The Celts once again had an opportunity to get over the .500 hump and once again they failed that test. Missing two starters against a team that's 5-1 at home and on an offensive roll meant they would essentially have to be perfect defensively, and they weren't. It meant that guys were going to have to step up and the team was going to have to cash in on their open looks. They did not. Of the Cels 8 losses, some aren't as worrisome as others. Nobody should get bent out of shape losing close in 2OT or on a Luka game winner. But others are more concerning. Blowing 19 point leads in 15 minutes, playing with no energy at home, and then a game like this. Big picture, losing by 11 on the road missing 2 starters isn't the end of the world. At the same time, we saw one of the Celts fatal flaws get exposed and that SHOULD concern you. On a night where Tatum finally snapped out of his funk, the rest of the roster didn't really come through. When you combine ineffective defense with extremely poor shooting, this is what happens. You're not going to be beat good teams on the road with that mix.
The Celts had been able to survive their offensive issues recently because of how tight their defense has been. Part of that was who they played, but this entire month we've seen them show up on that end and it's reflected in wins. What we saw last night was what happens when you have a bad 4 minute stretch against a team that is loaded with shooters. They make you pay. Any sort of error on the defensive side is going to be magnified because of their lack of offense right now.
So they now sit at 7-8 which by all accounts stinks. There's context around that 7-8 sure, but it's still bad. We're seeing why dropping all those early games was so significant. You never know what is going to happen injury wise so you have to win games you're up by 19 in. Their schedule isn't going to get any easier, so this will continue to be an uphill climb especially with how inconsistent they seem to be as a group offensively. When you add in a night like last night where you struggle on both ends, yeah that's probably not going to work out too well for you.
- The shame in this was partly wasting a solid Jayson Tatum performance. It wasn't just about his totals, it was also the first time in a long time we've seen him be anywhere near efficient.
Tatum finished 12-22 (5-12) and this was the first time in 5 games he shot over 50% in a game. In fact, he;'s don't it just twice since 10/25. That's nearly a month. I'm not ready to say everything is suddenly back to normal with Tatum, he's going to need to show us a much larger sample than just 1 game considering how he's started the season before I truly believe he's snapped his funk.
But what I did like and what does give me hope was his approach. We got a much more aggressive Tatum in this game. Even with the Hawks having a shot blocker on the floor, Tatum still used his size and strength to repeatedly attack the rim. He's now taken 13 FTA over his last two games which is a positive trend. I thought he showed up in every quarter which was nice to see, especially his 10 point fourth quarter. Lord knows he needs help in that final frame. There was no disappearing, and outside of a little turnover issue this was easily Tatum's best performance in a couple weeks. It's certainly important for the success of this team that Tatum get back to being Tatum, and if this is what gets him going then great.
- Grant got a lot of shit last year and rightfully so. He was virtually unplayable. Then he didn't play in Summer League and we were all wondering why, considering the last time we saw him play he looked like he could use the reps. Well, Grant slimmed down and has turned into a serviceable reserve forward
On a night where the Celts just needed someone to step up and provide secondary scoring next to Tatum, Grant rose to the occasion. His 3 3PM made Grant the only other Celtic besides Tatum to make more than one three. He didn't turn the ball over a single time in his 30 minutes and he was fairly successful in his primary matchup against John Collins (21 possessions) holding him to just 4 points on 1-3 shooting. He also wasn't bad on Trae Young in switches wither (10 possessions) holding him to just 2 points on 1-3 as well.
For as justifiable as it was last year to crush Grant due to his mostly horrific play, we should also keep that same energy and acknowledge when he's been solid. I find myself trusting any corner three Grant takes, in fact I almost get mad when he doesn't take one, and that is a long way from what we once were.
- Josh Richardson being the only bench player to show a pulse was certainly not great from a larger discussion about the second unit, but he was solid in his 27 minutes off the bench. He was easily the best reserve wing on the roster which is why I have no problem that he got the majority of the bench wing minutes, and honestly, JRich has been fine ever since Jaylen went out. In his 5 games since he's putting up 11/3.6/1.8 on 51% shooting in his 28.8 minutes a night. That's the good part. The not so great part is the 31% three point shooting but we knew this about Richardson going in. He's at his best when he's attacking and getting into the paint, not spotting up for threes.
- I loved what I saw from Marcus as a passer in this game. A total of 11 assists and just 2 TOs, his passing has been awesome these last 6-7 games. Since the DAL game he's averaging 7 assists to just 1.5 TOs, which is exactly what we all want from him. He's accepting his role and as expected the assist numbers are starting to come.
- OK, where to start. How about on the defensive side. For a team that cannot score, preventing the opponent from scoring becomes that much more important. That's not really rocket science. So when the Celts come out and give up 30, 28, and 33 points in the first three quarters, I wouldn't exactly say they succeeded in that challenge. It started with the 52/50% and 5 3PM first quarter. You remember, the one where they just didn't seem to think guarding Kevin Huerter was a good idea despite the fact that he started 5-6 (4-5). But hey, Tatum and Grant showed up offensively so they survived.
Well then you get to the second quarter and it's another 28 points on 55% shooting. Suddenly the Celts offense disappeared and this is where the game started to swing. This was a 1 point game with 4:41 left in the second quarter (41-42) and the Celts ended that frame giving up a 16-5 run. Suddenly it was 9 at the half.
Which brings us to when they got the nail in the coffin. That third quarter. Easily the worst defensive showing of the night allowing 33 points on 60/50% shooting and 7 3PM. Suddenly, the lead ballooned to 16 and that was it. They had no answers for John Collins (5-5), everyone started knocking down threes, even their bench (3-5) so it didn't matter that the Celts got back to scoring in that frame. When they don't defend, nothing else matters. I dunno how many more times I have to say it.
- This game was filled with massive momentum swings, and two instances really stood out that came in the third quarter. Shit that only seems to happen to this team. With about 5 minutes left and a four point game, we had this Smart missed layup
Was he pushed? Sure, but that's a layup I still need you to make. Naturally, this immediately led to a Hawks three. Then, on the very next possession, we had this point blank miss by Horford
which, you guessed it! Immediately led to another Hawks three. So, down four, the Celts miss two point blank plays at the rim and the lead immediately becomes 10. Listen, I don't have crazy expectations. I just need guys to convert wide open looks from 1ft away. I feel like that's a reasonable ask.
- Not great when the starting backcourt finishes 9-22 when Tatum really needed the offensive support. Honestly, it was worse than that final number too because Schroder made some buckets when the game was over to bring him to 6-12, but when this game was in the balance in the 1st-3rd quarters, he was 4-10 and Smart was 0-5. They had a combined 5 TOs to just 4 FGM in those three quarters. That stinks.
- Then there was the bench production, or should I say lack there of. Richardson was the only bench player to score and he had 11 which was fine, but the rest? Hot garbage. Everyone else was 0fer. Kanter missed all his shots from point blank range, Nesmith and Pritchard barely play and look like they have no confidence, and Romeo only took two shots in his 13 minutes. Cam Reddish on the Hawks bench nearly doubled up their scoring by himself (19 points).
Obviously, when two bench players are moved into the starting lineup, that's going to impact your bench production. At the same time, that's still no excuse for putting up 0s. Pritchard fine, he played 90 seconds at the end of the game, but Romeo and Nesmith got some rotation minutes when it was an actual game, and they provided nothing offensively. Bench points ended up being 32-11 in favor of the Hawks. You're not winning on the road when that happens.
- As expected, Trae killed this team in P&R. John Collins was great with his short roll and Trae was nails in terms of passing. The ball comes out so quick, we saw why they are one of if not the best P&R teams in the entire league. It's the ultimate pick your poison.
- As bad as the defense may have been, the glaring issue that's much more concerning is their overall shooting. This marked the third straight game the Celts couldn't break 100, and while the 11-41 (26%) from three looks bad, it's even worse when you look closer at it.
On the night, here's how the Celts did in terms of their outside shooting
6-20 on "open" threes (30%)
4-18 on "wide open" threes (22.2%)
That is laughably terrible. Since Jaylen Brown went out, the Celts are shooting 29.9% from three as a team. That's 29th in the NBA. If you expand that to the entire season, even with Jaylen they come in at 32.3% which is 26th. It was the one thing we all were nervous about heading into the year and the production has been as poor as we feared. All I ask is they not be the worst shooting team in the NBA. They can even kind of suck! I'm not asking for much. Be average! An average three point shooting team puts the Celts record at like 9-6 as opposed to 7-8 and we feel a whole lot better. That's literally how low the bar is at the moment and they can't even seem to do that.
Last night was a great example of where the lack of shooting comes into play. I think we pretty much have to rule out the idea of Pritchard/Nesmith being knock down shooters until ya know, they actually knock down shots, so with Jaylen out it's left Ime with a tough choice. He has to play lineups of Schroder/Smart/Richardson and that is just not enough consistent outside shooting. We all know this. Brad knows it too I'm sure. You surround Tatum with three perimeter players that are going to shoot in the low 30s and then the fifth guy being Horford who has his own struggles from deep, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that this team couldn't buy a bucket.
When guys are healthy and they can play within their normal role, it's not as much of an issue. But we're seeing that when someone like Jaylen is out, the guys that then have to increase their role and take these shots just aren't as reliable.
This is a long way of saying that with the contracts on his roster and a 17M TPE to use at the deadline, it wouldn't shock me if Brad looks to add more proven veteran shooting because the roster needs it.
And hey, things get no easier tomorrow night. LeBron is coming back and last time I checked he's pretty good while playing in the Garden. The Lakers may be a mess as well, but they are different with LeBron. Maybe Jaylen/Rob are back, but either way we are going to have to see a much better effort on both ends if this team wants to get back to .500. They need to close this month as well as they possibly can because December is an absolutely brutal month. So far this season we haven't seen the Celts be able to make consecutive steps forward, and at the moment they are what they are. An average team with a ton of potential that can hang with anyone when they play up to that potential. When they don't, you get games like last night.