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The Celtics Pooped Their Pants Worse Than James Harden In A Brutal OT Loss

We learned pretty early in the season that if the Celtics were going to lose, it was most likely going to come in gut wrenching fashion. Of their 18 losses on the season, 10 of them have come by 5 points or less, and of those 10, four have come by 3 or less. Their last two losses, both to Western Conference contenders, have been by a total of 3 points. Now there are two ways you can look at this. On one hand you are hanging with the best of the best while shorthanded, missing your All NBA point guard. That's not so bad. The other way you can look at it is this team sneaky struggles in tight close games down the stretch. They are just 4-4 on the year in games decided by 3 points or less on the season, which is tied for the most losses of any of the top 4 seeds. Last night marked only the second time all season we saw this team blow a game in which they had at least an 11 point lead, they were 35-1 heading into last night which makes them blowing a 17 point lead at home pretty goddamn annoying. 

To put it simply, this team pooped their pants in the second half and choked down the stretch to blow a very winnable game that would have been a great ending to this very tough 8 game stretch. They wrapped it up at 5-3 which is all I wanted back in the beginning of February when this stretch first started, but with all the turnovers late in LA and then last night, had this team executed better down the stretch you're looking at a 7-1 run. But they didn't. Last night they missed layup after layup, the offense stalled, Brad fell asleep, the whole nine yards. 

The facts are this team hasn't beaten the Rockets since Marcus Smart's double charges. It's been five games. For whatever reason they are just a bad matchup that the Celts have not been able to figure out. They just got a look at these new look Rockets a few weeks ago and it didn't seem like they were all that prepared. That's unfortunate.

The good news is they are still within 1 game of TOR for the 2 seed (who pays @ DEN today), their schedule gets a little easier and I guess one day Kemba will be back. So big picture things aren't all that bad, but I'd be lying if I told you I woke up and wasn't still very annoyed with the latest kick in the dick from this team.

The Good

- So.....Jayson Tatum is just a 30 point scorer now huh? Not like a "he'll get you 30 points every few games" type player, I'm talking about the fact that he is basically a 30 point scorer every single night. Another 32/13/5 for Tatum in this one

it marked his 4th straight game with at least 30, his 7th of the month and he finished the month of February doing something only done before by a list of Celtics legends

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It's becoming clear that it doesn't really matter who you are, Tatum is giving you 30+. You could be the Clippers, Lakers, Jazz, Rockets, you name it. What did we always say would be the one thing Tatum needed to master in order to take that last final leap? Consistency. Well when you have a dogshit shooting night (9-27) and you still find a way to have that sort of offensive impact, that's impressive. 

- And like is so often the case, when we discuss one Jay we can't leave out the other. As good as Tatum may have been, Jaylen was right there with him with his own impressive 22/5/3 including the prayer of the game

Jaylen made it very clear early on that it was going to be his night to cook, and we're running into a situation with Jaylen where you could think he's been mostly quiet and then you look up and he has 22/5. Much like everyone else that played he wasn't all that efficient, but Jaylen is showing the same sort of consistency we're seeing with Tatum, only in that #2 spot

These two are blossoming together and it's what should have you so excited as a Celtics fan moving forward. We're getting the jumps from both we wanted last season, and it's a little preview of what's to come for the next 10 years.

- There was one starter who finished the game above 42% shooting and that was Gordon Hayward. Naturally the Celtics lost and he missed a big OT three so I had a lot of people tweeting me last night about how much Gordon Hayward sucks, as if 18/6/4 with 3 steals on 50% shooting is bad

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Did he have his struggles in the second half? Yup, so did every member of this roster. But if you're someone who last night thinks Gordon Hayward is why this team lost, you're just saying that to say it because Hayward has become the scapegoat every time this team loses. 

Hayward was 4th in FGA, 4th in usage at 17% (by comparison Smart was 23%), and he still gave you that type of production as a fourth option. To walk away thinking that's a bad thing just doesn't make any sense to me. Yes, it would have been great if he didn't go 1-6 in the second half the same way it would have been great if Tatum didn't go 5-14 or Smart 4-11. But I would argue the Celts were even in this game without Kemba because of what Hayward was able to do in the first half. 

- The Celts won the rebounding battle, and had 14 OREB. They won the turnover battle, made more FTs, won the points in the paint battle and shot a better percentage from three. The problem? They didn't turn those OREB to points, lost the 2nd chance point battle 14-7 and made two less threes. Math sucks.

- This was a matchup built for Daniel Theis given how small HOU is, and you certainly can't complain about his 15 rebounds and 3 blocks, some of which were in HUGE moments in OT. Granted I would have loved some of those rebounds to show up in the final minutes when PJ Tucker was having his way on the glass, but this was still another really solid showing for Theis, something he's basically been doing all month.

The Bad

- The one shocking thing to me was how ill prepared this team was to face this Rockets new look defense. See your brain says "oh they are small, let's just iso and attack them with our super athletic wings, there's no rim protection". There's only one problem

that's exactly what they want you to do! We saw what an isolation heavy offense looked like, it was terrible. The thing is the Rockets are so good about having extra defenders in the paint when a guy starts to make his move, their hands are so active and quick, you are playing right into their strategy anytime you decide to just iso and attack. We saw that shit two weeks ago. That's not how you beat them and since you can't play a center against them you have to be better with moving the ball and cutting. We didn't see any of that shit and no wonder the offense stalled over the final 24 minutes. 

It's pretty easy to see. First half, the ball moved, the Celts had 56 points and 11 assists on 21 FGM. The second half that went away, they scored 48 points and had just 8 assists. They shot 33/30% with 5 TOs. Way too much Tatum iso, it ruined the flow of the offense and it made the Celtics easier to defend. I'm looking at you Brad.

- Let's talk about that shooting for a second. Always fun to finally return home after a West Coast trip and shoot 39/31% for the game, and even worse over the final 24. They had a gross 33/28% third quarter showing which is ultimately what did them in, but you go up and down the roster and it was an issue for pretty much everyone

Tatum: 9-27

Theis: 3-8

Hayward: 8-16

Jaylen: 9-23

Smart: 9-22

I'm sorry but when you shoot like that I'm not sure what you expect. The fact that this was a winnable game is pretty nuts, and anytime we see Smart launch 15 3PM there's probably a little cause for concern. He did hit the gigantic one late to bring it to within 1, but he also had a pretty god awful 40 footer early in the shotclock with like 90 seconds left that he didn't exactly have to take. They say it's a make or miss league and that's pretty damn accurate.

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- 5 TOs is way too many for Tatum. It's one of my bigger worries as he begins to have this super high usage. Can he maintain that while not turning the ball over, it's been an issue as of late there's no denying that. Both he and Smart were a little careless with the ball and the Rockets 16 points off TOs proved to be pretty costly.

- The lack of boxing out is what really twisted the knife. This isn't a super tall team that has a big time size advantage against you. The Rockets simply wanted it more, played with more effort, and were the aggressor. That can't happen on your own floor. PJ Tucker basically won them the game on the offensive glass, but fuck even Austin Rivers got a huge OREB late. You simply cannot keep giving the Rockets extra possessions late in a game and think that's going to work out. Jaylen was out muscled on numerous occasions and for a team that is usually pretty decent on the glass this year, they couldn't get them when they mattered most.

- I'm sorry, but this is poop.

Who knew this was really just a sign of what was to come for the Celtics in the second half and OT. 

The Ugly

- So here's the thing. I don't know who is going to win a game where the entire second unit contributes 4 points. Frankly I didn't even know that was possible that second unit players could be on the floor for a combined 52ish minutes and only score 4 points. I figured you'd fall ass backwards into a putback layup or two at the very least but that was the reality. Romeo, Wanamaker, Grant and Semi took a total of 4 shots and scored 4 points. That is beyond terrible.

But it's complicated, because I don't exactly want them to come in and start jacking it every time they touch the ball. Guys like Semi/Grant/Romeo are playing for their defense, which wasn't all that bad. You need Wanamaker to give you some sort of offense, so him going 0-2 with 2 points sure wasn't all that great, but in a game like this I didn't exactly want any of those bench guys to steal shots from the starting group. So in a sense they did their job and defended well, but this is now what the third or fourth game recently where this team is getting zero offensive production from their bench. Things adjust once Kemba comes back and Smart slides down, but who knows when that's going to be? 

- Alright, let's talk about that third quarter because that's really where shit started to hit the fan. The Rockets came out and punched the Celts right in the goddamn face and there was no resistance whatsoever. Their 36 points was the most of any quarter, the Rockets shot 59/46% with 7 3PM and just 2 TOs, and you combine that with the offensive ineptitude we saw the Celts respond with and it's no surprise their double digit lead was gone by the end of those 12 minutes. Tatum and Hayward combined to go 3-12 in the quarter, every single time we saw this team turn it over or miss a layup the Rockets came right down and hit a massive three or some shit. Careless basketball will kick you in the ass every single time.

- Which brings us to the OT period. This is where the frustration really set in. Daniel Theis dunked the ball with 2:49 left, only to see the Celtics miss their next 6 shots with some turnovers in there as well to choke away this game. Here's how it broke down

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Tatum missed 29ft three

Smart missed layup

Tatum missed layup

Theis missed tip

Hayward missed three

Smart TO 

Jaylen missed game winner

The Celts losing because Smart came up with a prayer loose ball only to then have it stripped from Harden and him going coast to coast to draw a foul and hit both FTs to seal it was so goddamn infuriating. The Celtics make 1 or 2 of those bunnies around the rim and this is an entirely different blog. It was right there despite all the terrible shooting and defense in the second half, but they had to stay true to their brand and miss layups.

- Oh, and Tatum missing 4 FTs in a game they lost by 1 sure as shit didn't help.

Again, look big picture. If TOR loses today the Celts can still snag the 2 seed with a win in their next game. Things are fine. Frustrating at the moment, but overall pretty damn good. They came out of this 8 game stretch giving us all the answers were wondering heading in. This team is for real, this team can beat anyone in the league, and the Jays are turning into legit monsters right before our eyes. Now if only I could see Kemba Walker get back into the lineup so I could stop freaking out about that, that would be great.