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Brutal Late Game Mistakes Combined With Some Luka Magic Was The Latest Recipe For Another Frustrating Celtics Loss

The Celtics have now played 10 games, and almost half of their losses have come in an excruciating fashion. We've had two separate 2OT losses, a blown 17 point fourth quarter lead in which they ultimately lost by double digits, and now this. A Luka game winner to bring them to 4-6. That record stinks, I'm pretty sure we can all agree there. How much you're choosing to freak out about it given what I just laid out is your own personal choice. I will say, it's important to have both a long and short term view. In the short term, last night was just another infuriating loss that hits you right in the stomach. You feel that shit in your bones, and it's maddening. But then you also have to step back and look at the big picture. The Celts, without their best player and his backup, went toe to toe with one of the best teams in the West. They clawed their way back into a game they had no business being in given how it started. It took a generational player to make a perfectly defended shot to win. That's nothing to be ashamed of. Even on this trip, they went 2-1, which is something I think most people would have asked for, and the good news is one of those wins was an in conference H2H against the Heat. 

In my opinion, a loss like that night just gets magnified a little bit because of who was involved and the overall situation the team finds themselves in. Everyone is on edge until things get straightened out. I'm way more upset about their loss to CHI than I am a game like last night. At least this team showed some fucking guts and played their way back into it after getting down by 19 points. That means more to me long term when I think about this team moving forward. They've showed us all year they are going to keep battling. We do not have a 2020 Celtics quit problem. You hope that eventually, water will find its level with this excruciating loss shit because frankly, the Celts are in no position to be throwing games away. 

But alas, they did throw another game away. And because we do not just blog when things are great, we must get through it and turn the page. Let us begin.

The Good

- As much as that ending to last night sucked massive donkey balls, I'm willing to accept it if it means Jayson Tatum is finally going to be out of his slump. What we saw was a version of Tatum that we have craved as fans. A version that we knew was always possible because it's who Tatum is. He's not the guy that shoots 26% from three. He's the guy that can take over an entire game and put a team on his back, which is what he did last night

It wasn't just the efficiency (12-19, 6-8 from three) that we ALL needed to see, including Tatum. It was the types of shots he was taking and making. The quick pullup three off a high screen, the side step three, the one legged turnaround, that's how we knew Tatum was locked in. He took just 2 FTA and scored 32 points. He led the team in rebounding, was tied for steals and blocks, and held his primary matchup to just 3 points on 20 possessions. This was easily Tatum's best performance of the season in my opinion, so while it sucks that it was ultimately wasted, it was great to see him show up when the team desperately needed him to. 

Even on his drives, it felt like Tatum was moving with way more purpose. He didn't go up soft and look for the foul, shit that drives us all mad because he never gets the call and then he complains rather than get back. Last night he finished at the rim with much better frequency, especially in big moments. The question now is can this truly be the performance that gets him back on track, or will he fall back into his 3-13 rut. Given what we saw last night, I'm hoping for the former.

- We're not really talking about it, but Rob has sneaky been playing a ton of minutes and is showing no signs of wearing down. Another 33 last night, he was about as solid as you could ask for a starting center with 16/8 on 7-8 shooting

This was the 5th time this season we've seen Rob break the 30 minute mark in their first 10 games. How about this for reference. Last year we saw just ONE game where Rob played 30-39 minutes. In both 2018-19 and 2019-20, it happened a total of zero (0) times. That alone is insane, but it's great to see that all this new time on the floor is something he can clearly handle. The lob to Rob is still very much an elite play. His bounce looks great after it looked like maybe he was trying to be more conservative to start the year. I know his extension was a hot topic for some, but to start the season he looks like a guy that is absolutely playing to the level that justifies it. He even hit his huge FTs late in the fourth so there's not much to complain about right now when it comes to Rob.

Sure there's some positional stuff he can clean up defensively, but he was solid last night.

- The Dennis Schroder experience was a tale of two halfs. The first one was mostly terrible. On a night where they needed his scoring, he started just 3-9. The second half was when we saw him really start to take advantage of his speed once the Mavs decided to switch, and the Celts don't claw back into this game without him. He finished 6-13 in the second half, and he and Tatum were what jumpstarted the comeback

Sadly, he also had some pretty costly mistakes which we'll get to, but he should be given props for how he played for most of that second half. I thought Schroder was much better about over dribbling in this game, he was tied with Smart for the team lead in assists (6), and his potential assists (15) were right in line with Smart as well (13). You could see the issues of starting both Smart/Schroder when one of the Jays is out and what it means for their overall shooting, but you also see what they can both do defensively to claw back into a game. That's why Ime probably puts up with the lack of shooting if you had to ask me. 

- I know moral victories are fucking lame, but I find it hard to not walk away impressed with the type of resolve we continue to see with this group. Every game they seem to find themselves down double digits, and every game for the most part they regroup and find a way to come back. That's refreshing considering we've been used to a team imploding the second they face any sort of adversity. That is not the case with the 2021 Celtics. They haven't figured out yet how to close games, but watching them I know they're going to compete and not have the whole "woe is me" mentality when things don't go their way. Given the way they started this game, they could have been blown out by 30. Instead, they nearly stole it without their second best player. I can't possibly see that as a negative. 

The Bad

I dunno, call me crazy but it's usually not a good thing where over an entire 48 minute game the largest lead you ever have is 2 points and there are only 2 lead changes in said game. Not only that, but it's even worse when you finally get that lead with 2 minutes left and all you have to do is close out the game and you have one of your more surprising wins of the season. 

To make matters worse, this all happens in a game where you took more FTs, won the points in the paint battle 54-40, won the second chance points battle 16-8, and only turned the ball over 11 times. Normally, you do all those things you tend to win. Last night, not so much.

- After playing so well against the Heat, Aaron Nesmith got another shot with both Jaylen/Romeo out and boy did it not go how we all hoped. I'm talking 0-5 (0-4) for a total of 0 points and a -12 in his 20 minutes. That's pretty killer when they desperately needed bench scoring. Not too much better for Pritchard either who was just 1-3 for 2 points in his 10 minutes. 

It was a little shocking to see two of their best shooters unable to throw a pea in the ocean, but then you step back and realize that outside of Jayson Tatum, the entire roster had a shooting problem. Tatum finished 6-8 from three which is very good. The rest? 3-23. That's a cool 13%. Is it too much to ask for everyone else to only be kind of shitty and not completely pathetic? Like, can we go….5-23? Still really bad, but good enough in a game like last night. This is similar to what we saw when as a team they went 2-21 or some shit. In today's NBA you cannot win consistently if you're going to be so bad from the outside. The thing is, a lot of them were open! 

The Celts were 1-12 on "wide open" threes in this game. 1 for 12 with no defense in sight. There's your ballgame right there folks. The Mavs were +21 points when it came to wide open threes. Sometimes it really is just a make or miss league.

- Once again we saw this team get killed by their inability to grab defensive rebounds. Whether it was the back to back OREB the Mavs got before the big Reggie Bullock three from the corner, or it was shit like this

or it was Tatum not boxing out on Porzingis in the play immediately following that clip, there's no denying that late game rebounding was an issue. You simply cannot give a team so many chances and think they won't eventually burn you. The rebounding honestly wasn't bad for most of the night, but it sure was when it mattered most. 

- Anyone else get the feeling that whenever Luka had the ball in a big moment when the Mavs absolutely needed points that he was going to come through every single time? Credit to him, that's why he's Luka. But given his size and his vision combined with his ability to make "bad" shots, what a force.

- The Celts also have a Jalen Brunson problem. He has killed them each time we play the Mavs. I don't know if it's his style, if it's the fact that he's quick as shit, who knows. What I do know is he's going to be highly efficient and there's nothing this team can do to stop him. Brunson is having an awesome year so this is not a fluke or anything, just something I've noticed these last few games against DAL. He kills them.

- Let's talk about the Smart play with 30 seconds left. This guy

Is that a foul? Probably. I imagine the L2M report will confirm it. Even still, that's not really the point. Situation matters. Knowing the NBA changed their rules matters and plays like this that are close are most likely going to go to the defender this year. That's just life in 2021. Smart tried to draw contact, and even if he technically did, it shouldn't surprise you they didn't call the foul. I just wish he kept going rather than pull up. He beat Porginzis to the spot which is why he went up with the contact, but there was still plenty of time on the shot clock to continue attacking the paint. Even if they still come up empty in terms of points, it brings the clock down even more. Perhaps the ending is different if the Mavs had 7-9 fewer seconds once they get the ball. Maybe Smart is able to draw an actual foul once he touches the paint. 

There are a lot of what ifs you could talk about, but this was not the best decision I've ever seen.

- The same is true for Schroder in his late game situations. Getting blocked by Porzingis is whatever, he had beaten him previously so I'm fine with it. At least he took it to the rim. But this?

Way too late in terms of finding Smart in the corner. Waiting those couple seconds/additional dribbles is what allowed Brunson to cheat down and ultimately get a hand on the pass. Look at how open he was earlier in the play

That's just a brutal turnover in that spot. Those extra dribbles are what allowed THJ to rotate over and take away the driving lane which forced Schroder to pass it late. Brunson was already cheating down and that was that.

The Ugly

- But of course, we cannot talk about horrendous late game decision making without talking about the Smart foul. Yes, it's just as bad this morning as you remember it

Don't ask me to explain it. Don't ask me to spinzone it. You can't. It's one of the worst bonehead mistakes you'll ever see. Such bad situational awareness JR Smith blushes when he watches that clip. Even if Ime tried to say he needed to be better at reminding everyone not to foul, fuck that. Marcus Smart needs to know better. He is not a rookie. This is not his first rodeo. There is absolutely no justification for even entertaining the IDEA of fouling in that spot let alone actually doing it. Make Luka beat you with 6 seconds left on the shot clock. At the very least you in theory have a chance to respond if he either makes it or you get the DREB. But by fouling him in that spot you eliminate all of those possibilities. You allow Luka to take his time and get to his spot, and I think we all knew he was making that game winner. No doubt in my mind. That's what the Basketball Gods do when you commit such a dumb mistake like that.

Now, because it's Smart, of course Celts fans went nuts on Twitter last night saying this play lost them the game and he needs to be traded. That's of course, extreme. That one play did not lose them the game. No more so than Scroder's TO or messed up DREB did. Or maybe the 11 point first quarter. Or Tatum not blocking out Porzingis on the putback with 1:40 left. I think it's OK to acknowledge that this was one of the dumbest things we've ever seen while also understanding that this one play was NOT why the Celtics lost. Luka still had to make his insane shot.

The overall point is that dumb mistake took away any chance at a response and it allowed the Mavs to have a possession with little stress. That's why it was bad. 

- But I look at their first quarter, a frame in which they scored just 11 points on 28/11% shooting as much more of a factor in the result than that one foul. That poor start had them climbing up hill from the opening minutes. That's much more of an issue than a brain fart late. 

So while the ending was once again shitty and frustrating, there's reasons to be encouraged moving forward. Tatum looked like Tatum, the team as a whole showed great resolve etc. I'm also still a little nervous about their inability to close out games. This was not a one time fluke when it came to executing late in games in high pressure situations. That still needs a whole lot of work. But a 2-1 trip is most certainly not a disaster, but the Celts absolutely need to start stacking wins because their dreaded December schedule will be here before you know it.