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The Celtics Fell Into Their Bad Habits When It Mattered Most In A Crushing Double OT Loss To Start The Season

Sarah Stier. Getty Images.

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We probably should have seen a game like this coming if we're being honest. Almost every preseason game this team played was a nail biter that came down to the wire/last possession. We know that the Celts will never make it easy on themselves, but they'll also find ways to claw back into games they had no business being in. They trailed by 6 points with 43 seconds left yet found a way to stay alive before ultimately running out of gas in double OT. Of course there will be the normal doom and gloom that comes after every Celtics loss, but at the end of the day it took a double OT and one of the worst shooting performances of Jayson Tatum's career just to beat this Celtics team by 4 points. Would have been much sweeter if they came through and pulled out the win on the road, but shit happens. They didn't execute when they needed to, we saw some bad habits reappear at the worst time, and there were mistakes all over the place. But if all that has to happen just for the Celts to lose a game, I feel pretty good. I mean I don't feel good that they blew a winnable game against a division opponent, but thinking big picture? There were positives to take away from this game. A shitty ending, but an encouraging ride. 

But what also happened was something I feared watching those preseason games and blogged about at the time. Too often in those fake games did I see the 2020 Celtics. You know, the ones that put us through a season of hell. The bad habits we hated then showed up in those fake games, and sadly they carried over to the regular season and ultimately cost them a game that actually counts. It was one of the questions I think we all had entering the year. Could Ime get this team to break some of their bad habits for a full 48 minutes? So far, the answer is no. What I'm interested in is where they go from there. Now there's film and a teaching moment for him. Whether or not things change moving forward is his challenge.

We have a lot to get to, so let's dive right in

The Good

- One of the biggest downsides of last night was it wasted an all time Jaylen Brown performance. For a guy coming off a 10 day quarantine, you'd never know it by watching him play. I was curious to see what Jaylen's development would be this year since he adds something new every season….and I think it's everything?

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What a monster. I don't know how else to say it. He started off with a dominant first quarter which should surprise exactly no one. He's this team's best first quarter player and it's not even relatively close. Last year he led them in first quarter scoring on 48/44% splits and it looks like we'll be getting more of the same this year. What I loved about Jaylen's performance was we saw him score at all three levels. He was great finishing at the rim (minus one huge play we'll get to), he was 2-3 in his midrange opportunities, and from behind the arc he finished 8-14. It wasn't a perfect performance but it was damn close. Even his playmaking was great as he was tied for the lead amongst the starters with 6 assists. 

If I had one complaint, it was that it felt like they went away from him a little too much in the second and third quarter. He had only 6 FGA in those two quarters combined, and it's no surprise that's when things started to get a little wonky. He played the second most minutes in that quarter yet took only 3 FGA. That wasn't great. But if this is the Jaylen we're going to get, he's going to have an All NBA year. Period. I'm happy for Jaylen that he had a night like this on that type of stage. He's done nothing but work hard on his craft and he deserves all the praise he rightfully should get.

- I don't want to get too ahead of myself here, but Rob probably played the best game of his career last night as well

If you were to ask me what my ideal Rob performance looks like, I think this is it. He was awesome. Not only was the 45 minutes a surprise, but the 1 foul is big. If he can have this type of impact while not committing fouls, it's going to be a monster year for him. This is an example of the potential that Rob has. The second Ime made the switch to having him guard Randle, he made him a non factor. Here's a couple examples of what I'm talking about

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His ability to guard the perimeter given his length is a legit skill. Because he has good quickness, he's able to stay with someone like Randle off the dribble. Because of his length and leaping ability, he's able to bait these guys into contested threes as well. The fact that he did such a better job staying home and not getting baited into fouls is a huge development moving forward. It also felt like Rob was playing smarter and more in control. He wasn't tossing his body all over the place. I don't think he hit the floor once. Not only that, he hit his FTs late. 

The question with Rob was never if he was capable of a performance like this. It's more can this be sustained. Can he find a way to stay on the court so he can even do shit like this. Last night was maybe an indication that he can. 

- I get told all the time that preseason doesn't matter and to not take anything away from it. It's bizarre and something I'll never do. It all matters and Romeo's performance is a great example why. He looks like a completely different player in these games too, you know, the ones that count

The preseason shooting is real. Sorry, it just is. Romeo from the corner is now a weapon. There's still some rough spots that are to be expected because he's barely played, but I don't know how you could watch his preseason and then that performance last night and not be encouraged. He looks like a real NBA caliber player. Eventually the shooting will come back down to earth, but the fact that I find myself surprised when he misses is a feeling I didn't know existed when it came to Romeo.

I would have liked to see some more ball handling opportunities for him with the second unit, but overall his debut was pretty close to what I think we all want from him. Play hard, hit your open threes, and play defense. I'm excited to see what happens as he shows Ime he's worthy of more minutes (22 last night).

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- The same is true of Grant. It looks like Grant is going to be this year's scapegoat for people on Twitter. Similar to how it was Gordon Hayward and then Kemba Walker. Sometimes it's deserved, but last night was not one of those nights. It was weird how I was seeing all this Grant slander in my mentions when in reality they even had a chance to win this game in large part because of Grant's fourth quarter

15/5/4 on 66/60% shooting is fine. If you complain about that then you're just hating on Grant to hate on Grant. Yeah, at times Julius Randle ate him alive, that happens. Randle is an All Star. But without Grant's 11 points on 4-4 shooting in the fourth quarter, there is no double OT. Ime talked about how he started Grant because he has Al Horford traits, well that's exactly what we saw in this game offensively. If this is who Slim Grant can be, he's a rotation player.

- Marcus Smart had a weird night. In the first half he was great. His decision making was ideal when it came to shot selection/passing. The second half…not so much. But we love and trust for a reason. Why? Because he can do shit like this

Not only that, but he had another HUGE three in the fourth quarter to cut it to 5 when things were slipping a little bit. A 15/8/6 with 2 steals and 5 3PM was the good part. It wasn't perfect though. In fact there was a pretty brutal stretch of bad habits with Smart that we'll get to, but overall he came up big when they needed him. 

- Love the 34 assists on 48 FGM. That's another thing from the preseason that carried over. Outside of some rough patches, the ball movement was what we want to see. A total of 5 players had at least 4 assists. That was refreshing. 

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The Bad

- Let me just get this out of the way now. It was bullshit that Evan Fournier burned us like that. Especially after all we did was support him. So Brad didn't want to give him 80M or whatever, big deal. The frustrating part which I'm sure they'll correct on film was how often they went under screens against him in that OT. Who's idea was that? Fight through the screen for me one time. You keep going under, a shooter like Fournier is going to make you pay once he gets it going. That was so frustrating and one of the downsides of this switch everything defense.

Switching is fine, in doses. I'm not sure Ime's approach should be to switch everything all the time. We saw last night the downside of that both in terms of guarding the three and also what it does to the defensive glass when Rob has to switch to the perimeter and they are only playing one big. 

- It's cliche, but if you don't take care of the ball in this league, you're probably not going to win. A total of 18 TOs led to 17 Knicks points. Marcus Smart had a pretty brutal stretch in the fourth where we saw his bad habits show up again. It wasn't just some shot selection, but it was his carelessness with the basketball. Jaylen and Tatum had 7 combined. That's simply too many.

- I didn't think Nesmith or Pritchard looked all that good, so that's something to monitor. They played only 11 minutes and while we all learn what Ime's rotation will be, I think I would have liked to see more Pritchard given how Schroder was shooting the ball. Neither guy hit any of their threes going a combined 0-7 (0-5). Considering they are the bench snipers, I would call that less than ideal.

- So let's talk about Jayson Tatum. It was without a doubt one of the worst shooting performances of his career. He airballed a potential game winner. He finished 7-30 (2-15). He took only 5 FTA. It was gross. I'm not someone who hates that end of game shot either. I'm consistent here. A lot of the heat Tatum is getting for not passing would not exist if he made the shot. I'm OK in that spot having someone like Tatum take that shot regardless of what his night has been. We've seen him come through time and time again in games just like this.

What I didn't like is this part

That's the bad habit I'm talking about. This is the opposite of what I want Tatum to do. Especially on a night where he didn't have it going

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He didn't have to settle, but you could tell he was looking to shoot his way out of the slump. These are the moments where you would hope Ime would instruct Tatum to be more aggressive, but that never really came.

- Speaking of Ime, he made his first big time mistake last night not challenging the Jaylen Brown charge with 2 minutes left. It was pretty clear that Kemba was moving, my guess is he would have won it. He said afterwards he didn't want to waste the timeout, but I'm not sure I agree with that logic. It was a huge momentum play, who cares about the time out. That proved to be pretty costly.

The Ugly

- These shots haunt me even the next day

Both equally brutal, Jaylen's fine he had tired legs but still, just lay it in. The Schroder one, I got nothing. Gotta make your wide open layups in that spot. A 5 point lead could make or break the game right there. 

When it comes to Schroder, the fears of his shooting showed up. Just 5-16 overall, that's not great. Him and Smart were 10-30. He was a team worst -16 in his 32 minutes. I can live with spotty outside shooting, I'm not sure I can live with blowing wide open fastbreak layups.

- 60 points in the paint allowed and 14 2nd chance points. That's where they missed Al Horford. Ime didn't play a backup big at all in this game, and the Knicks size took advantage.

At the end of the day, a frustrating loss for sure but I wouldn't exactly get all bent out of shape about it. Make no mistake, the Celts blew this prime opportunity and that's not what you want to see, but overall it wasn't like they got blown out or didn't show up. They lost a double OT thriller by 4 points. Shit happens. Now learn from your mistakes and tighten some things up moving forward. Getting Horford/Richardson should help a defense that looked bad at times. If this is how they play this season, they'll be just fine. So long as we don't get any more 7-30s from Tatum that is.

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