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After A Tough Ending, It's Possible For The Celtics Loss To Be Both Painful And Encouraging

Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics

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As I woke up this morning I found myself to still be pretty annoyed with the Celtics loss to Golden State. I would say I moved on from anger as soon as the buzzer sounded to more of being annoyed because as I sat in my bed starting at the ceiling at some ungodly hour, I ran through all the potential scenarios we could have seen between these two teams and while I still believe the Celtics blew this game, things could have been much worse. Imagine how we feel today if the Celtics got blown out? If they put up zero fight, didn’t play hard and just got completely embarrassed on national TV? That would have for sure been worse. The reality is there is no shame in losing a close down to the last few possessions type game against the best assembled roster the league has ever seen. In fact you could argue that seeing the Celtics actually hang with this team while still having tons of room for improvement is a positive sign. To me that’s the big picture takeaway. We as Celtics fans knew this team could play GS tough no matter who they added because they match up so well against them, and while the ending fucking sucked, that’s still for the most part true. I mean GS has been destroying teams left and right, yet the Celts took them down to the wire despite their own shortcomings.

That’s the encouraging part. It’s a bit of a moral victory I can admit, but it’s the truth. I still believe it’s possible to see positives come out of a brutal loss like this. Now the painful part is pretty self explanatory and something we’ll be discussing further in this blog. This was a game the Celtics had every opportunity to win but they simply couldn’t get out of their own way. It’s painful because they didn’t lose because the Warriors shat down their throat or were some unstoppable force, they lost it because they were careless late and didn’t execute well under pressure. They lost due to self inflicted wounds above anything else and that’s annoying as hell.

On a night where PHI and IND both lost it would have been nice to snag this one that’s for sure. The standings don’t really care all that much about moral victories unfortunately so in my mind this was a blown opportunity. We considered this game a measuring stick for the Celtics and I would say that we learned at times this team can hang with the best, but they still have a ways to go. They stack up well there’s no denying that, they just came up a little short. You learn from it and move on, but before we move on we have to talk about what we saw.

The Good

– The reason Danny Ainge made the move for Kyrie Irving is games like this. On a night where he was going to have to not only be great, but carry this team in more ways than just his scoring, Kyrie responded with a cool 32/6/10

He matched Steph Curry blow for blow, carried this team in the first half with 19 points on 7-14 shooting, and then once things got to the fourth quarter and it was closing time, he once again responded leading both teams with 13 fourth quarter points. What made Kyrie’s performance so impressive was it wasn’t just all about his scoring. He had a 41% AST% in this game which is 5% higher than his season average, and defensively I thought he more than held his own.

Kyrie held Curry scoreless on his 15 possessions, and really outside a couple of Klay Thompson threes nobody really did anything against him. He was tied for the team lead in deflections, recovered the most loose balls, and was third in total contested shots all while playing 40 minutes. I walk away from this game confident in knowing that whenever these two teams play again, Kyrie is going to be a problem for GS. The way he can use his handle to get to whatever spot he wants, it’s good to know the Celtics have a guy that can do as much damage to GS as their guys can do to you.

– The Boogie vs Horford matchup was one of the more interesting storylines I was excited to see. Boogie is that combination of center that can not only stretch the defense, but he also has the strength and power to abuse you down low which is something Al struggles with. Having given him time to rest and be 100%, it was clear that we got Playoff Al in this game and in my opinion he dominated that matchup

22/13/3 in 34 minutes what was impressive about Horford’s performance was first and foremost the efficiency finishing 10-15 from the floor, but also the fact that he played ever single second of that fourth quarter. Al had the highest net rating on the team last night at +13.4, and it was very clear

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That is insanity. You could make the case that the Celtics losing the Horford rest minutes was ultimately the key to their demise. Horrible offense, even worse defense, the ball wasn’t moving which meant shots were contested resulting in a low TS%, if anyone ever questions the value of Al Horford again just show them that picture against this GS team. On the floor, the Celtics were elite, off the floor, they turned into the Suns.

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So what can we take away from Al’s performance moving forward? Well right off the bat his ability to stretch the floor and pull Boogie away from the basket was very important. Of Horford’s 15 FGA, only 4 of them were at the rim and a few of those were wide open dunks coming off a roll. Him being able to knock down the three consistently so he remains a threat is a big part of why the Celtics had 40 points in the paint which won that battle. You’re never going to completely stop Boogie, but having a player that can take him away from his strengths is encouraging moving forward. The Celtics needed this version of Al Horford to show up and he had one of his better games of the entire season.

– What if I told you that neither team had a double digit lead, there were 21 lead changes and 14 ties. That tells you this team hung with GS every step of the way and I think deep down Celtics fans needed to see that. Yes, we all prefer a win, but just not getting  blown out and embarrassed on national TV was a relief.

– You know they played with high energy by just looking at what they did on the offensive glass. A total of 15 OREB which lead to 23 second chance points, that relentless pursuit and not just giving up on a shot was great to see. Between that and the points in the paint and the rebounding being close, the Celts did a great job in a lot of their problem areas which is also why this loss is so frustrating.

– You know what was great to see though? Jayson Tatum rise to the occasion against a great team in a big spot. He finished with 20/5/3 on 7-15 shooting (3-5 from deep) so the efficiency was there and it was his 14 points in the third quarter that kept this team alive during the usual Warriors third quarter bukkake.

I had Tatum down for really only two poor shots, but one came at the buzzer of the third so I won’t really get on him for that. I thought he did a great job of mixing up his approach with 9 of his 15 FGA coming from 15ft or in and defensively I felt like he was for the most part solid with opponents shooting a combined 2-6 against him. He had the lowest Drtg of any starter at 101 and what’s crazy is he had this sort of impact all while having just a 19.8% usage rate. You never know with these young kids how they will respond in these big time games, but I think we’re starting to learn that when it comes to Jayson Tatum he thrives in this type of situation which is important since he’s pretty much the future.

– Imagine holding this Warriors team to a 29/20% split in the fourth quarter and 41/30% in the second half with 8 TOs. The defense was there, it did its job by giving the Celtics a chance to steal this game, but unfortunately the offense let them down. They may have given up 115, but the Warriors had to work for it so seeing them not lay an egg on that end is something you can build off of.

The Bad

– But as we know, things were far from perfect. On a night where the Celts needed all their big guns to show up and play well, it was a down night for Marcus Morris. Just 3-12 from the floor and 2-6 from three, it was a bad time for a Mook off night. It looked like he was coming out of his slump with decent performances against CLE/MIA, but in the end he finished with his worst FG% of any game he’s played in the month of January. That’s tough. Crazy to think that if he just goes like 5-12 things may have ended up differently, and for the record I have no problem with him taking this shot

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We can’t be selective. Mook has earned the right to take that shot given how automatic he’s been all year, and anyone who doesn’t like it simply doesn’t like the result. He got a clean look from a spot we know he can make it from, it just didn’t fall.

The bigger problem was not only did he lay an egg offensively, he had all sorts of problems with Kevin Durant on the defensive end. I suppose almost everyone does, but Durant torched him for 16 points on 37 possessions going 4-7 from the floor and then also making 7 FTM. I know you can’t stop Durant, but Mook didn’t exactly make it tough for him either.

– Pretty awesome to come out of halftime and shoot 34% in the third quarter. That usually works out playing against a team of basketball aliens.

– If there’s one thing I don’t want to hear it’s people complain about the officiating. Guess what, if the Warriors had plays against the Celtics from behind the arc that didn’t get called we would all be bullshit. Those were fouls. Don’t act like these Celtics don’t always foul three point shooters because they do, it’s one of their biggest problems. So yeah was it annoying that Durant got bailed out late in this game with all those FTs? Sure, but he got fouled. Play better defense. Those calls were not why the Celtics lost this game and honestly I had no problem with them.

If you want to have an issue with something, I suppose it could be the foul that wasn’t called on Boogie

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That would have been his 6th and a huge difference in this game. That was unfortunate.

– It’s almost incredible the Celts were even in this game considering the 34-15 FTA  difference. GS made nearly twice as many as the Celtics attempted and this wasn’t a case where the Celtics weren’t aggressive. Hard to see that sort of thing happen in your own building.

– You see Steph Curry do this shit to you on your own floor you need to fight him. period

The Ugly

– I almost don’t know where to begin. I suppose we should start with the main reason the Celtics lost this game, and that was the fact that their bench had one of the worst collective performances I have seen from them this season. They finished with 16 points on the night which is pathetic enough, but when you look closer you see they entire unit had TWO points in the second half. How is that even possible? You get even a shitty performance from that group and the Celtics win this game, and that makes my blood boil. Just don’t be horrific, that’s all they needed to do and they couldn’t even manage that.

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Going up and down the list, nobody was a bigger disappointment than Hayward. His 0-5 performance in 22 minutes was tough to watch, and unforunately it wasn’t just the offensive end. Opponents shot a combined 4-6 against him and whether it was missing layups or turning the ball over, it’s fair to say his 22 minutes really hurt them. Honestly I don’t care about his salary because what we saw last night wouldn’t even be acceptable for a minimum salary guy. I suppose the spinzone is that they were this close to beating GS even without Hayward so the next time they play if the Celts even get something from him they probably win, but I don’t care about that right now. They brought him in for games like this, and he sucked. Period.

Same thing with Terry, all he had to do was give this team something and he poured in 2 points on 1-4 shooting in his 18 minutes. To get these sort of empty minutes from two key second unit rotation players is hard for any team to overcome, let alone one playing the Warriors. Then there was Jaylen. Now Jaylen was the only second unit player to show any sort of offensive life in this game with his 10 points, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He didn’t score in the entire second half and his -16.7 net rating on the night was the worst on the team. He may have played the best amongst all the bench players, but he still wasn’t all that good. Durant cooked him for 9 points on 10 possessions, he couldn’t defend without fouling, and ultimately disappeared. Not great.

The biggest surprise though was how ineffective Aron Baynes was. He was supposed to be the defensive anchor, and in reality he was pretty much unplayable. He had a 145 Drtg in his 9 minutes which is absurd, and he too had a problem with defending without fouling. I thought he would have played a big role on both Boogie and Looney, but he lost both of those matchups pretty convincingly. We haven’t seen Baynes this bad maybe ever.

– But the bench issues were only half of the story when it comes to this collapse. In my opinion, the biggest reason this team lost is because they got sloppy. They had 6 TOs in the fourth quarter with both Kyrie and Al being responsible for 5 of them, and they were all pretty bad

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These are all brutal turnovers in crucial late game situations, where you need your two best players to carry you, not shoot you in the foot. If you want to look at why this team lost, look here.

– And finally, there’s no way I could not include the ending of this game. How on earth are you not going to rebound a missed FT in this situation? Not only that, but this is NOT the first time this has happened this season!

Unacceptable. Now obviously there’s no guarantee they score even if they get it, but they didn’t even give themselves a chance. Call it a bad bounce if you want, I call it pathetic. The Celts had a TO, they could have put Baynes or someone in just for the rebound, just poor execution all around.

 


So while it sucks that the Celtics dropped what was a very winnable game and that’s annoying, there were positives to take away. We thought this team could hang with GS and we saw nothing that disproves that theory. Now comes the big question of how will they respond coming off this loss. With BKN on deck who is one of the best teams in the league record wise over the last 50 days, it’s not exactly a time to feel sorry for themselves. Previously this season we would see this team take a slide and start to point fingers. Seeing how they respond moving forward will tell us a lot about the type of progress they’re making. Take the day and be mad about this loss if you need to, but it’s time to turn the page

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