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Meaningless Games Or Not, The Celtics Need To Stop Playing Dogshit Basketball

Kevin C. Cox. Getty Images.

For the entire home stretch of the NBA season, the Celtics are walking a fine line when it comes to their final 9 games of the season. It's a delicate balance of just making sure you get through the last handful of games healthy, working on different sets/lineups/matchups/approaches to get some film, as Joe described last night

all of which is not only fine, but what they should be doing since the results of these games simply do not matter given the 1 seed is already locked up.

Here's the thing with that way of thinking though. It's dangerous. While true, that still doesn't excuse playing losing basketball. Take these back to back losses to the Hawks. It doesn't really matter that the 1 seed is locked up, blowing a 30 point lead is never acceptable under any circumstances. Seeing them lose back to back games by making the same mistakes (OREB/TOs/2nd chance points etc) is not suddenly all OK because the game doesn't matter. I can get why that's a common line to go to, but I just don't see it that way.

In the same way we would want to put stock into the positive things we may see in the games the Celtics win over this home stretch, wins that also mean nothing, I don't think it's right to just lump all of the bad things we saw in these losses to a simple 

"Oh well, nothing matters because these games don't count!"

Wrong. Every dribble, every decision, every set. They all matter. The only thing that doesn't matter is the result of the game, but the process? The problem areas? Why shouldn't they matter? They happened right?

Which brings me back to that fine line. I don't need everyone going balls to the wall and risking injury for results that do not impact a damn thing. So as fans where does that leave us? Annoyed with the result, but also with some understanding that there's most likely a decent amount of coasting going on? It all just has us in a weird spot because frankly, I can't remember a time the Celtics' final 11 games of a season didn't matter in terms of their seeding. This isn't exactly a common thing for this team, so my brain doesn't really know how to react.

It's one of those situations where you are annoyed with how they are playing because it translates to losing basketball, but also understand the context around why it might be happening.

So I look at these two losses more as confirmation of what I pretty much already knew for when it comes time to stress through playoff games. Both of these losses followed their playoff loss formula basically to a T. Hell, we saw it against this exact ATL team in a series that went 6 games that had no business going 6 games. 

With that said, let us begin.

The Good

- When thinking of the few bright spots from yet another shit sandwich of a game, one that clearly stands out is the play of Derrick White. The man pretty much did everything you could ask on both ends of the floor, and when it came time for someone to make a big shot after big shot, Derrick stepped up and came through

Now that he's being forced to sit here and there, it's great to see White come back into the lineup and respond with a 8-11 (5-6 performance shooting the ball. In Derrick's previous 10 games heading into last night, he was shooting only 41/33%, which is certainly well below his season averages. It's no secret how important an Aggressive Derrick White is to the offense and if the rest is what helps his legs stay fresh which in turn gets us back to the more efficient version of DWhite, then I would like him to rest a few more times over these final 9 games.

If last night told us anything, I think it mostly reinforced the idea that in these late moments when the Celts need a big shot, it might be time to let Derrick be the one to take it. A quick look at the clutch time production last night

and you can't help but notice that when it came time to take and make a big moment shot, Derrick delivered. The thing is, this has been a trend all season. In 29 clutch time games, Derrick White is shooting 53.3/52.2%. He's 16-30 from the floor and 12-23 from deep. But when it comes to the clutch time shot distribution, as you can see he's pretty far behind the top 2 guys

I'm not suggesting that every clutch time play or shot has to go to White, I'm simply stating that the body of work shows that it's time to make sure he is more involved. Either as a ball handler or a play finisher whenever the Celts get into these spots. He has the clutch gene, I don't know how else to say it. We saw it in GM6 vs MIA, we saw it again last night. The guy has a knack for showing up and coming through in the biggest moments. That should be something that's utilized more often. 

- The unfortunate part of how this game ended was it immediately made Jaylen's clutch time buckets (yes, plural) meaningless. 

I'd say on most nights, if you get Jaylen shooting over 50% from the floor while playing good defense, that usually translates to wins. When it came time to take the biggest shots of the night, Jaylen came through twice. The first was the contested midrange to put the Celtics up 3 with 40 seconds left (a shot which he was definitely fouled on). Then, in OT, it was Jaylen who came through with what at the time looked like the game winner.

In these moments what do we always say? The stars have to show up and come through. To me, that's what we saw Jaylen do. 

- After shaking off his initial rust, I thought Holiday looked great after missing 5 games. It took him a few trips to get his shot rhythm back, but once he saw one drop it was as if he never missed any time. His defense and screen navigation were good, his ball security was good, and I don't know about anyone else but it was a huge sign of relief to see him not really be impacted by his shoulder

I'll take 13/7/5 on 5-11 (3-6) with 0 TOs in 36 minutes after missing that much time, and I do think that if this is the version of Jrue the Celts get in the playoffs, it's more than good enough. 

The Bad

- Just as I blogged after the Monday loss, we have to start on the defensive end. To be frank, the Celtics defense has been beyond terrible for a decent stretch now. 

Over their last 5 games (3-2), the Celts defense has ranked 24th in the NBA with a rating of 119.5. The only other teams worse during this stretch? MEM/UTA/DET/LAC/TOR/CHA. So, outside of the sliding Clippers, the Celts defense has been grouped in with the worst teams in the entire NBA. That is…..bad.

In their losses to the Hawks, the Celts DRTG has been 122.7, which is disgusting. 

Over their last 5 games, the Celtics defense is still 30th in opponent FG%, allowing teams to shoot 52.5% from the floor. When it comes to guarding the 3pt line, the Celts rank 28th, allowing 40%.

So much is always made about the offense, but I will stand firm on this. The problem isn't offense, the problem is how this team is defending (or the lack thereof). In a playoff game/series, you HAVE to be able to get stops consistently. If you are allowing your opponent to shoot 52.4/40% from the floor, you aren't going to win. It's as simple as that. The teams are better, the talent is better, and that's how you find yourself dropping playoff games that you shouldn't be losing. It all starts on the defensive end, and the Celts haven't played good defense since about mid March. 

- A good defensive possession is not just about forcing misses. That's part of it sure, but a good defensive possession is a clean defensive possession. You force the miss, get the rebound, and get out in transition. 

If these two losses to ATL showed us anything, it's what happens when you do not finish defensive possessions cleanly. You want to know why the Celtics lost these games? The same reason they seem to always lose close games to the Hawks.

Defensive rebounding and 2nd chance points.

This is all you need to know

Last night they allowed 17 OREB for 28 2nd chance points. I cannot stress enough how awful that is. I don't know how many times we have to see it, but late game rebounding is easily the #1 concern for the playoffs for me. Time and time again we see shit like this

To put it simply, if the Celtics rebound the basketball, they win this game. They get the miss, but what good does that do if they immediately still give up points?

I think on some level, this is where the concern with Porzingis is when it comes to playoff games against teams that are active on the glass. Capela got whatever he wanted, and KP wasn't shooting well enough to force him off the court. 

Now, how much of that is him just being reserved and making sure he doesn't get hurt? I dunno, maybe 20%? The fact of the matter is, both of these Hawks losses showed us that there are times he sort of disappears on the glass, especially late. 

31 OREB and 46 2nd chance in back to back games is so pathetic I don't even really know how to spinzone it. There is no spinzone. It's awful and it's going to cost the Celtics a playoff game if they don't cut the shit. You knew EVERY single time the Hawks got an OREB that they were going to score from it. Especially the Bogy one in the final seconds of regulation. Plays around the margins are how you determine playoff games, and I thought the Celts were terrible around the margins in both of these losses.

- Take this play for example. Big moment, only 2 seconds on the shot clock, and you give up this wide open look? 

Derrick telling Tillman to switch guys way too late which allowed Hunter to head to the corner with zero defense, KP stays with his man instead of shutting off the corner, and then Jaylen just sort of watches? Brutal work from everyone involved there.

Those are the miscues or mental lapses around the margins that bury you. To have that happen in a game where the Hawks had buried the Celts on every mental lapse, that wasn't great.

- Cannot miss OT FTs. We saw why.

- Something to monitor, but in a matchup that could potentially be a first round series, Payton Pritchard had some issues in his minutes. He was a -11 last night in his 18 minutes and a -5 in his 28 minutes on Monday. Same with Sam Hauser. It felt like Murray and Bogy were able to get whatever he wanted once he started targeting those matchups, and in a playoff game, we know it's all about attacking and exposing mismatches.

Part of a good defense is having some sort of perimeter resistance, but these last two games had the Celtics looking like swiss cheese. Guards and wings were able to get into the paint at will, right into their comfort areas. Again, maybe that's the Celts holding back their energy, but I don't buy that. I just think it was them playing poor defense.

- He sort of came alive late, but Tatum's second half was nowhere close to good enough. Just 4-13 (1-5) and a -6 in his 19 second half minutes, then the missed FT in OT, I know his final line says 31/13/6 which looks awesome, but I wouldn't say this was one of his better all around games. He took just 1 FGA in the 3rd, and then in a 4th quarter where they needed him to pretty much take over, he put up a 4-12. 

That's simply not good enough.

The Ugly

- Then of course, there was the final shot decision.

The Celtics came out of a timeout after that Bogy 3 to tie with 27 seconds left. Tatum look his time, held onto the ball, nobody moved or forced the defense to actually rotate, and this was the final look

After Monday's loss, all we heard about was that the Celts didn't have their starting backcourt to initiate the offense late. In my blog I talked about how that doesn't even matter, because when with the starting backcourt they don't really let them initiate these end of game possessions anyway. Here is your latest example of that.

27 seconds left in a tie game, I can get bringing down the clock a little bit so you don't give the Hawks a lot of time. That's fine. But I think we've seen this play enough. As you can see at the top of this blog, there are a bunch of guys who are great in clutch time moments. What this shit is, is predictable. A low percentage look that hasn't really worked at all this season.

Joe said after the game the plan was to get Tatum the ball and let him make a decision. You can see that on that play they try to run sort of a slip screen with Jrue, but Tatum shakes it off and keeps it. 

I think what we're seeing with these possessions is more that Tatum's style is easier to guard. His first step isn't lighting quick or anything like that, and most of his shots require a decent amount of footwork which takes time off the clock. It's not really this straight line decisive play. When he isn't able to shake his defender because he's going side to side, the panic sets in and the shot quality tanks. The defense knows he's going to settle for a jumper, so they just sit on it and wait for it.

Here's the kicker though. So much is made about the Celts clutch time offense, but in reality their clutch time offense was fine. A 122 ORTG in the Monday loss and a 125 ORTG last night. For comparison, the Nuggets have a 125 ORTG on the season. You should be able to win with that, even despite these terrible late game Tatum possessions.

So what's the real issue? The clutch time defense. A 130 DRTG on Monday, and a 135 rating last night. The Hawks shot 50/53.5% in the clutch in these two games, while also having 5 OREB.

I get the easy thing is to put everything on the offense, but I don't see how if you are someone who is watching these games you would put the root of the problem anywhere other than the Celts end of game defense. They cannot get a stop to save their lives, and when that happens it doesn't matter how good your offense may be. We saw the Celts come through MULTIPLE times offensively late in this game, and none of it mattered because they couldn't guard their yard. 

THAT should be the playoff concern. Not end of game offense. You're never going to score every single time down in a clutch situation. Sometimes you'll have to iso, sometimes you'll generate good shots. But what you can do is lock in defensively and shut the water off for your opponent. If you don't, you die. Guess which one the Celtics did?

Again, the results of these games do not matter. We all know this. But bad basketball is still bad basketball and if anything these two games against the Hawks showed us exactly how the Celts can drop games in the playoffs. Not caring about the margins because the games don't matter is losing basketball. Not playing with effort is losing basketball. It's how you rack up 2 losses by a combined 3 points, and if we see more of this in a month I don't think anyone is going to like the results.