There are certain losses you can deal with. The Jazz loss for example, think back to how you felt after that one. Surely you were disappointed because the Celts played well, but what are you going to do when a team makes an insane 27 3PM. You take that one on the chin but are able to move on rather quickly. That is not the case with what we experienced last night. In fact, while the results are the same, those two losses could not be more different. For starters, losing to the Lakers will always be embarrassing. The same way the wins mean more, so do the losses. That's how the rivalry works. We've now seen these teams split the season series each of the last 6 seasons, so you could say this was just par for the course. In fact, the last time we've watched the Celts sweep the Lakers was the Isaiah season in 2016-17. Isaiah was 3-2 all time against the Lakers and 3-1 as a starter. Just thought I'd remind people.
Anyways, in a game the Celts could have really shifted the momentum not only on the trip but their overall seeding, they laid an egg outside a few players. Collectively though, they were gross and frankly should be embarrassed by how they played. Doing it on the road against that team only makes it more annoying. If you're someone that was hoping for a 3-2 West Coast trip, that now means winning both tonight on a back to back against the Clippers and then against while facing a rested Suns team. You could tell me 3-2, 2-3, or 1-4 are on the table and I'd believe you. It all depends on what version of this team we get, and the only consistent thing about them so far is that they're inconsistent. Not just game to game but quarter to quarter.
If there's one thing we know about this team to remain true no matter what season it is, it's that they refuse to make things easy on themselves. Why take the easy path when the hard one is available. That's the life we choose whether you like it or not. Now I'm curious to see how they respond to the adversity on the road against two legit teams. We normally see the Celts respond rather quickly rather than let things snowball, but they are about to enter a run of LAC/PHX/MIL/GS/NYK/PHI which is why throwing away winnable games is probably not the smartest thing to do.
We'll get that answer later tonight, but first we must relive the shit sandwich that was last night. If we all wanted to pound our chest and talk about when the Celts blew this team out, we also have to talk about when they got their own asses kicked. That's how it works.
- If there is one positive to take away from that gigantic pile of shit that was this game, it's the fact that Jayson Tatum looks a whole hell of a lot more like the All NBA Top 15 type player we both know and love, and honestly need him to be
You knew he was going to show out in this game because the man loves to show Lakers fans what they passed on by taking Lonzo. He torched this team in Boston, he gave them the business in LA, and once again I will ask you to look at what this man has done since the calendar flipped to December. Despite all the panic about how Tatum doesn't have the "it" factor or "care about winning" because of his shooting slump to start the year, the reality is he's doing exactly what he's done his entire career.
We're talking about 32/10/3.5 on 51/43.8% splits with 3.5 3PM a night. Does this mean he has the "it" factor now? It's all a little confusing. The guy was uncharacteristically missing open threes and layups to start the year and some out there attributed that to him not being "the guy". Well, that must mean now that his production has skyrocketed and it's coming against good teams that he must now have "it"? He even showed up in the fourth quarter with 11 points on 5-6 shooting, and that was an area Tatum has struggled in this year as well. If his overall production as well as his fourth quarter play is going to keep looking like this, big picture the Celts will be fine. The most important piece to their puzzle is Tatum, and having his version of him on a consistent basis is exactly what we were all hoping for.
In addition to his scoring, I would also say Tatum was solid when it came to moving the ball as well. He continues to make the right passes, especially when teams double, and it just comes down to his teammates making shots. Last night, they didn't. Tatum finished with 3 assists, but also 9 potential assists. All you can ask is that he continues to trust his teammates and doesn't force things, which Tatum has been good about doing. As long as Tatum plays like this, the Celts will always have a chance.
- Then there's Rob. Easily one of the most exciting players in the entire NBA to watch. The shit he does on a basketball court simply makes no sense.
What other player in the NBA are you seeing REPEATEDLY throw down alley oops over Anthony Davis? Like, legitimately on the man's head. I can't remember ever seeing that happen, and most certainly not from a Celtics big. But Rob is different. He's an athletic freak who seems to get better and better as he gets more experience.
Last night watching him basically have his head in the square, all I kept thinking was we're watching prime Lob City DeAndre Jordan from a dunking perspective. He's not quite the rebounder that Jordan was during those days, but finishing at the rim? Rob is elite. You can literally throw the ball anywhere and he's going to go up and get it. Doesn't even have to be by the rim. While it makes me nervous every time he lands, he walked away healthy and that's truly the most important thing.
- The first quarter was great for the most part. The team played with great energy, Tatum was rolling, they shared the ball to the tune of 10 assists on 12 FGM. Richardson came off the bench and gave them instant offense (9 points, 3-3 shooting) and it looked like the Celts had figured stuff out.
Sadly, we were reminded that there are in fact 4 quarters in an NBA basketball game, but that first quarter (57/45%) was pretty fun. If they could find a way to bottle that up and save it for later that'd be great, because what immediately followed should probably be avoided at all costs.
- OK, where to begin. I suppose we could start with where the game started to turn, which was the 2nd and 3rd quarter. First it was the 8-22 (36/0%) shooting in the 2nd that killed the early momentum. OK, fine, NBA teams go on runs. Things were still within reach once we got to the 3rd, only for the Celts to back that up with a 5-16 performance (31/16%). They finished that 3rd quarter with the same amount of TOs (5) as FGM. When has that ever been a recipe for success? As you can expect, the Lakers blew it open in that frame and that was that.
What we saw was what happens when the offense disappears. I know things have been great on that end to start this trip, but this team still really struggles to find ways to prevent these massive scoring droughts. Going 13-38 (34%) is nowhere close to good enough to beat anyone on the road, let alone a motivated Lakers team. If you take out Tatum's 3-9 over those two frames, the rest of the Celts were 10-29. That's pretty pathetic against a team that can't really defend.
It was the same type of struggle we've seen for most of the year. When it came to "open" looks, the Celts shot 37% on 2P FGA. At least they were good from deep on open looks shooting 40%, but on "wide open" looks from deep they were just 2-12 (16%). That's tough to stomach. Al was 0-4 in his "wipe open" looks from three, Schroder missed both his wide open threes and Smart missed his only wide open look (2 total 3PA). At some point, the supporting cast has to knock down wide open looks. If we're being honest, you could probably discount the two Pritchard made threes because the game was over, which means when things mattered, the Celts were 0-9 on "wide open" looks. That's pretty bad.
- For the Celts to survive and win games without Jaylen, it's imperative that the secondary scoring not only show up, but come in an efficient fashion. Let's take a look at how those secondary scorers did last night in their effort to support Tatum
Al Horford: 3-9 (1-5)
Marcus Smart: 2-7 (0-2)
Dennis Schroder: 1-6 (0-3)
Josh Richardson: 4-9 (1-4)
That's obviously nowhere near good enough. Getting absolutely nothing on either end from 3 out of the 4 guys on that list is not a recipe for success. In fact, it's exactly how you find yourself getting blown out. You may say, well Schroder had 5 assists and Smart had 6! That'd good! I say…..meh. All 5 of Schroder's came in the first quarter. Smart did not have a single assist in the second half. Getting this low of production from your starting backcourt is an issue. Schroder didn't take a single shot in the entire second half, Smart went 1-4 and they had a total of 0 assists and 2 TOs in their second half minutes. Who is winning like that?
If we want to praise both when they play well, we also have to acknowledge when they're pretty shitty. This was easily the worst we've seen Marcus play in about a month. There was no impact offensively either through scoring in the paint or distributing, and defensively there was even less of an impact. Same goes for Schroder. Neither guarded their position well on one end and then did more harm than good on the other. It's one thing to overcome when one of them plays like this, but to get it from BOTH guards in the same game is not great.
- It was also a pretty rough time for Grant to have one of his worst showings in a while too. He didn't make a shot in his 13 minutes and finished a team worst -21. When Grant has more fouls and TOs than points/rebounds/assists combined, things usually aren't going to work out in the Celts favor. Honestly outside of Richardson, the entire bench rotation was ass. With the starters struggling, you feel that impact even more.
- I don't know what Ime's plan on LeBron was this year, but it in no way worked. We saw him shoot 62% in the first meeting, and last night he had the best shooting night of his season, finishing at 68%. To put it simply, LeBron did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and the Celts had no chance of slowing him down. It's been that way for a while now. I didn't want to type that sentence, but it's the truth. All I can do is call it like I see it. The Celts defense has not figured out how to slow this man down for some time now, and it doesn't really matter what players they throw at him or what scheme they try.
- Very disappointed in the effort we saw on the glass in this game. How the hell does Rob only have 1 DREB in 24 minutes? Only two Celtics had more than 3 total rebounds in this game. That's pathetic. They allowed 13 OREB which led to 18 2nd chance points for LA. The Lakers missed 45 times in this game, yet were able to corral nearly 30% of their misses. That is about as inexcusable as it gets. Rebounding is about effort, and when you hear the coach and players talk about how they had a lack of effort, I point to what we saw on the glass as a prime example
If you can't get up against the Lakers, I dunno what to tell you. I get that shooting percentages and shit like that will fluctuate. Playing hard is something you can control. You aren't going to win shit on the road against good teams if you don't play hard or with a consistent 48 minute effort. I'm not sure why the Celts think they can when there is a large body of evidence that suggests otherwise.
- Don't let the final numbers fool you. The Celts may have finished 10-33 (30%) from three, but when this game mattered things were much worse. I'm talking like 6-23 when the game was in balance. That's a cool 26%. It's honestly crazy, just don't be absolutely pathetic and you probably win! You can still be bad, maybe shoot like 34%. But time after time this team finds ways to end up being way worse. Not ideal!
- If you don't think watching the #1 FT shooting team in the NBA go to the line and miss 9 FTs was painful for me, you haven't been following me for very long. I can live with the bad shooters missing, like Rob missing 1 is whatever. But the rest came from good FT shooters. Leaving points like that on the board was the twist of the knife. One of those nights I suppose. Celts actually had the FTA advantage in this game and they wasted it. That's on them.
- This section feels like the place where we should discuss the #1 issue here, and that's the Celts inability to defend on this trip. I don't care what happens offensively, everything will always come back to the defensive end with this team. The proof is in the pudding when you look at it. To start this trip, the Celts have had the #2 offense in the NBA with a 126.9 rating. They are 2nd in the NBA in scoring at 125.7 a game, shooting 50.8% (3rd) from the floor and 41.3% from three (8th). You would think with offense like that they're winning right?
They're 1-2 on the trip so far, and all you have to do is look to their defense. It ranks 28th in the NBA over this span with a 125.3 Drtg. They're 28th in opponents points at 123.7. Teams are shooting 51/40% over this stretch. In no game have we seen the Celts hold an opponent to under 117 points or under 47% shooting. So you see, it really doesn't matter how good the offense might look if this team is going to revert back to playing the worst defense in the NBA. Scoring points is fun, but ultimately if you're immediately giving points back what good are they?
The concerning part is a game like last night. We know the offense is going to be inconsistent. What this team needs to rely on is their defense, and when that doesn't show up the team doesn't win. Just look at their October and then compare that to this 3 game stretch. It's the same shit. it could not be more clear what the key to this team's success is
If they don't defend, they die. I don't care what the offense looks like. I'll win games 88-87. Fine by me. I much prefer that than not being able to stop a nosebleed even though the team is scoring. That shit sucks.
- When it came to their defensive struggles, it's obvious where the problem was. Points in the paint. The Celts as a team actually protect the paint/rim fairly well. They only allow 43 points in the paint on the season, yet last night they allowed the Lakers to score 66. That's horrendous. Ime said after the game that the plan was to force the Lakers to be jumpshooters and not allow them in the paint/at the rim. Especially their three stars. This is how they did with that
Yikes guys. LeBron got to the rim with ease and very little resistance. Russell Westbrook took over in the third quarter to give the Lakers separation because he was able to live in the paint at the rim. It was the exact opposite of what we saw in the first meeting, and no surprise that's the one the Celtics won.
This isn't just on the bigs either. I'm looking at the perimeter defenders first. If the guards/wings are providing no resistance, there's only so much you can expect the bigs to do. Add in the switching scheme at times and the Lakers feasted. No other way to say it.
- I know Ime is getting some flack for pulling his starters with 5 minutes left in a 14 point game, but I think we have to remain consistent here. One thing most fans begged for was a coach that would hold the players accountable, even the starters. Well, that group looked lifeless. We saw nothing in their play that suggested they were going to make a comeback, and with a B2B the next night I have no problem with it. Ime held them accountable, just like we all said we wanted
Maybe that will help send a message, but time will tell.
There is still an opportunity for the Celts to end this trip on a positive note. It just became harder, but it still exists. One thing I think we can all agree on though is they cannot play like we saw last night. If they do that, they won't win a game the rest of the month.