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It's Been A While, But The Celtics Finally Had A Game In Which They Played Like Complete Shit

Dylan Buell. Getty Images.

The good news is the Celtics just finished the month of February with the most wins in the NBA this month at 9-2. If the Heat don't win today (8-2), only the Jazz (8-1) will have a better winning percentage for the month of February. The bad news is you could make the case that the Celts had a pretty damn good opportunity to go 11-0. The only losses we saw the Celtics have were on the second night of a back to back in which a bad team was fairly unconscious from three. The Pistons, who are 26th in 3PM and 29th in 3P% made 16 3PM and shot 53% from deep. Then last night you had the Pacers who are 17th in 3PM and 25th in 3P% (6th and 5th since the deadline) made 17 3PM and shot 51.5% from deep. In both games, we saw the Celtics defense looks like dogshit, but the point is if the only way the Celts are going to lose games is playing on a B2B with a team uncharacteristically making threes, I can live with that. 

What this doesn't do is excuse the performance we all watched yesterday, it was gross. They were outplayed pretty much from the opening tip. But sorry if I'm not going to get all bent out of shape with a loss like this. Again, it was just the second loss all month. Here's a little secret, the Celtics are going to lose again before the season ends. They weren't going 22-0 after the All Star break so I think it's OK to call this what it was. The Celtics played like shit, and then paid the price for it. It doesn't undo everything we've seen over the last 8 weeks. It's just an annoying loss that you should have been able to avoid and it sucks to blow a potential opportunity to close ground on the teams they are chasing. That's pretty much it. 

This team still woke up today closer to the 4 seed than the 7 seed. It's been a long, long time since we've seen the Celts have a performance like this. The last time they lost by 20+ was December 3rd, on the road against the Suns with no Jaylen playing. It's February 28th. That's 87 days and 41 games ago. It's happened only 3 times all season. So yeah, there's plenty of reason to not freak out. Games like this don't really happen this season. 

But I'll say this. With maybe the most important homestand of the season on deck, the Celts cannot play like what we saw on Sunday. They won't win a game. Before we focus on that though, we first must relive what we saw yesterday, even if it wasn't pretty.

The Good

- Not a whole lot of bright spots to talk about from this game, but Jaylen certainly was. He was one of the few that actually had anything going offensively, and honestly, they probably should have played through him a little more

Remember against the Pistons when Jaylen had 27 but it was clear his role was mostly to be a scorer and attack mismatches? I liked how not only was he efficient in this game (10-16), he also led the team with 8 assists. There wasn't that sense of tunnel vision that you can sometimes experience watching Jaylen. On the defensive end, I'd say he was OK from the standpoint that nobody really went off against him. His two most frequent covers were Malcolm Brogdon (17 possessions) and Buddy Hield (14 possessions) and Jaylen gave up a total of 4 points. That's not bad! 

As is so often the case, it usually comes down to their approach when talking Tatum/Brown. Tell me if you think this is a shot chart you like to see from Jaylen

I'm going to say yes. With no real rim protection out there, I thought Jaylen did a good job of playing inside/out. That was pretty important considering the Celtics as a team couldn't throw a pea in the ocean. So while the scoring and the efficiency are great, it;s the 8 assists that truly stood out for me. Dating back to the DET loss before the break, Jaylen now has at least 6 assists in 3 of his last 4 games. That's the type of playmaking and ball movement I think we can all get behind.

- One of the questions after the trade deadline was if one of the young guys of the Nesmith/Pritchard/Hauser trio could step up and provide some consistent outside shooting with this newfound opportunity. I think the only one we can say with certainty that has, is Payton Pritchard

Since the trade deadline, Pritchard is now up to 39.3% from deep in 16 minutes a night. He's shot 41% from three in the month of February. There are still parts of his game he needs to work on like consistent rim pressure, actually hitting the paint etc, but in terms of what his #1 role needs to be which is knocking down threes to create spacing? Pritchard is delivering. Starting on 2/15 when his minutes started to flirt with around 19 a game, Pritchard is shooting 43% from deep. You can tell he's playing with more confidence because now he knows Ime isn't going to just pull him for a mistake. Then 3 games go by and Pritchard never sees the floor and any progress he may have been making is halted. Now, he's getting consistent run and we're seeing the version of Pritchard that we all know and love. I think it goes without saying how important it is that spot in the rotation is able to knock down threes at a high clip. It's good to see Payton getting back to that.

- Rob was probably the final guy I would say had a decent game.

Not really going to complain about 10/11/3 with 4 blocks on 50% shooting with 7 OREB. He was everywhere on both ends to be honest. I love how he talks shit when blocking shots and how the mics always pick it up, and then on the offensive end, his energy on the glass makes a real difference. Would have been nice if his teammates helped him out in terms of scoring 2nd chance points after those OREBs, but the activity is what I care more about. 

Given who the Pacers had in their frontcourt, I would expect Rob to have a game like this. It's nice to see the consistency aspect of his game this year. This is an every night thing. Considering he got the entire 4th quarter off on Saturday, you could tell he looked fresh.

- That's it. That's all we're doing. I mean they lost by 21 fucking points what do you want from me.

The Bad

- OK, where to begin. I suppose we can start with the shooting. It's been a long time since the Celts shooting issues have cost them a game. Like, a long time. Even in that Pistons loss they shot 54/40% so that's not one. You have to go all the way back to January 28th against the Hawks. They scored 92 points and shot 34/19% as a team in that one, and that was 14 games ago. This isn't to say there haven't been games since in which they've shot poorly, but it's the first time we got the combo of poor shooting AND poor defense since that Hawks loss. 

Go up and down the list and it's not pretty. Grant didn't make a shot and only took 2 FGA, Tatum went 7-22 (2-12). Marcus 5-13 (1-7), White 4-10 (1-5), and when it was all said and done the Celts finished with 42/27% splits as a team. Not surprising they lost a game in which they shot sub 30% from three. That tends to happen. The annoying part of yesterday was how stubborn they were about it. Of their 91 FGA, a total of 43 were 3PA. Just do the math on that. If they were 39-91 as a team and went 12-43 from three, that means they were 27-48 on 2 pointers. That's 56%. Pretty good! Maybe ya know, take more twos! Drive more to the basket! It was clearly working!

Instead, what did we get? Settling for bad offense and poor shot selection. Going for homeruns and not singles as they tried to make their comeback. That's the shit we know doesn't work. I don't know if this was tired legs from the B2B or what, but I know I didn't like it. Here's how brutal the shooting ended up being

On "open" looks, the Celtics shot 4-14 (28.6%)

On "wide open" looks the Celtics shot 8-23 (34.8%).

That's 12-37 (32%) on either open or wide open looks. Shit happens. 

- What we also saw was the downside of running an 8 man rotation so early in the year. Needing to play everyone big minutes, including 37 from Horford the day before just to beat the Pistons clearly impacted what we saw yesterday. Horford got the night off which meant more Theis minutes and those ended up being mostly a disaster. Some bright spots at times, but overall he got cooked repeatedly. Oshae Brissett ate him for lunch, cooking Theis for 11 points on just 9 possessions and never missing a shot. 

This is I think the concern everyone has about needing to rely on such a short rotation at this part of the season. The burnout factor can be very real. It also gives you games like yesterday where maybe you're forced to play guys you normally wouldn't.

The moral of the story here is don't fuck around against the bad teams and force your main guys to play heavy minutes just to win. Yesterday is an example of what can happen.

- How weird was yesterday? Well, the Celts hit their magic number for assists (20), finished with 24 and still lost. That doesn't really happen all that often. They are now 32-20 when they hit at least 20 assists. It's not like they weren't moving the ball, which is annoying to still lose all because guys can't make shots. 

- Always fun when an official misses a call, gives a tech, and then goes up to the player after the game and apologizes for getting a call wrong. That's what happened with Jaylen on his little dust up and you could tell he was rather annoyed by it

Not too different from the play on Saturday when Isaiah Stewart threw Smart to the ground and got a tech, yet somehow Smart was assigned a foul. Just some weird calls these last two days.

- Listen, I know he brings value in other ways, I get it, but I have to talk about this just like I would with anyone else. Derrick White's outside shooting is in a big time valley right now. Since his debut when he went 3-7, White is shooting just 20% since. He's at a brutal 6-29 in those next 6 games. I know who he is as a shooter, so I keep my expectations in check. I don't need 40%, but I sure as shit need better than 20%. Either knock em down, or use your size and get into the paint where you have proven to be more than effective. 

- Not much you can do when things like this happen

Combine that with a career high 6 4PM for Brissett and the Pacers were on one of those nights. Credit to them but at the same time between that prayer and the Buddy Hield end of shot clock prayer in the 4th quarter, sometimes you just have to tip your cap.

The Ugly

- The calling card of this team is defense right? So where was it. In fact, where has it been for the last two games. By my calculations, the Celtics have played just 1 good quarter of defense in their last 8. Let's have a look shall we? In their last two games they've given up 26, 28, 28, 22, 27, 39, 27 and 35 points. That is HORRENDOUS. I talked before the game about how the perimeter defense was going to be a big factor and what happened. Not only did they in no way guard the three point line which gave the Pacers shooters all the confidence they needed, but they were also very bad at limiting penetration from the Pacers guards. Brogdon (known Celtics killer) and Haliburton got to wherever they wanted and they lived in the paint. I mean look at this

Very bad! 

The Celts Drtg over their last two games is 119.6, good for 24th. They gave up on average 116 points a game with opponents shooting 48.6/40%. That is NOT the elite defense that we've seen for the last 8 weeks. In fact, it looked a whole lot more like the October defense which stunk out loud. I'm sorry, but giving up a 39 and 35 point quarter in the same game in which all you were missing was Horford is excusable. We can't puff out our chests when this team locks down everyone under the sun and then just pretend like what we've seen against the Pistons and Pacers is anywhere close to being acceptable. 

If this is how the Celtics are going to defend, nothing else will matter. There was no real resistance, they gave up wide open three after wide open three. What do you think is going to happen?

- You combine that with what we got from Jayson Tatum, and yeah, no shit the Celts lost. We're at the point where there's probably around 10 games where if Tatum simply shoots his season averages, which aren't even that good, the Celts win. The whole 7-22 (2-12) thing isn't going to cut it. I mean 31/16% splits are flat out gross. I don't know why he was so obsessed with his three, when he clearly can get to wherever he wants on the court when he's aggressive.

The fourth quarter was maybe the most brutal part. Tatum took 6 FGA, 4 of them were threes, none of them went in. It was everything about his approach that we hate, and it gave us a result that is all too familiar. This team usually goes as Tatum goes, and when he has a stinker like this it's a pretty big deal since he's the highest volume shooter.

- In fact, the approach from everyone in that fourth quarter was horrible. It's been a while since we've seen a fourth with this type of production

and it's so frustrating. At no point should 70% of your FGA be 3PA on a night where you are unable to make a shot. Especially when you are trying to comeback. 4th quarters have been better in 2022 as a whole, but yesterday was right back to the early season bullshit that got us in this mess in this first place.

So here we go. Perhaps the entire season could be dependent on what we see over this next stretch of ATL/MEM/BKN/@CHA/DET/DAL. In fact, the Celts now have the 4th toughest remaining schedule in the league. They did their job, they took advantage of their weaker stretch of the schedule and got back into the race. Now it's time to show up against good teams and that starts with this stretch of 5 of the next 6 at home. Take care of business and I'm pretty sure most people will forget about this annoying ass loss to the Pacers.