Last Night Showed There Is Still A Grand Canyon Sized Gap Between The Celtics And Nets

Al Bello. Getty Images.

I think what we learned last night is there's a difference in winning 4 straight against mostly "meh" teams and a Kawhi-less Clippers and then trying to beat a team that is so very clearly in a tier or two above where the Celts are. That's even before they add this Kevin Durant fella to the mix. Maybe you've heard of him, he's pretty decent. 

Now 0-2 against the Nets, both games have been eerily similar. Close for a while, one of the Jays really hurting you from an efficiency standpoint, and then a complete collapse in the fourth quarter while Kyrie has his way with the Celtics defense. On Christmas, it was a tough 11-25 performance from Jaylen to go along with an efficient 13-21 (7-10) 37 point effort from Kyrie and a brutal 18 point fourth quarter for Boston (gave up 37). Last night what did we see? A brutal 5-23 from Jaylen, an extremely efficient 15-23 (5-8) 40 burger from Kyrie, and another fourth quarter collapse with 23 points (gave up 33). 

To me, I saw the same team that had the same issues before the break. Nothing looked different. Their perimeter defense was still horrible. They didn't defend the three. In crunch time, when it was time for someone to step up and close this game out, that person was again on the other team. 

My takeaway when it comes to BKN is simple. Sure the Celts can hang with them over the course of a game, even when one of their best players is a no show. But once the Nets decide to give a shit they can go to a level that the Celts just cannot match right now. There is a giant gap between the two, and that's just the reality. Especially if they play like what we saw last night. For this Celtics team to even entertain the thought of beating the Nets, they basically need to play flawless basketball. They need all their best players to overachieve a little bit or at the very least play to the fullest of their potential. If one, or god forbid two of their three best players have a down night, this team does not have the firepower. The difference is, the Nets can survive when one of their trio has an off night because the other two are MVP caliber talents. 

So yeah, until further notice there is no reason to think these two teams are close. Don't get defensive about it, that's simply the truth. Until you can ya know, actually beat this team we as Celtics fans just have to eat it. 

With that said, there were some bright spots in what was ultimately another frustrating loss. We may as well talk about it

The Good

- It was nice to see Jayson Tatum come out of the All Star break and look like the player we need him to be. For a guy that had a pretty horrible month heading into the break, it was nice to see him not only produce, but be mostly efficient after his slow start

I still want to see him be more aggressive and find a way to get to the line more than 2 times, but it's hard for me to really complain about how Tatum played. He carried this team offensively in the second half and was really the only reason they had a chance late in the fourth quarter. It's not an accident that when he sat, the Nets went on that 10-2 run to start the fourth. It was also nice to see his turnovers down, minus that one BRUTAL one that came at the worst possible time, but I'm just happy to see that Tatum looks to slowly be crawling out of his February slump. 

I also thought he was solid defensively. He had a tough role, mostly matching up with Joe Harris who does nothign but run you off screens, and Tatum held him scoreless on 15 possessions. 

- Marcus Smart had a weird night. On one hand, it was clear to see how valuable he is to this team. In his first action since January 30th, it's hard to complain about 19 points in 20 minutes on 4-6 (3-5) shooting. But that doesn't really tell the whole story. I talked about it before his return, but the defense this team played even with Smart in the lineup was still bad. He has not played at the All NBA level we need from him. I would say the same is true last night. It's why I pushed back when I would hear people say Smart's return would fix all their defensive issues, we just saw that is clearly not the case.

In terms of guarding Kyrie, Smart had him for just 7 possessions and gave up 7 points on 2-3 shooting. Not exactly lock down defense even if they only had limited possessions on each other. The point is, nothing looked different from a perimeter defense standpoint even in the Smart minutes. That's an issue. 

So yes, why overall it was great to see him back and he played well offensively, he didn't help address their issues on the other end, which is what he sort of has to do.

- I don't know how this is tracked, but I would bet my mortgage that Rob leads the NBA in terms of centers blocking threes. It's insane how he repeatedly finds a way to block jumpers. He had 6 blocks last night and all of them ruled

This is where the confusion kicks in. Why did he only play 16 minutes? That's the same as Grant. Rob was subbed out at the 9 minute mark in a 6 point game and did not come back in until about 1 minute left and the game over. That was the same time Theis came in who got the majority of the fourth quarter minutes. We see what happened.

He played under 10 second half minutes. I just don't get it, especially when you need someone to protect the rim/paint against Kyrie and Harden drives. Theis couldn't do that, but Rob showed he clearly could. Weird decision.

The Bad

- There's something to be said about being competitive with this Nets team while your starting backcourt literally does not show up. I mean this was a 2 point game with 4 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Very winnable in my opinion. That's what makes this shit so frustrating. This team simply cannot close. Tatum can only do so much. In order to beat a team of this caliber, he needs his other two teammates to come through.

With Jaylen, it was brutal all night. He finished 5-23 (3-12) and had nearly as many TOs (4) as FGM. That's an issue. In the fourth quarter, it was more of the same (2-6). Some were tough in and out misses, but some weren't even close. I don't think it's crazy to suggest that they need Jaylen to show up in these huge games against good teams. He's now really struggled in both BKN games. For this team to be competitive, they need their best players to show up and come through. The Nets got it, the Celts didn't.

Which brings me to Kemba. He looked great in the first quarter, and it's no surprise that the Celts as a team looked great as a result. Then he went missing. Nowhere to be found would be an understatement. Just 2 FGA in the second quarter, 2 FGA in the third quarter, and 3 FGA in the fourth. A brutal 1-5 second half performance. The starting backcourt had a combined 13 points in their second half minutes. By comparison, the Nets starting backcourt had 33. That seems like an issue. 

- Another game, another pathetic performance from the FT line. This team is not good enough to be leaving points at the line like this, and last night's 14-22 certainly had an impact. Did you know the Celts are currently 23rd in the league in FT%. That is so bad and it continues to be an issue. I can accept the poor shooters missing FTs. It's the good shooters that are leaving points on the board that drives me insane. In a game that was close until the final 4 minutes, something tells me they could have used about half of those missed FTs.

- We saw last night why I am so adamant about the need for wing depth and back up point guard depth. It's not that I don't think Payton Pritchard is good, but it's not fair to expect him to deliver on a consistent basis against really good teams his rookie year. Especially since he's undersized. At 1-5 last night, they didn't really get anything from that position between him and Teague. It's a glaring hole even with Smart back and that's just a fact.

In terms of wing depth, we didn't see Semi or Javonte, but we did see this team not really have any options at the position when Tatum went out. Especially on nights when Jaylen is struggling. They had to play Grant, and well, we know how that went.

- This team needs to figure it the fuck out when it comes to defending the three. Another 19 allowed in this game, we have a certified problem on our hands

This is a team that has always thrived at guarding the three during the Brad Stevens what the hell is going on. Stop letting guys like Landry Shamet bury you. Until this team figures out their perimeter defense nothing will change. For some reason they were adamant about doubling off shooters in this game. All that did was allow the Nets shooters to get in rhythm. Maybe not the best idea!

The Ugly

- I just don't know how to explain these fourth quarters man. Another game where the Celts are entering the final frame with a chance to win, and immediately things get out of hand. It was a 2 point game when the quarter started, and by the 8:56 mark it was 10. The Celts opened allowing a 12-4 start. A couple of missed Pritchard layups, Grant missed three, Jaylen missed three, and no defense. 

That all happened with Rob on the floor too. Thankfully Tatum brought them back to life in a hurry, but then when it was time to step up and get those momentum stops, it was the same old story. Missed open threes, turnovers, no defense. That's so frustrating.

- To make matters worse, this game basically came down to a couple huge 6 point swings. The first came when Jaylen missed that corner three, the ball then smacked off Grant's face on the defensive end and Jeff Green hit a three to go from 7 to 10. Could have been 4, instead it ballooned. Then, down 4 with 3:42 left you had Daniel Theis wide open from the top of the arc. He missed his three, Kyrie came right down and drilled one. Another huge 6 point swing. 

The final dagger came after Tatum's inexcusable turnover on the sideline which led to Kyrie's next three, which closed the door. They say it's a make or miss league, and the Celts had their opportunities. They just didn't make the shots. When it came time to who would step up and make the momentum plays, the Nets and Kyrie did.

- Speaking of Kyrie, he owns this team right now. They have no answer for him defensively. Where was this version in the MIL series? Man. He's a force, no two ways about it and you can tell he's motivated whenever he plays the Celts. We have seen nothing that tells us this team is capable of slowing him down offensively, and that's an issue.

- The Grant/Teague experiment needs to end. It just has to. 

So, with a big test post break and all the momentum in the world, I'd say the Celts failed it. Now let's see if they are able to quickly right the ship and get back to the team we saw before the break, or if this is going to balloon. Right now I see a team that still has the same issues that plagued them in the first half, and we all know that first half team was NOT good enough.