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The Celtics Put Up Easily Their Worst Performance Of The Season And Rightfully Got Their Ass Kicked

Andrew D. Bernstein. Getty Images.

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The thing with 6 game road trips is they're long as hell. The Celts started this trip on December 3rd and end it tonight against the Lakers to wrap up the 6 games in 10 days stretch. While a calendar and a brain tells us this has only been 10 days and 6 games, a trip like this is almost it's own mini season. Just think of how long ago the B2B wins against BKN/TOR feels. So much can happen and things can change so quickly on a long road trip like this, there are going to be bumps in the road, especially when pretty much every team you play is good.

That's what the Celts are currently going through. A long West Coast trip will have ups and downs, and right now we're in a down. We've watched two of the most disgusting Celts performances of their season these last two games, and the results speak for themselves. They really shouldn't shock anyone if you've watched the quality of basketball being played, and it's a nice reminder that against good teams in this league you need to come correct at all times. If you lay an egg on the road against good teams like the Celts have now done in consecutive games, you're going to get your ass kicked. 

Despite all the frustration you may be feeling, it is also important to remember the Celts still have an opportunity to end this long ass trip with a very respectable 4-2 record. I think every single one of us would have taken that record before the trip began, which is why tonight is so important. Not just because it's Celtics/Lakers, but because in my mind there's a big mental difference from 3-3 compared to 4-2. 

But what I don't want to do is simply ignore these past two shitbag performances. Both were bad, but for different reasons. Against the Warriors, that felt more mental than anything else. Clear Finals PTSD. Last night's issues weren't really mental, they were executional. The Celts execution in this game was by far their worst of the season. All the problem areas that tend to get this team into trouble showed up, and when Kawhi and Paul George are locked in like they were, things most likely aren't going to work out for you.

Back to back losses like this are for sure frustrating, mostly because we're watching this team not play to their potential. Yes, the Celts still own the NBA's best record at 21-7, the sky is not falling. But bad basketball is bad basketball and that's what the Celts are currently playing. It's OK to admit that. We know what this team looks like when they play well and last night was most certainly not one of those times.

It may sting, but let's talk about it.

The Good

- I don't think it's a strech to suggest the best player on the floor last night for the Celts was Malcolm Brogdon. On a night where they some pretty horrific guard play, you cannot include Malcolm in that. He showed up and gave this team exactly what his role asks for

The ball security was a little bit of an issue early, all those TOs basically came at once, but overall it's hard to complain about Brogdon's night. He was one of the few that showed up in this game, he shot 6-12 and he led the team with 6 assists. On a night where the starters got their shit pushed in, Brogdon was only a -3 in his 31 minutes. On most nights, getting this type of production should be enough for the Celts, but it requires everyone else to also do their job. 

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I will say I'm a little nervous about the minutes played considering the Celts play again tonight, I typically want Brogdon in the 24-27 range, but when you're the only real playable guard last night I can understand why Joe had him out there for 30+. Malcolm has been awesome this trip to the tune of 15.8/5.0/5.8 on 56/44% in the 4 games he's played, so it's hard to really have any complaints with how he's playing right now. This is exactly what I expect and want from him (as long as he takes care of the ball).

- The same is true for Grant. I would say he showed up in this game as well which was certainly nice to see after his no show against the Warriors. Grant is at his best when he remains aggressive, and last night was a nice reminder of what that looks like

14/4/2 on 4-7 shooting for Grant in his 29 minutes, I would argue that Grant was the best big the Celts played last night and frankly it's a little crazy he only played 29 minutes given how productive he was. On nights where Al and Rob are both out, why not let Grant go nuts and get him over 35 minutes? This team has shown to be at their best when they go small, the Clippers went small once Zubac went out of the game, so I don't really get why Grant was under 30 minutes for a guy who was not in foul trouble (just 1 PF).

For this offense to work, when Grant is in the game he needs to not hesitate on his 3PA and if he does decide to pass up a 3PA and drive, he needs to remain aggressive all the way to the rim. I thought he was much better with that in this game compared to the GS loss, and it's no surprise that he had one of the better offensive performances of the night by playing that way.

- Jaylen's night was kind of weird. His early foul trouble certainly didn't help his rhythm, and he only had 11 FGA heading into the 4th quarter, but watching the game it felt like another instance where he was not afraid and he showed up ready to play

The 9-15 from the floor was nice (the 1-6 from deep not so much), and Jaylen only had 2 TOs which I think we can all live with given his usage, but I would also say it's fair if you suggested that Jaylen's only real impact in this game came as a scorer. His defense was "eh" at best, he didn't really rebound or facilitate, but as a scorer I thought Jaylen was solid. He got to his midrange area with ease, he was efficient, you could probably make the case he gave you enough to win.

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- We can't move on without addressing the Blake poster attempt. That ruled. I'm also not ruling out the possibility that I'm 37% responsible for it.

You see, earlier in the day this video hit my timeline

so what do we get?

I mean maybe 37% isn't giving myself enough credit. He saw the tweet, he tried the dunk. You cannot convince me otherwise.

Now we can move on, thank you.

The Bad

- Christ, where to begin. Let's start with a couple problem areas. 

If you watch this team play, you know there are certain things they do that often times get them into trouble. Aside from being mental midgets against the Warriors, a huge issue the Celts had in that game was their lack of rebounding and prevention of 2nd chance points. The Warriors had 11 OREB for 21 2nd chance points, and it was a huge factor in their win.

Last night, the Celts gave up 11 OREB that translated into 16 Clippers points. Guess who won the game?

For those not great at math, that's 22 OREB and 37 2nd chance points in 2 games. That's losing basketball. Yes, Al is out, yes, Rob didn't play, but so what? There have been plenty of games we've seen Al and Rob both miss where the Celts did not give up 10+ OREB and nearly 20 2nd chance points. The key to winning on the road is clean defensive possessions, so to see this team finally force misses just to give up an OREB and a bucket is very demoralizing and it's how things snowball. Terance Mann is a wing who had 5 OREB in this game. That's an effort issue, not a "we don't have Al/Rob" issue. 

- Another problem area I think we can all agree on is turnovers. When the Celts turn the ball over, they die. This time, it was 15 TOs that led to 12 Clippers points. Smart and Brogdon combined for 7 of the 15. Tatum had 3 as well. When those three combined for 11 assists and 10 TOs that's…..not great. Some might even say bad. 

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So just add it up. You allowed 19 2nd chance points and 12 points off turnovers. That's 31 points via self inflicted wounds and you lost by 20. That feels somewhat related to me.

- I know Blake is old(er). I know he can't move like he once did. But I also know that the idea to play a heavy drop with him on the floor has been a disaster for two straight games. I just don't get it. Allowing Steph/Klay/Kawhi/PG13 to walk into open looks is not a recipe for success. Especially against a team like the Clippers who are solid at midrange/driving into the paint. Every time the Celts have gone small and done more switching, they're defense has looked so much better. This is where I go back to Grant's 29 minutes. It was pretty obvious early on that this was not a Luke Kornet game, so riding with him when the Clippers had Mook at the 5 was not smart by Joe. 

In the 3rd quarter, Blake played more mintues than Grant and the Clippers shot 60/50%. Joe hasn't had many fuck ups so far this year, but he's now had back to back stinkers when it comes to their strategy and approach. He needs to be better and quicker in terms of in game adjustments as opposed to sticking with things that are clearly not working.

- Take this lineup for example

With Rob and Al out, we should be seeing this lineup a whole lot more. Despite the sample being small, it has pretty much everything you need and has been efffective. We saw it for only 8 minutes last night.

- Next problem area, transition defense. Where was it? Celts lost the fastbreak battle 14-1 in this game which is…pretty bad. That's what can happen when you turn it over while also miss every three you take. That leads to runouts which leads to easy baskets/fouls. The same shit happened against GS and it's how I can tell this team is in a funk. When their transition defense craters, which has been among the best in the NBA this season, you know they're fuckin up.

- The Sam Hauser slump is real. Since we hit December, he's shooting just 28% from deep in the 6 games. His spacing is so important to helping create driving lanes, it's been tough not having that production anywhere close to where it needs to be. 

The biggest issue I'm seeing is the quality of his looks have drastically gone down. When this team was at its best and they maximized their drive and kick game, Hauser just had to stand there and knock down open corner threes. Lately his shot quality has been worse simply because things are either in motion or are more heavily contested. 

- When it feels like the Celts are regressing into their old bad habits, I think this is what most people are talking about

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Was that a backcourt? Yes. But when you spend more time complaining and less time playing defense, you deserve that three to be nailed in your eyeball. 

When you're on the road, things aren't going to go your way. Bad calls are going to happen. For the second consecutive game, the Celts mental composure was dogshit and it cost them. This is the bullshit we would see when this team underachieves, so it's not at all surprising that once they started to do it again, they started to underachieve again. 

The Ugly

- While he is not their best player, I think it's fair to say that the ceiling and floor of this team is heavily impacted by what version of Marcus Smart they get. When you get the good version of Smart, this team looks unstoppable. It takes this team to a different level.

But when you get a game like last night? A disaster version of Smart? Well we see what happens. So while he's not their best player, his play is impactful one way or the other, and last night it was brutal. Easily one of his worst performances of the year but not because of the reasons people usually focus on. He only took 6 FGA which is not a lot.

Watching him play though, it wasn't the version of Smart this team needs. There was no real playmaking (3 assists, 3 TOs), and his defense wasn't all that great either. It's just very hard for this team to win when you're getting absolutely nothing from the starting guards, most notably Smart. 

- Things weren't much better for Derrick either, who also finished with just 3 poinuts in his 15 minutes. That's just brutal production from 40% of your starting lineup. Having depth is awesome, but it requires that depth to actually show up. I can say confidently that didn't happen these past two games, and the results speak for themselves.

- I don't know what it is, but playing the Clippers is the kryptonite for this team's three point shooting. We all remember the 4-42 performance last year. That shit sucked. Last night wasn't much better at 3-39 (23%), and given how important the three point shot is to this offense, I'd say that's an issue.

Over their last two games, the Celts are now 21-79 (26%) which is fairly horrific. The worst part is this slump is coming via mostly wide open looks. When you see how they did last night, you can't help but be disgusted

The Celts shot balance wasn't even that bad, they finished with 39 3PA and 34 FGA in the paint. This was just another case where their shotmaking was dogshit. When 35 of your 39 3PA are clean looks, I have no problem with the Celts taking them. I would just like to see them shoot over 20%. I feel like that's not a crazy ask.

- Finally, we get to Tatum. Above all else, nothing matters if Tatum is going to throw up stink bombs like this. A 6-21 on Saturday and a 7-20 on Monday, this team is cooked if he's not going to show up. It doesn't matter if Jaylen looks good, it doesn't matter if the bench produces. Everything with this team revolves around Tatum. So when he goes into these ruts, the entire offense struggles. It's no different from their early season struggles last year.. That's the Tatum we're seeing right now.

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Watching him play, he just doesn't seem confident. You can tell the misses are starting to mess with him. When he is aggressive and drives to the rim, he's either not finishing or not getting calls and it's changed his confidence. His outside shooting has been around 32% this month which is brutal, but I don't get the sense that he's letting the game come to him. He's trying to force his way out of it and honestly it's only making things worse at the moment.

Players are human, they go through ruts, that's fine. Just because he's struggling now doesn't mean he'll struggle tonight or in 3 months. But it's OK to say the best player is playing like dogshit when the best player plays like dogshit. Tatum is held to a high standard because he has earned it, and I don't know how anyone could argue he's reached that standard in these last two games.

Like I said, a win tonight gets you a 4-2 trip which we would all take. Beating the Lakers will always mean more, regardless of what version they are right now. I do know that if the Celts come into tonight and play like they did against GS/LAL, the Lakers can absolutely beat them. The last game of a long trip can sometimes be a trap because you're thinking about being home, so I hope to God this team comes correct and ends this trip on a high note.