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The Celtics Finally Lost A Basketball Game And All It Took Was The Majority Of Their Best Players Not Playing

Vaughn Ridley. Getty Images.

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. You may not believe this, but the Celtics lost a basketball game. Sure it was a back to back with 4 of their 5 starters not playing, but it did indeed happen. I wouldn't worry too much about it though, mostly because since 1/29 the Celtics have lost a total of 4 games and of those 4, 3 came on a back to back and the other was a 3 point loss to Luka. 

Essentially, the only way this team has been able to lose in two months is playing a back to back. I can live with that. At the same time, I still woke up annoyed today. That was a game this team should have won, even shorthanded. If we're going to be honest about their play, they choked at the end. I wouldn't call it their early season 4th quarter collapse type of performance, but I would say their execution down the stretch was god awful. Your logical brain throws it out because obviously not having Tatum/Brown/Al to close certainly makes a difference, but the selfish part of my brain doesn't really care. This was a winnable game that the Celts fumbled away. That's still annoying no matter who plays. 

At the same time, you have to love the fight we saw from the group that did play. All things considered, it's encouraging to know that the Celts reserves can go on the road on a back to back and hang with a playoff team that had won 8 of 10 heading in. If you're someone who really wants the 1 seed, things are OK. Celts win tomorrow against MIA, they'll be back in the top spot. After tonight, they will be moving up to at least the 3rd spot on their off day with MIL/PHI playing each other. Things are fine, even with this frustrating loss. It's one of those wins you'd like to have simply for the shit talking purposes. That's really all we were robbed of last night. With how amazing things have been for the last 3 months, I can't get too worked up about losing a game last night, but I will say there were several things that give me cause for concern that will actually matter once the regular guys play again.

What might those be? Well let's talk about it

The Good

- Maybe my biggest takeaway from last night might be how confident I am that Aaron Nesmith is going to play his way into the playoff rotation. That might be a crazy sentence to some, but you can see it. He provides everything Ime loves. He plays HARD at all times, his energy creates a level of chaos that often times leads to swing momentum plays, his defense is actually pretty good and he's starting to play with more and more confidence which is only going to help his jumper

My main concern with Nesmith is more around how reckless he is with his body. This man does not give a shit about his own health. The way he keeps falling makes me very uncomfortable. That shit looks like it hurts so bad. He's a real life Ralph

When it came time to make a big time shot, it was Nesmith who answered the prayer in the corner with just under a minute left. What a huge shot for him and his confidence and it was clear the rest of the roster knew it

So it's a shame it ended up being all for nothing, but it cannot be overstated what an opportunity Aaron has over these last handful of games. There is a need on this roster for legit backup wing play if Aaron is willing to take it. We're going to see a whole lot more 1 big lineups with Rob out, and I think if you move Tatum to the 4 then sliding Aaron to the 3 makes some sense. Especially since he doesn't really need the ball to be effective. Let him make all the hustle plays and then knock down his open corner looks. If he keeps playing like this, Ime will reward him. It starts on the defensive end where Nesmith is getting better and better, and if you play hard you'll see the floor on a consistent basis. 

- In his first game in the post Rob world, Daniel Theis certainly responded well

I'm not sure what more you could want. A double double with 2 blocks on 5-10 shooting in 41 minutes is pretty much the ideal night for Theis. I'd say this is close to his ceiling in terms of the production he'll give you, maybe sprinkle in some threes here and there. We all know how important he now becomes the rest of the way this season, and if this is the type of Theis we get on a consistent basis things should be OK. 

Maybe the most surprising part of Theis' night has to be that he only was called for 1 foul in 41 minutes. I didn't even know that was possible for him. It goes without saying that his ability to stay on the floor without picking up fouls will be pretty important moving forward. 

- I find it incredible how locked and loaded Sam Hauser is at all times

Guy never plays and yet every single time he checks in and shoots the ball, he never even comes close to touching the rim. It's a little nuts really. There's no "warming up" for Hauser. He stays ready. In 22 games this year, Hauser is shooting 45.5% from three(15-33). Chances are you'll never actually need to rely on his shooting, but it's nice to know it's there if you do ever need it. For so long this roster has needed that shooting specialist, and considering every time I see Hauser on the floor he is swishing threes, part of me things he could be that guy down the road.

That may seem crazy, but the reason I think that is not just because of his lights out shooting, but also because he sneaky held his own defensively? I'm not kidding, it wasn't a disaster! If you're telling me that Hauser can at least be a neutral defender in his minutes, I'll have no problem giving him some minutes down the stretch here. 

- I dunno where that first quarter came from but I most certainly did not expect to see this active roster go out and drop 38 points in the opening 12 minutes. Granted their offense immediately went to shit following that first quarter but those 12 minutes were pretty great. In fact, this team's ability to score 112 points despite missing about 70+ points of offense is pretty damn impressive. I wouldn't have called you crazy if you wondered if the Celts would break 80 in this game, and yet they went blow for blow offensively with a playoff team. That deserves some credit. 

- There is really only one part of Smart's performance that I'm putting here. You may think that's nuts for a guy who had 28/10/4, but to me the only area where I would say Marcus was "good" in was his defense

The Bad

- OK, everything in these next two sections should obviously be taken with a grain of salt, but we can't sit here and ignore all the things that ended up contributing to this loss. Some places might, but I will not. I am a slave to the truth. Let's start with the biggest issue in my opinion.

Turnovers.

When you play the Raptors, you cannot do two things. Give up offensive rebounds, and turn the ball over. So what did the Celtics do? They gave up 16 OREB and turned the ball over 17 times. The TOs were the killer since they led to 26 Raptors points. In a 3 point OT loss, that feels pretty important. The worst part is I'd say about 85% of those TOs were live ball mistakes which immediately led to easy fastbreak points. Considering the fastbreak point difference was 24-11 in favor of TOR, that feels significant. 

The concerning part was where they came from. Marcus Smart had 7 TOs alone, and so many of them were him trying to split doubles only to see the ball going the other way. Then there was Grant's 4, where too many of them came from simply not being able to dribble. Brutal late game turnovers from both these guys down the stretch heavily impacted the result. Those are two starting caliber players so there's really no excuse for it.

- It was fairly evident that the Celts were not prepared for the TOR length which is a little confusing because this was not the first time these two teams have played. Everyone knows the Raptors reach on everything, especially when you put the ball on the floor. They are really really good at it and why your handle has to be tight if you want to drive on that defense. The Celts couldn't stop exposing the ball and as a result it ended in 11 TOR steals which led to easy points. It was everyone honestly, from Smart to White to Grant. When you're careless with the ball, it tends to end in losses.

- You may be wondering where the Marcus video was in the above section. If we're being honest, this wasn't the best I've seen Smart play. His role had to switch to now being the #1 option, and he finished 10-25 (2-11) with 4 AST and 7 TOs. That's not something I would call good. More importantly, a few problem areas stuck out to me.

The decision making down the stretch in the fourth was not exactly great. Poor 3PA decisions in the last few minutes, and then once we got to under a minute it's a pretty bad look to hold the ball for an iso, only to then turn it over and not even get a shot off. I hold Smart to a high standard and while everyone could see he was battling his ass off, the Raptors did expose his limitations a little bit.

One thing to keep an eye on as we get to the playoffs is how TOR defended Smart. They doubled him frequently and he really struggled. That's mostly because he barely has to see that, but we know the NBA is a copycat league. 

- Smart wasn't alone though when it came to rough backcourt play. Payton Pritchard went 3-12 (2-9) and Derrick White 4-16 (3-8). That means their three guard rotation went 17-53 (7-28) with 11 TOs. That's brutal. Derrick White clearly had no legs by the end of it going 0-4 in the OT period and it's hard to win on the road against a decent team when your three guards are that inefficient and careless with the ball. 

It also felt like we had a little bit of an early season Ime situation where he was a little stubborn with his lineups down the stretch. I'm not really sure why Pritchard never saw the floor in OT, maybe because he played 10 minutes in the fourth to White's 5? It was just so clear that White didn't have the legs so I was confused as to why Ime never put Payton back in. 

- If I have one true concern from this game, it's that we saw some of the glaring issues of a post Rob world. Yes, not having Al matters, but the Theis/Grant frontcourt had all sorts of problem protecting the paint/rim. The Raptors knew right from the jump that there was no size issue down low, and both Siakam and Scotty Barnes feasted. That's a concern for me moving forward because we are going to be getting some Theis/Grant lineups moving forward with no Al. Teams are going to abuse this team down low when that happens. 

It's not as if the effort isn't there for Grant/Theis, it's simply a size issue. For certain matchups, they just aren't big enough. Theis struggles when guys can drive at him at the point of attack, just like Siakam did. The numbers aren't pretty. In 19 possessions of Theis vs Siakam, he had 16 points on 8-13 shooting. In 26 possessions of Grant vs Pascal, he had 15 points on 6-7 shooting. If the Celts are going to survive in a post Rob world, those two have to be much better defensively in their individual matchups.

- The Celts inability to get a rebound late in the fourth quarter is ultimately what sealed their fate. That's where you miss Rob/Al/Tatum. The FVV threes don't happen if someone just grabs a rebound. You allow multiple possessions at the end of games, the Basketball Gods will always make you pay. 

- You could make the case the Celtics win this game if they simply make their fourth quarter FTs. Going 6-10 in the frame simply cannot happen in a close game. Leaving points on the board is never a good plan, so that's where the frustration comes up for me. Just make your FTs and you have maybe one of the most impressive wins on the season.

The Ugly

- The late game offense we saw made me want to vomit. It was everything we hate about how this team sometimes closes games. There was no ball movement, guys stood around, and the Celts either missed inefficient looks or turned it over. To not even get a shot off in either of your final two possessions with under a minute left is just pathetic execution. Again, this was mostly Marcus and Grant at the end and they are two normal rotation guys. They are guys who will be playing in a playoff series so it's not like they were inexperienced. They just executed like shit and it ultimately cost them.

- Then once you get to OT, while it's understandable they went 1-9 given they had just played the night before, it's not as if things looked any better in the extra frame. The fact that there was even an OT to begin with was annoying and completely avoidable and yet, they couldn't.

- The Celts gave the Raptors life with their second quarter performance which was one of the ugliest quarters you'll ever see them play. Look at it

Not sure where else you would like me to put a 20 point quarter on 38/14% splits with more TOs than FGM. That seems pretty ugly to me and essentially anyone with eyes. 

Big picture? I feel more encouraged than upset. Annoyed sure, but seeing how this team competed and fought tells me more about what type of team they are than the result. I don't love throwing away winnable games and there were things we saw in terms of the Raptors approach that gives me some concern moving forward, but it's not as if the Celts were going to win every game they played the rest of the way. You give a proper effort and go down swinging, I won't complain. It matters way more to me that they approached this game with the right mindset and didn't just mail it in because all their best players got a rest day. You keep that approach with everyone back and things will be fine.

Can't lie though, I really miss Rob.