognition probably outshines his value as a basketball player at this point in time. Feel free to screenshot this when he inevitably drops 40 on Jrue Holiday’s head in the Eastern Conference Finals this postseason.
Side note: the Celtics have been strangely intertwined with trade deadline moves this season. They effectively ended the eras of both OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam in Toronto by beating the Raptors in each player’s final game, and helped christen Rozier’s new one in Miami with a win in his second appearance. This is a quirk of coincidence and nothing more, ultimately, but it has been amusing to watch them operate as the grim reaper for teams on either end of the trade market this season.
Up Next: Cozy at home
The Celtics have four games ahead of them this coming week, all of which will take place in the TD Garden as part of the ongoing seven-game homestand. They kicked off the week with an uneven-but-hard-fought win over the Pelicans on Monday night, and return to the court on Tuesday to host the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back. From there, they’ll host the Los Angeles Lakers for the teams’ second and final meeting of the season, before hosting the Memphis Grizzlies in a game that Marcus Smart will miss due to a significant finger injury.
Absent the Smart reunion, Celtics-Lakers becomes the focal point in a week that otherwise doesn’t feature too many strong narratives. It’s another week of solid opponents, the injury-riddled Grizzlies notwithstanding. We’ll be back next week to break it down.