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After Another Embarrassing Loss, The Celtics Inability To Stop A Nosebleed Defensively Is Now Costing Them Games

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

Coming off the first loss of the year with an absolutely brutal collapse against the Bulls, I think we all were interested in seeing how this Celts team responded last night. They had another billion days off to get rested and look at the film to see where they needed to make adjustments, and the Cavs were a great test. They have size, they have talent, and they had been playing well as winners of 3 straight heading into Friday night.

What we learned, was that pretty much nothing was fixed during that time off. Nothing really changed from the CHI loss in my opinion. The same issues that existed in that loss were present last night. Call it growing pains of a new season, call it a lack of mental focus, call it whatever you want. The point is what we are seeing on the floor right now is simply nowhere close to being good enough. What's clear to me so far through 5 games, is that the Celts are really having an issue consistently imposing their will for a full 48 minutes. Right now, we get it for about 2 quarters a game. That's the most noticeable difference to me so far. 

Their identity last season for the most part was the second you stepped on that floor and in between those lines, the Celts were going to make your life a living hell on both ends. Frankly, there was nothing you were going to be able to do about it. 

This season? Opposing teams are comfortable. Confident. Not a shred of fear that they won't be able to execute whatever they want on either end.

One thing we all talked about heading into the season was how this team would respond now that they were no longer the hunter, but rather the hunted. They have the target on their back now. As of today, they haven't really figured out how to stop getting the best shot from everyone they play. A team like the Cavs are looking to make a statement with a big win on the road in your building. The Celts matched that by basically only playing well from the 6 minute mark of the first quarter until halftime. 

The reality is, up 19 against the Bulls and up 15 last night both turned into losses. Not only that, they were two head to head losses against teams the Celts may be in a seeding position battle with come the Spring. Even with these games taking place in October, they matter. The East is too good this season to be throwing away wins like this, which is where a lot of my frustration lives. 

For the second game in a row, the Celts couldn't avoid playing like assholes. For the second game in a row it cost them a double digit lead. Just like we did against the Bulls, please join me as we blog through this pain as well

The Good

- Here's the thing about this game though. Despite the horrific ending, there were still a bunch of good shit that happened. It was an entertaining game minus all the pain and anger I experienced as I watched it unfold. On some level that's why this shit is so annoying, because when this team plays to their potential and plays well, they look virtually unstoppable. Whether it was Tatum's 32

or Jaylen's 32

usually, when you get a performance like that from those two it leads to an automatic win. I believe the Celts were 11-0 or something close to that when both guys had at least 30, so last night would mark the first time they've ever lost. That's fun. 

Despite the loss, there were still things I loved about each guy's night. I thought Jaylen was terrific in transition the entire game. He is so athletic that when you get him the ball on the wing in any type of transition situation, it's as if he's playing a different sport. I feel like he gets faster in those moments, and once he gets that half step on you, Jaylen then uses his size to finish through you. He can finish with either hand which goes a long way in helping his 1.28 points per transition possession. Jaylen is shooting 69% on transition plays to start the year which is a huge bump up from his 54% last season. Not too shabby.

With Tatum, everything felt balanced. I thought his shot profile to start this game was perfect in terms of an inside/outside approach, he was efficient and he was aggressive. It got to the point where the Cavs had to adjust their entire second half defense to basically double him the entire time, both with and without the ball. We're going to talk more about that because that's essentially what changed this game.

- This was also the second game in a row of a really solid Malcolm Brogdon performance. I thought the second unit did a great job of changing the momentum once things were at their lowest at 22-9, and Brogdon played a huge role in that. He led all bench scorers with 9 points in his 22 minutes, and a 9/2/5/1 finish shows you that his ball movement and playmaking were on display as well

The one thing I'll say about Brogdon is it does feel like at times he's almost too unselfish. How do we let him know that we all want him to take more shots? The way he drives the ball with pace, I think it's more than OK if Brogdon is more aggressive. It sort of reminds me of when Derrick White first joined the team and looked hesitant at times. Almost like you want to fit in so bad you over pass instead of attacking and being aggressive. Maybe that's all it is given this is only the 5th game Brogdon has played with these guys, but when he's playing like he did last night I have no problem with him being a little more selfish offensively. He only took 5 FGA in his 22 minutes and only 2 FGA in the entire second half (11 minutes). He didn't take a single shot in his 5:41 of floor time in the 4th quarter, and the Celts scored 15 points. That wasn't great.

- It's also hard to complain about the ball movement. This wasn't a case where the Celts lost a game because offensively they played like dickheads and didn't pass the ball. There wasn't an abundance of bad isolation basketball or anything like that. They finished with 28 assists on 42 FGM. I'd say about 95% of the time when the ball moves like that and the Celts shoot 51% from the floor like they did last night, that's a win. Those are generally the benchmark numbers that translate into wins. 

A total of 5 players had at least 4 assists, including 4 of the 5 starters. Smart and Brogdon combined for 12 assists and only 3 TOs. If this is how the Celts are going to move the ball, I have zero questions about their offense. The issue is good ball movement can only do so much if you're also not going to get a stop at any point in the game. 

But you'll never see me complain about 28 assists. That's a great number.

- It is devastating the Celts are wasting these all time Sam Hauser moments

For those curious, Sam Hauser is currently shooting 53.8% from three this season. His shooting is about as real as real gets. A pure sniper in every sense. Am I ready for Joe to get this kid 7-10 3PA a night? I'm not not ready for it if that helps explain where my head is at. Every time Hauser shoots it I believe it's going in and probably not even touching the rim. I haven't felt like this since Ray Allen and I know that sounds literally insane but I don't know how else to explain it. That's the confidence I have whenever I see Hauser pull up for any kind of three.

- I do think Luke Kornet deserves a bit of a shoutout. Overall, I'd say he was fine in his minutes. Maybe even slightly good at times. His jumping to contest the corner three was hilarious and he was a +7 in his 25 minutes. Nothing that blows your dick off or anything like that, but a showing that probably earned him another crack at rotation minutes. 

Nothing awesome, nothing terrible, just solid. As a backup center, that's fine.

The Bad

- Alright, let's get into what actually matters. Let's start off with something that I think most people came away pretty pissed off about.

Marcus Smart.

Here's the thing with Smart's night. There were a lot of good moments both defensively and as a passer. But overall offensively, this was not the approach that the Celts needed on a night when they also couldn't stop anybody. People will make a huge deal about the 15 FGA, but once again I have to stress that angle is slightly misguided.

It's not a volume issue, it's an approach issue.

The problem isn't Smart taking 15 FGA, because for the most part his looks are clean that come off a Tatum/Brown double. The problem is when 9 of the 15 FGA are 3PA. That's just not the right shot balance. We know Smart is at his best when he plays inside/out, not outside/in. Too often did we see him not pass up the 3PA to instead drive into the paint either to take the floater/layup for find a teammate once the defense collapsed. If he takes 15 FGA and 10 or 11 of them come from the paint, that's not a problem. That's what I mean when I say this isn't a volume issue. 

Finishing 3-15 (2-9) isn't going to cut it. And if that is how things are going to look on one end, they have to be lockdown on the other, and that was not the case. 

- The one thing the Celts had to do against the Cavs was make a conscious effort to collectively rebound on the defensive glass. For the majority of the night, they held their own. But in the game's biggest moment?

It cost them the win. First, big time mistake by Brogdon to completely lose his man. There was no see the ball see your man happening with him on that possession. That's just rebounding 101. A shot goes up, you find a body. That's mistake #1.

Then you have Al. That's just a rebound you gotta come down with. Then, to compound the issue Al looks back with a brutal "what the fuck?" moment which allowed LeVert to get the space to launch that dagger three. I think every single one of us knew that three was going in the second he went up. The fact that this play even happened immediately after LeVert already snagged another OREB that led to a Mitchell bucket, it's fair to say this was a gigantic factor in the outcome.

That time it was Jaylen who didn't find his man. Two really bad mental errors at the worst possible time. 

- I know there are some out there who are upset at Tatum's final shot, but I'm not really one of them. Given how this team was turning the ball over, I had no problem with them not doing anything crazy and just giving the ball to their best player. I've seen Tatum hit that shot a billion times, and he's earned the right in my opinion to take whatever shot he feels comfortable with in the moment.

I do agree with Scal that they probably should have cleared out his side as he was in the post before he got going, but overall I don't really have an issue with their approach. Given how sloppy they were and how screens were being called offensive fouls late in that quarter, I didn't mind not taking the risk.

- The Celts scored 41 points in the 2nd quarter when they took control of this game. That was awesome.

They immediately followed that up with 39 points in the final 24 minutes. That was way less awesome and honestly very pathetic. They finished with 37/23% splits and 9 TOs while allowing 52 points on 51/50% splits. So over the entire second half, not only were they at their absolute worst defensively, on the other end they were arguably just as poor.

The second the Cavs put all that extra attention on Tatum, the rest of the Celts had a huge issue attacking that double. They either turned the ball over or bricked threes. This is what smart teams are going to do against Tatum, especially in close games, which is why everyone else needs to be able to take advantage of that extra attention. That's why Brogdon not taking a single FGA in the 4th is an issue. It's why Smart taking 3PA instead of attacking the rotation is an issue. 

When the offense stalls, it's usually because the team doesn't adjust to when Tatum is taken out of the equation. That's exactly how the second half went.

- It's not really rocket science. You turn the ball over 19 times, you're going to lose to a team who has a pulse. Jaylen with 6, Tatum with 4. Smart and Tatum making back to back brutal late game turnovers, it's simply not winning basketball. What did we all just have to live through 4 months ago? When this team keeps it around 12-13 TOs, they win. When they have 15+, they always lose. 

They allowed 24 points off TOs in this game, do you think that maybe was a big deal? Their defense looks like shit right? Well when you're giving up that many points simple off TOs, it's kind of hard to limit scoring. Self inflicted wounds and bad habits are the story of these last two losses. Very frustrating.

The Ugly

- The Celtics have played 20 quarters of basketball this season. If I were to ask you how many of those quarters they held a team to under 29 points, what would you say?

The answer is 8. 8 of 20. For those not great in math, that means in 60% of the quarters the Celts have played this season, their opponent has scored at least 29 points. That is horrendous. 

The Celts are giving up 61.8 points in the first half of games to start the year, which is good for 27th in the NBA. Opponents are shooting 48/42% in those halfs. In terms of total points, the Celts are currently allowing 118.6 points (22nd) and own the 26th best Drtg at 117.9. 

Like I said in the beginning of the blog, they simply are not imposing their will. Part of it was Mitchell and Top 5 Celtics Killer Caris LeVert making some tough shots, that's true

but that wasn't the case for the majority of it. Look at those highlights and you can see the issues that still exist for this team defensively. They are not fighting through screens tough enough, and then once Al or any big is caught in drop coverage, you have elite rim pressure players in Mitchell/LeVert already going downhill. There's no initial resistance to those drives. So no, this isn't really a Robert Williams issue. The guards are providing no resistance at the point of attack, and if you breakdown there you're fucked. 

In the first half, LeVert was able to get into the paint for that 5-10 footer whenever he wanted. It was the same shit we saw him do when he had 51 as a Net against the Celts. That's on the guards/wings to figure the hell out. I need Joe to realize that playing this type of drop coverage is not going to work, especially against aggressive P&R ball handers. That has to be addressed, the body of work is large enough for us to see it's not working.

While it is true that teams are hitting contested looks, the Cavs shot 61% on "tight" coverage in this game, the reason those shots are going in is because they have all the confidence in the world offensively. Once you get going due to easy looks, those hard shots tend to fall. When you can gain that confidence through easy transition points off turnovers, that's how you steal games on the road.

Until the Celtics get back to imposing their will defensively and actually providing resistance on the perimeter, they are going to continue to struggle on that end. Their communication has to be better, the effort has to be better, and they need to stop shooting themselves in the foot with TOs and OREB. All of these things are correctable, so the longer it goes without being corrected is kind of a problem.

- I think it goes without saying that the first OT performance of the year was a disaster. How do you even give up 18 points in 5 minutes? The Celts did not force a miss for the first 4 of those minutes, and that was basically the story of the night. When they needed stops, there were no stops to be found. It's not tired legs given the fact they had 3 days off, it's just a lack of execution. 

OK, so they were unable to stop the bleeding. Now we see if they allow things to snowball. Don't think for a second that their game Sunday against WSH doesn't have the potential to look like this game too. We've seen those high scoring battles with the Wizards before, especially with how the Celts are currently defending. This is a bit of a swing game because 4-2 feels a hell of a lot different than 3-3 considering they started 3-0, so while it's certainly not time to panic or anything like that, it is time for this team to stop playing like assholes and get back to the level of basketball we know they can play.