Before we begin, I do hope everyone had an awesome Christmas yesterday. Personally, I'm more of a Hanukkah guy myself but I can see the appeal of Christmas for those who choose to celebrate. With how crazy things have been these last few years I hope you were able to be around the ones you love and blah blah blah.
I'm sorry I wanted to keep going with a nice heartfelt open, but I'm still too disgusted by what my favorite basketball did on national television to really focus on anything else. I thought maybe a good night of staring at my ceiling trying to figure how a team scores just 2 points over the final 3 minutes of a basketball game would do my body good and maybe I wouldn't still be so fucking annoyed this morning. Nope! Wrong again Daniel you idiot. Still very annoyed!
I don't know what it is, but it's almost as if the Celtics live by two results. Either they win a game or they find a way to lose in such embarrassing fashion that it almost pushes you to the brink of sanity. I feel confident in saying no team in the NBA loses like this on such a consistent basis. It would be one thing if the Celts were getting killed by these teams and you could chalk it up to a talent difference. Nope! They instead choose to throw away winnable games right at the end, usually with some sort of devastating play in a huge moment. My nuts haven't even recovered yet from the dick kicking this team gave us against the Sixers like 6 days ago just for them to do the exact same shit again. It's honestly pretty sick and twisted when you think about it. All we as fans are asking for this team to do is to actually win games in which they have a 98% win probability with like 3 minutes left. Just try it. We know they love to collapse and lose, but maybe they would find that winning feels better. I am begging them to just try it out. Instead of going with the plan of being the worst team in the history of basketball when it comes to closing out games, switch it up! However their urges may be telling them to play at that moment, do the opposite. It might honestly be that simple.
Until then, it's pretty clear what this team is at the moment and where they'll forever be until they figure this shit out. They have shown that they can compete and play with any team in the league. That's not really the issue. The issue is they cannot close. Their best players have struggled in the biggest moments so far this season. It's why they are 16-17 and it's why they will stay around there because nothing else in a game matters if you can't get it done when it matters most. There's really no excuse either for the type of basketball we're seeing to close these games. If you play the right way and still lose? I think we could all handle that. But this is now the 5th time we've seen this exact same collapse from the same group. Until they prove otherwise, this is who they are. A team with legit talent that you in no way can rely on right now in a big moment. It doesn't mean you won't ever be able to, it doesn't mean they should just trade everyone, but it's the reality of the situation. The only thing you feel confident about this team right now at the end of games is that they'll blow it.
With all that said, let us begin.
- OK, so this is a little tricky given how things ended, but we're starting with Jaylen Brown's first half
We'll get to the final 24 minutes in a little bit, but it's hard to start off a game better than what Jaylen gave this team early. Every game we see Jaylen play I'm always looking for signs that maybe his hamstring is lingering, and every game I walk away feeling confident that he's not even thinking about it. The explosiveness is there, he has his legs under him on his jumper, and he continues to be the best first quarter player on this team. It's why they need to continue to play through him to start off games because the numbers and the eye test all say the same thing,
In 19 games this season, Jaylen is averaging 6.4 points on 52/49% in the first quarter. Those are by far the best numbers of any regular starter and it's why he leads the team in first quarter FGA. The dude is nails to start games and has been for multiple seasons now. When I step back and look at things big picture, Jaylen not being hampered by his injury anymore is a big time relief. Seeing him be aggressive and finish off the rim, make pullup jumpers with ease, these are all the things Jaylen does when he's feeling great. Unfortunately, he now needs a new front tooth, but that seems to be taken care of already
- I said it in real time, but we are inching closer and closer to Ime having to hold a press conference so he can publicly apologize for burying Payton Pritchard. I may not know much in life, but I know enough to declare under no circumstances should Payton Pritchard fall out of the rotation again. Period. End of discussion.
I don't care about when guys are back from the protocols. Find a way to make it work. Cut into minutes from someone else. It's so obvious what this offense looks like when there is that type of floor spacing next to Tatum and Brown. The biggest difference we see in this version of Pritchard is the confidence with which he plays. He's back to hunting for his jumper and is no longer showing any signs of hesitation, regardless of where he happens to be on the court when he decides to shoot. Call me crazy, but I'm thinking that might have something to do with consistent minutes.
Think back to earlier in the year when we would go from seeing Pritchard get DNP-CDs to playing the last 90 seconds of a blowout. That player wasn't aggressive, that player was almost gun shy if we're being honest and it was probably due to not having a rhythm but also knowing the second he screwed up Ime would probably pull him. This version of Pritchard is the one we saw last year. The one with the greenest of green lights who has the confidence of Steph Curry. I don't see how his emergence doesn't at least make Brad explore possible Dennis trades at the deadline, especially since the defense isn't even that much of a dropoff. Where they differ is the fact that Pritchard won't blow by anyone off the dribble at the rate Schroder does, but I think losing that shot creation but adding LEGIT three point shooting is better overall.
- Watching the development of Robert Williams has been a true pleasure
Every single game it seems like he does something that breaks your brain and this game was no different. I would say he's blossoming exactly how we all hoped, and remember the dude is just 24 years old. The lobs, the rim protection, the passing, the rebounding, it was all there in this game. Rob was the only starter with a positive +/-, and what more can you say about his gigantic chase down block in the closing moments. Yeah, it's a shame that the ball just so happened to end up in the hands of Wes Matthews who made a three we ALL knew was going in, but the full court sprint, the timing, the block, the effort, that's shit that I will applaud every single time.
I didn't love his late turnover despite the good intention of trying to find that backdoor cut, but overall I thought Rob was impactful on both ends which is all I really ask of him.
- I thought Marcus Smart had himself an interesting game. On one hand, his early shooting was definitely not great. Guy couldn't buy a bucket early, especially from three. He was also way too careless with the basketball. That wasn't great. But there's the other hand to consider as well. For starters, he was the only Celtic who proved to have any effectiveness against Giannis. Smart matched up on Giannis on 11 possessions which were the 2nd most of anyone, and allowed just 3 points. Not bad for a point guard.
Then there was his second half. Smart was much more in control offensively in his 17 second half minutes. He tied Tatum for the team lead in points and he did it on 4-8 shooting. In the fourth, it wasn't like he didn't accept his role either. He deferred and let Brown/Tatum take all the shots.
So to me, the work he was able to do on Giannis combined with how he played in the second half was enough for me to put him in this section.
- I continue to be really impressed with what Romeo is giving this team on the defensive end. Especially his post defense. Not only is he holding his own, but we're seeing him use great timing and athleticism to block these jump hooks/jumpers. Then on the offensive end, he's hitting his corner threes and cutting without the ball. It's at the point where I want to see more minutes of the Smart/Brown/Romeo/Tatum/Rob lineup. Even if that doesn't start moving forward, keep that in the mix. Romeo is sort of filling in that early Avery Bradley role and I think that could be the perfect fit for him. It's why I like him with the starting group because it simplifies things for him. Pay defense, make corner threes, cut without the ball. Do that and you'll get 25 minutes a night.
- Listen, I know this only happened because of the circumstances that the Celtics find themselves in. I know that when you have to play Juancho 15 minutes that you just have to take it and can't get mad for an end of bench player for doing end of bench player things. Even with that, what the hell was he doing on this play?
I can't even come close to trying to find anything even remotely explains what the thought process here was. He's looking right at Middleton when he picks up his dribble, so where does he think he's going to go? Also, does he not see Jaylen right there? Or that Rob was already under the basket? You instead choose to leave a strong side shooter who is only 1 pass away? That might be one of the worst defensive mistakes we'll see all year.
Of course, this is where not having Al/Grant/Kanter/Richardson etc hurts you, but that's life.
- I told you that OREB were an issue for this team and that if they kept screwing around with that shit against a good team it would cost them. Well, the Bucks had 15 OREB which turned into 23 second chance points. Do we feel like that may or may not have been important in determining the outcome of this game? Tatum and Rob held their own, they had half of the teams rebounds. I guess that's to be expected when you only have one true big in Rob, but that just means everyone else needed to collectively rebound. Smart only finished with 2, Jaylen with 4, Romeo with 2. Meanwhile Bobby Portis had 6 OREB by himself.
- In a game like this when your margin for error is already razor thin, it does not help when your three best players combine for 11 TOs. You got 4 a piece from both Smart and Tatum. The Celts continue the streak of losing games in which Tatum has more than 3 TOs. They have just 1 win all year when that happens.
The worst part of course is the timing of some of these things. Four of them came in the fourth quarter. Two by your best player in huge moments. In total, those 14 TOs turned into 15 points. So just add it up. Celts gave up 23 second chance points and 15 points off turnovers in a game they lost by 4 points. Fuck me.
- It was also pretty sick and twisted that all year we pray to see the Celts actually make threes, then they have a game in which they make 17 3PM and yet somehow still lose. What the shit is that? I mean what the hell. Every team I see make 17 3PM against the Celts wins. I thought that was all you needed because that seems to be all anyone else needs in order to beat this team. Now the Celts do it and they can't win? Assholes.
- I don't know how else to say it, but giving up 43 points on 70/71% shooting is bad. Really, really, really bad. Like, the worst defensive quarter of the year bad. As it always does, everything comes back to defense with this team. When they defend, they win. When they don't, they have no shot because they rely on way too inefficient of an offensive approach. That's why defense is so important. So giving up 70 points in a half is exactly how you blow a 19 point lead. You're just not going to beat anyone with that.
Once again, we saw this team go over the 110 threshold and once again it resulted in a loss. It's pretty simple, keep Tatum under 4 TOs and the opposing team to under 110. That's it. Do that, you win.
- Alright, let's talk about it. The unavoidable collapse we all feared and deep down knew was always possible but hoped we would somehow avoid. Same old story, team looks great for 43 minutes, decides to shit their pants in the last 4-5 minutes and we all get stabbed right in the fucking heart. Against the Sixers it was what, 7 points with 3 minutes and change? I see that and raise you a 13 point lead with 5:28 left. I'm talking about scoring just 2 points over the final 3:20 ending the game allowing a 21-4 run. Same shit we saw against the Bulls. Same shit we saw against the Cavs. Same shit we saw against the Spurs. Same shit we saw against the Sixers.
In the end, Tatum and Brown went 3-10 with 2 TOs in the fourth quarter. Everyone else that played in that frame did their job, but when it came time for the two best players to execute and close this game out, they failed. It was more of everything we hate. Isolation basketball with no ball movement, forcing plays into turnovers, settling for jumpers, it's all gross. The team had ONE ASSIST in 12 minutes. They shot 28/22% and scored just 19 points. I'm not sure how many more times the players have to see that this strategy clearly does not work. The decision making by Tatum late in these games has to get better. Why he reverts to this style of play in these moments is so confusing to me. Especially since he's struggling in clutch time situations this year. Stuff like this
is losing basketball. No movement, everything is predictable and that allows defenders to cheat over. Jaylen it's the same thing. He gets the ball and everyone stands and watches. I thought he did get a decent look for the game winner with 28ish seconds left, but even still that wasn't the best P&R w/ Tatum we've ever seen.
I go back to what Smart said wayyyyy back in October about these exact situations. Let's listen again.
Is that not exactly what we just watched? Every single thing Smart said back then is what happened in this game. Ime had him in the corner, the defenses knew what the Celtics were going to do and shut it down. What they didn't do is abort it and find other ways to get them the ball. You want to fix these late game issues? Try that!
Just take Smart for example. He's shown this year that he is more than willing to take that step back and be the facilitator to the Jays. We watched him do it in this very game! All throughout the game when the offense was clicking and this team was putting up points, what happened? They involved the point guard and got Tatum/Brown different looks. What they didn't do was stand around and watch. Yet for some reason in the most important part of a game, that is what they continue to do. It's maddening.
Part of that is on Ime because he's in charge of strategy and approach. He can certainly make it so that someone like Smart isn't stuck in the corner and can be used as a playmaker. Call a play. But I also need Tatum/Brown to have some self awareness here too. They may be young in age, but they are not young in NBA experience. Jayson Tatum has played 10,663 NBA minutes. Jaylen has played 9,968. They know what it takes to be successful and to close out games because we've seen them do it! So their inability to recognize or their stubbornness to continue to play this way when it is costing them games is concerning. They are the two best players, everything comes back to them. Each one of these collapses look the exact same because the same players are doing the same shit.
I don't know what Ime is calling in these situations, but after each one he seems disgusted by the lack of ball movement and approach, so where is his adjustment? If you don't want them to run iso, then call something else. If they ignore you, take them out. What isn't on Ime is the turnovers and shit like that. But the strategy or lack thereof? That's where he comes in. The Celts get to the end of these games and it doesn't look like they have a plan. That or the plan is, just give it to Tatum and hopefully he comes through. That plan stinks and it's clearly not working considering their 6-12 clutch time record.
What could have been a very promising month now feels completely different all because the Celts are unable to close out games. Two collapses like this in their last three games is so pathetic that they deserve all the heat they get as a result. It's simple, if you want to be taken seriously, finish games. Don't play 98% of a game, play 100%. If you don't, this will be your life for the foreseeable future and nobody wants that.