I said at the beginning of the month when the Celts were about to head out West that this was a legit opportunity to learn about who they are. They were playing well, they seemed to find a way to dig out of their early 2-5 hole, but this 5 game West Coast trip would be the type of test to give us a true look at where they stand, whether that ended up being positive or negative.
The result? It's not what you want. Not even close. Now, even if you account for Jaylen missing all 5 games and now 14 of the 27 on the season, that doesn't really change my overall thoughts. This team is nowhere close right now. Not if they play like this. As a grade, I give them a D- for this trip. I'd give an F, but I use the One Bite rules. Can't be an F to me if things could have been worse, and they could have gone 0-5 which would qualify. So D- is what you get. As close to a fail without actually failing. While it was nice to see Tatum start to resemble the All NBA player we're used to, pretty much everything else was the exact opposite of what we were hoping to see. Let's go through the list
1. The defense was absolutely horrendous for all 5 games
2. The team did not play anywhere close to a consistent 48 minutes in terms of energy and effort
3. They could not have been more careless with the basketball
4. They couldn't shoot for shit
5. They lost to multiple teams missing more than 1 of their better players
6. The coach seems to not be able to keep things in house and has been quick to make it seem like none of this is on him when talking to the media
7. Confusing rotations
the list goes on and on. The initial hope was 3-2. You would have taken 2-3 if it meant beating the Suns on the road. Instead what we got was a disasterous 1-4. The two LA games were so huge in my opinion. Coming off a POR win, they had an opportunity to keep things rolling and get to 15-11. Instead, they dropped them both, then you had to go into the best team in the NBA's gym where they haven't lost in 11 games and suddenly the Celts have lost 4 of 5 and are sliding with no let up once they return home. Hard to imagine a worse spot to be in and really they have no one but themselves to blame. When you look at how they lost some of these games, it's self-inflicted shit. It's careless and lifeless basketball. It's falling back into bad habits that we know this team can't continue to do.
It's honestly pretty simple. Given how the roster is constructed and then who is or isn't available, the Celts margin for error is razor thin. That's already the case when both Jays play, and it's even more thin when you only get one. That means if the Celts don't play to their potential or their ceiling, you're going to see them get their ass kicked. That is not the case with every team. Teams like BKN/MIL/UTA/PHX/GS/etc can play like shit and still win. They have a larger margin for error. So when we see the Celts play to their floor, it's horrendous basketball. We see them start to press when shots don't fall and things snowball. It's why we see the down 18 only to come back and bring it within 3 then only to lose at the end because they ran out of gas so often. They are simply not good enough to have games where you turn it over 17+ times and still win, yet they continue to do just that. They are not good enough to give up over 110 points every night and still win, yet they continue to do just that.
The Celts don't even have to overachieve either! They honestly just can't be absolutely terrible. That's it! That's the bar. I'm not expecting them to be perfect or anything. I am just begging them to look like a functioning basketball team for more than the initial 12 minutes of a game. Be below league average in a bunch of areas and their record looks different. Instead, they've been near the bottom of the league during this trip and that's reflected in their 1-4 record.
So with that said, let us dive in.
- You know what? We all have to do our part around here. If the team is going to continue to play like we've seen over the course of this trip and Ime isn't going to do a damn thing about it, I will. That's right, I'm pulling a move normally saved for when we see this team lose 5 in a row. I'd say 4 in 5 is good enough given the basketball we just watched so the decision has been made. We're skipping this section. Someone has to send a goddamn message.
If you've been reading this blog for the last 7 years you know that I will take any opportunity to find a sliver of positivity despite the overflowing pile of shit we may have watched the night before. Well, not today my friends. If the Celts are going to continue play like complete ass then they get no spinzone from me. We'll revisit next week.
Let's move on.
- Where to start. For me, I want to begin with one of the more disturbing trends we saw this trip, and that's on the defensive end fo the floor. Safe to say the Celtics defense did not make the trip out West, and the results speak for themselves. Didn't matter who was in or out on the teams they played, it was consistently awful
UTA - 137 points
POR - 117 points
LAL - 117 points
LAC - 114 points
PHX - 111 points
In 4 of those 5 games, the Celts opponent shot over 47%. Last night the Suns finished 45/37% so not exactly what I would call great either. Since the start of this trip, the Celts had the 26th ranked defense in the NBA with a 119.2 rating and gave up 119 points a night (26th). Remember their October struggles? The Celtics had the 25th worst defense with a 110 rating and gave up 119 a night (30th). Guess what? If the Celts are going to be at the bottom of the league defensively they aren't going to win shit. That is especially true when playing actual good teams, which is what the month of December is. That looks mighty familiar doesn't it?
It's why despite their offensive issues (which we'll get to), at the end of the day it always will come back to their defensive effort and execution. Even without Jaylen there are still enough defenders available to not be at the bottom of the league. Have some standards for the rest of the roster. Tatum, Smart, Horford, Rob, Romeo, Grant, Schroder, etc is enough to play serviceable defense, and at no point on this trip did we see that. Even in games when the offense actually made shots, none of it mattered because the Celts immediately gave those points back.
The Celts finished that trip with the 6th best offensive rating in the NBA over those 5 games. They were 5th in points per game at 115.6 and shot 47/35% from the floor. That should be good enough to win, but it obviously wasn't because the team stopped defending at an acceptable level. Now some of those games like UTA, you just take that on the chin. But the rest? Inexcusable. The Lakers stink, the Clippers were without two of their best players as were the Suns. You can't hold those teams to under 110 points? Grow up.
- Really rough trip for the Celts frontcourt. All three of Rob/Al/Enes were pretty terrible. Outside of some sweet lobs, I'm not sure Rob did anything other than turn the ball over. Defensively he was ripped to shreds these last two games, he's had big time turnover problems and when you combine those things it's tough to give him legit minutes.
With Al, the regression is fully underway. Maybe that was expected, but we can't praise him when he looks lights out and then ignore when he comes crashing back down to earth. Just like Rob, we're not seeing Al make nearly enough of an impact on either end. He shot just 42/23% on this trip, and really struggled to make his open threes. His ability to consistently be that safety valve is what is so important to this offense when Jaylen is out. He had just 2 blocks on the entire trip, and wasn't quite as effective staying with quicker players off the dribble like he was to start the year.
It's why I think you saw quotes after the game about evaluating potential lineup shakeups. This is not to say the double bigs didn't work early in the year, but it's time to rethink things, even with Jaylen out. Especially if Horford is going to come back down to earth a little bit.
- Like I said, just don't be completely fucking terrible and see what happens
- Offensively, it was more bad habits. A whole bunch of standing around and watching. I have a few questions about this.
1. Is Ime calling plays?
2. Are what we are seeing are the actual plays he's calling for?
3. Are the players just ignoring that and doing their own thing?
I ask these because what would you say the strategy is for this team offensively? OK cool, they give a quick high screen to open a possession. Then what? Where's the movement? Whether it's standing around and watching Tatum dribble or standing around and watching Schroder dribble only to then pass it to Smart with 1.6 seconds left on the shot clock, how is that offense? It honestly looks the exact same as the shit we saw last year so I think it's a valid question.
This isn't a case of Tatum being selfish or anything either. He's making the right passes despite the results. This is more about their overall offensive scheme. You want to know why they struggle to score? Look at their shot profile. Look at how teams that actually seem to have a clue offensively get cleaner, more efficient looks. The Celts on the other hand are hoping either Tatum bails them out or someone makes an end of shot clock prayer. It's almost as if they waste the first 10 seconds of every possession just passing it around the perimeter or holding the ball with no real purpose. Then once they decide to actually do something, if the first option gets shut down, the Celts are fucked.
- One issue with this is Ime's stubbornness on the current starting lineup when Jaylen is out. By starting Schroder, you're saying you want his offense in the starting unit. This takes the ball out of Smart's hands as a playmaker and forces him into an off ball role. That is NOT how to best utilize him. It's how you get 1-13 nights with 0 assists. That's fucking terrible. On top of that, Schroder only had 3 assists and 3 TOs as the starting point guard. You can't play him off ball either because he's just as streaky as a three point shooter.
So why the hell is Ime hell bent on keeping them on the floor together? We know the offense runs smoothly when Smart has the ball in his hands and can focus on facilitating. That is not possible as an off ball player and is easily fixed by simply staggering them. Now he's the one getting these bailout end of shot clock passes where he HAS to chuck it up. That's on the coach and lineup choices, plain and simple.
- I also didn't love his decision to pull Tatum at the 6 minute mark when he was literally on fire. It messed up his entire rhythm by the time he came back in the second quarter and guess what? He was off. The team struggled offensively and the blowout was on. While Ime has had issues at the end of games in terms of rotations, his early sub patterns haven't been great either, especially when his best player was rolling.
- The Suns took the lead with 31 seconds left in the first quarter to go up 25-22 and the Celts never even tied it the rest of the way. Awesome stuff really.
- Not exactly what I would call the best Tatum performance. He struggled from the floor (10-25, 1-7) and finished with 4 TOs. As we know, that is the kiss of death
Just 1 win all season when Tatum has more than 3 assists. If he's not going to shoot well, he cannot make things worse by also turning the ball over. He certainly wasn't the only one careless with the ball, but as their highest usage player, that's not great.
- The Clippers game it was Brandon Boston Jr. Last night it was JaVale McGee going for 21/15 and making his first three of the season. Of course he did. What you saw last night was the difference in roster depth. The Suns finished with 7 players in double figures, their role players (Bridges/Crowder/Payne/Johnson) went a combined 23-44 with 11 3PM. In terms of only bench points, the Suns won that battle 40-28 and most of those Celts points were in garbage time.
Not exactly news to suggest the Suns are much better, but last night was a pretty obvious example of why.
- I think we all pretty much said the same thing after the first quarter. Another case of where they played well, but we all knew what was coming next in the second quarter. Sadly, that worst case scenario is exactly what happened
15 points on 26/0% shooting only to then lose the quarter 32-15. Once again, the second quarter lost the Celts this game. You'll notice this was a trend on this trip
I'll go back to Ime's rotations/lineups. This is why it makes no sense to start Schroder. You desperately need his offense with the second unit to start these second quarters. We've seen enough of a trend to know this, so Ime has to adjust. If he doesn't know how, I'll fucking tell him
Starters when Jaylen is back: Smart/Jaylen/Tatum/Grant/Rob or Smart/Jaylen/Romeo/Tatum/Rob
Bench: Schroder/Richardson/Grant or Romeo/Nesmith/Horford
Starters w/o Jaylen: Smart/Romeo/Tatum/Grant/Rob
Boom. Easy. This addresses some of your clear spacing issues the current starters are experiencing and gives you more scoring punch/defense on the second unit so you don't have 32-15 quarters. Can we at least see it? What's the harm if what we're currently seeing is obviously not working anymore. Time to adjust.
- I don't think we saw anything from Nesmith/Pritchard that blew us away, which is why it's a tough spot for both. In theory, their shooting should help, but they are playing with 0 confidence right now. Shooters need confidence, and inconsistent run has been brutal for each guy. If you're not defending anyway, what's the harm there in actually given them run when it matters?
If they aren't part of your future, fine. But you're not going to get shit for them by giving them inconsistent minutes. You have to showcase them, and they can't possibly improve their value while playing with zero confidence.
Look, things get no easier once next week rolls around. We knew this. We knew December would be a make or break month if things truly went south. So far, what started out as a promising month as nose dived. The Celts have time an opportunities to finish strong, but how could you feel confident right now they will? They have no chance if the type of play we're currently watching continues. It's no where near good enough, and it's coming from pretty much everyone involved.