After Another Massive Blown Lead, It Would Be Great If The Celtics Could Get Their Heads Out Of Their Ass

Chris Gardner. Getty Images.

For the most part of this West Coast trip, it looked like the Celts had addressed most of their post All Star break issues. There was the one hiccup in HOU, but for the most part they played with the right energy and effort, they moved the ball, they didn't blow leads, and it looked like they were past the phase of playing like assholes.

I literally titled yesterday's blog with it.

So how to they repay me? With this. By very much playing like assholes to the tune of blowing a 19 point lead, including a situation where you had a 4th quarter lead into the final minutes of the game. On one hand, you could suggest that losing a game on a back to back down 3 starters against a team that had 4 days off is more a scheduled loss than anything else. That's cool……if it were December. Unfortunately, last time I checked, we're in the back half of March. Not only that, but the Celts are in a fight for their lives from everything from the 1 to the 3 seed. Teams around them are winning. So yes, while it's not inconceivable to suggest that the Celts would drop a game like this and the areas they struggled in are pretty tied to the frontcourt, again, they did enough to win this game for about 43 minutes. 

Given the context around this game, collapses like this simply cannot happen. In the 6 losses the Celts have had since the break, 4 of them have come by blowing at least a 14 point lead. Now OK, maybe you don't think 14 points is all that large of a lead in today's NBA and I guess you're kind of right. What about 19 and 28? Think of what things look like if you just swap those 2 games and keep the 15 point lead vs NYK and 14 point lead over CLE. The Celts are 51-21 in that scenario, and in a very different position than they are now. When you blow these types of leads this late in the season, there are actual ramifications. It's not like blowing leads with 50 games left on the NBA calendar. 

Add in a brutal 2pt loss to HOU because you didn't come ready to play, and this is a situation where the Celts have no one to blame but themselves. And really, it's more on the players than on anyone else. I know everyone wants Joe's head on a spike, but leads get blown like this from a lack of execution more than anything else. The same way the two previous wins had little to do with Joe, and more with the players actually playing the right way for a full 48 minutes. 

By now you should know how this works. We do not skip the pain of losses like this. We blog through it, turn the page, and move on. Let's begin

The Good

- Once again, the only thing we're really going to be putting in this section is Jaylen Brown. Sure there were other things that technically fit this section, but I'm too annoyed to give them the benefit of spinzoning. Instead we're just going to appreciate Jaylen Brown because this is a guy who has been playing his dick off since coming back with the mask. Every single night he's shown up and filled his role to the point where you could make the case he should maybe be getting even more of the workload as of late

- We could go on to talk about the offense or the shooting or the ball movement or the low turnovers, or how Grant played with a pulse finally. But we're not going to. Instead, we're going to talk about why the Celtics lost this game.

The Bad

- There is this idea that the Celts can only win if they make all their 3PM. Technically, that's not really true. They just have to be league average which is around 35%. Considering their season average is over 37%, that's not some crazy ask. In this game, the Celts made all their 3PA to the tune of 22/51% (43.1%). Did they win? No. No they did not.

How rare is that? Well, it was the first time all year something like that has happened and we're in Game 72 so that's pretty fucking annoying.

Why did that happen?

Because we saw a team that had little interest in defending. And I'm not talking about just in the final moments (which were very very bad), I'm talking over the last 3 quarters. Said another way, 75% of the goddamn game. And I get it, with Smart/Al/Rob out who are three of your better defenders, maybe things don't look as crisp. That does not explain to me why a team that still had plenty of plus defenders to play still could not defend anywhere close to an acceptable level. 

How many times have you seen the Celts win a game in which they give up 33, 31, and 30 points in consecutive quarters? This wasn't a case where the Celts were careless with the ball and gave up a billion points off TOs or transition baskets. They turned the ball over 6 fucking times in the entire game for 11 points. Fastbreak points were basically a wash as well (9 vs 12). The issues last night were rooted in their halfcourt defense. It was everything we know it can't be, starting in two areas.

1). The point of attack defense was dogshit

To be an elite defense, you have to be able to guard your man. When the Celts are locked in defensively, we see them play with immense ball pressure. They are imposing their will and forcing the offense to react. What we saw last night was the formula for every time their defense has a shit showing. They were reactionary. Guys were able to get to wherever they wanted because the ball pressure was non existent. When they finally did, what happened? They went on a run in the 4th quarter! They got the lead! But as long as this team is beatable off the dribble from perimeter, they're going to struggle.

So what does that look like? I dunno, does THT seem all that bothered here?

Especially that last one which just so happened to be the biggest play of the game. Brogdon doesn't really fight over that screen, but Grant is technically there for the switch. How do we think he did? This has been the issue with Grant on this end all year, his individual foot speed seems slower, and he's no longer staying in front of his guy. Almost right away you could tell THT knew he had him, and once he got Grant on his tip at the arc, it was over

This game was a great example of even when your shots are falling and you're making a ridiculous amount of 3PM, none of that matters if you're not going to get stops on the other end. You move into the 4th quarter with a 3 point lead and you give up 30 points on 47/40% splits while forcing just 1 TO. On what planet is that anywhere close to good enough? 

2). Part of a good defense is clean possessions

When you're already not really stopping anyone defensively, when you finally do get a stop I think it goes without saying that rebounding them becomes ultra important. As we know, the Celtics have been the worst team in the NBA (not hyperbole) when it comes to keeping their opponents off the glass since the All Star Break. If you want the actual numbers, fine, here they are

In their last 13 games, the Celts rank 16th in opponent OREB% and 30th in opponent OREB% in the 4th quarter. What do we think was the biggest issue in this loss?

The Utah Jazz finished with 17 OREB for 20 2nd chance points. In the 4th quarter alone, they had 4 OREB for 7 pts. They won by 1. 

Here's why this is such a huge deal. When you compare it to the pre-All Star break Celtics, the ones that were 42-17, they were #1 in the NBA in both of these areas. Considering they were without Rob for 30+ games, it's not all him. They were top 6 in both before he came back, and then with him it vaulted them to the top spot. When you get into the fourth quarter and you're giving up multiple plays like this

What exactly do you expect to happen? Once again, here we are, under 6 minutes with a 7 point lead. That's a game if you just do the bare minimum, you should win. Instead, we saw another backbreaking OREB lead to points and completely change the momentum. What you just watched there is losing basketball. On no planet should one Jazz player get a rebound when there are 3 different Celtics all in the vicinity at this stage of a close game

Luke is 7ft, Brogdon is right there and doesn't even jump. Tatum doesn't even attempt to put a body on Kessler and just watches him run right by him and crash the glass. At that point, Luke is in between boxing out and looking back for the ball. I'm sorry, but this is inexcusable execution by everyone involved. 

- When you reach this part of the season, the details are so important. You need to be locked in for a full 48. Every possession, every dribble. That's what playoff basketball is like, and by all accounts, the Celts stretch run basically has playoff pressure in each game. 

That is why a play like this simply cannot happen

What. Are. We. Doing.

Remember the situation here. The Celts had just made a pretty impressive comeback to go from down 7 to up 6 to close the 3rd. Up 6 with the ball and a chance to basically take the last shot….and you can't even get the ball over in 8 seconds? Not only that, but this is arguably your best player right now making this mistake? There wasn't ball pressure or trapping. This was walking the basketball up.

What happens next? Of course the Jazz hit a 3 and the lead is suddenly cut in half. All the momentum gone in a blink all because of a poor lack of execution. Again, this is a players problem, not a coaching problem. 

- If you were wondering yes, watching a team that shoots 82% from the FT line go 11-16 (68%) with Tatum missing 2 and Malcolm Brogdon missing a 4th quarter FT did keep me up until about 3:38am today. FTs, they aren't just important in the NCAA tournament!

The Ugly

- When talking about the night of Jayson Tatum, it's important to do so within the context of what the Jazz did defensively. What I mean by that is Will Hardy essentially sold out all game to double Tatum and limit his scoring. For the majority of the night Tatum read the doubles correctly and found shooters, all while not really turning the ball over. He finished with 6 assists and 2 TOs and didn't really force things. The plan obviously worked considering he took just 12 FGA.

The thing is, even with this context in how he was being defended, Tatum was still mostly dogshit in this game. The shooting splits are one thing (4-12, 3-8) with another 0-3 in the 4th quarter, but that's not exactly a new issue

Outside of his passing, there was nothing Tatum really did to impose his will on the game despite not taking shots. Defensively he wasn't all that great, and for a guy that played 39 minutes he finished with just 3 rebounds. That's the fewest of any starter. So when I say Tatum played like shit, it's not even really about his 4-12, as brutal as that was. It was everything else. All you have to do is compare it to his MIN/POR performances, they're completely different players.

You can survive a Tatum off night shooting if he's making a difference in other areas. But if he's not defending and he's not rebounding while also not being able to shoot, well that's how you lose a game like this. The best player needs to be the best player in all facets of the game. That's how this stuff works when you have that role and you get to this time of year. You can't keep no showing in so many areas and still expect to win.

We already knew the team was going to be without Smart/Al/Rob. I don't exactly think they were prepared to also be playing without Tatum.

- OK, let's talk about the last play

Joe told us after the game that this play was not intended for Grant, but was instead supposed to be a DHO for Tatum and Grant decided to make a different decision based on the defense. 

Here's my issue with that. For one, Grant needs to stop improvising. We know by now that does not work. But even if you want to let Joe off the hook because this was not what he told the team to do in the timeout, I still don't even really love his intended play call to begin with. 

We know this sort of inbounds play works, we've seen it come through in multiple situations already this season. You know who also knows it? Will Hardy. You know, the guy who used to work for this team. If you want to run a DHO for Tatum, OK, but why not have someone like Jaylen in Grant's spot? That way if there is a breakdown like we saw, that player making the decision is Jaylen fucking Brown. I'm pretty sure they can run a DHO together, those aren't exactly complicated sets.

In that regard, Joe needs to improve. 

- But let's now talk about the 4th quarter in general. Maybe the biggest gripe fans had after this loss was that Derrick White played 0 4th quarter minutes. On the surface, that seems crazy because not only is Derrick White really good, but he was also pretty damn good in this game up until that point. 

With everything though, it's not as simple as "JOE DIDN'T PUT IN DERRICK HE'S A MORON. GIVE ME IME" like you're seeing right now.

Actually go through the 4th and talk about what happened. 

The quarter started with that 4 minute lineup group. That lineup took the score from 91-88 to 102-95 at the 8 minute mark when UTA took a timeout. Malcolm Brogdon's offense was carrying the team at that point, with 6 of their 11 points. You weren't taking him out for White at any point during that 4 minute run. 

Coming out of that timeout, we saw the 3 minute lineup combination. This is because at that 8 minute timeout, the Jazz put Lauri/Olynyk back in the game, giving them 3 7 footers. Joe responded by adding Kornet. That 3 minute lineup kept the lead at 7 until that Kessler OREB/Lauri 3PM we talked about and Joe immediately took a timeout.

So, basically, in the first half of the quarter the Celts' rotation built a 3 point lead to a 7 point lead. During that second shift if when Grant was making his 3s, so you aren't subbing him out in that moment.

Coming out of the 5 minute timeout, we saw that top grouping. As you can see, the numbers were pretty terrible, especially defensively

The question then becomes, was there ever a moment in the last 5 mintues where you could have made a switch? At this time, given the Jazz size I don't think it's a bad decision to have a Kornet/Grant frontcourt on the floor, especially given how Grant was shooting. Kornet didn't execute, but the theory of needing his size isn't wrong. 

After rewatching, there is one moment where I think you could have done this. It came at the 2:15 mark with the Celtics up 6 and Lauri at the line. By this point, Brogdon had played all 10 minutes of the 4th. He didn't take a single shot in the final 7:21, and it wouldn't surprise me if he was gassed on his FTs at the 4:36 mark (1 for 2), so after thinking about it last night I think that 2:15 mark is when you make the switch. You're up 4 with the ball and around 2 minutes left. Instead they left Brogdon in, he had more defensive issues late, and that was that.

At the same time, given how his 4th quarter started, I can see the case for wanting him on the floor given that you needed scoring because you couldn't get stops. I agree that White needs to play more in crunch time, I just think the lack of player execution down the stretch had more to do with the result than not having Derrick in the game. It may have helped, but there was also enough talent on the floor to be able to close this game out if the Celts played a full 48. 

Now maybe the toughest game of the trip is on the horizon. Not just because the Kings are good, especially at home, but the final game of 6 game West Coast trip is the toughest one mentally. You're ready to be home, it's been a long trip, and now coming off another brutal loss it'll be interesting to see how they respond and play in that game. At this point the Celts margin for error is pretty much gone, and frankly they have no one to blame but themselves.