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After Getting Their Ass Kicked (Again), The Celtics Need To Find A Balance Between Staying Healthy And Not Playing Dogshit Basketball

Brian Fluharty. Getty Images.

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For just the 4th time this season, the Celts have lost 2 games in a row. Not bad, and while a testament to their consistency this season, these last two losses are not quite like the previous batches. Part of that is the fact that they were glorified preseason games in terms of impact on the record/seeding, but the other part is the fact that the Celts got their asses completely kicked in both games.

In the first set of back to back losses, one was an OT loss by 5 and the other a 3 point loss. In the next set that came over 4 months later, one was by 1 point and the next by 6. The next set that came 3 weeks later was by 2 points and 1 point.

These last two? Do not let the final score fool you. A 13 point loss to MIL was 20+, and a 9 point loss to NYK last night hit as high as 30….at home. A little different experience compared to what we've seen all year when it came to the Celts dropping back to back games.

Which brings us back to a familiar place over these last few weeks. The delicate balance between having to play these games while ultimately prioritizing health. Maybe it's just me, but the Giannis calf strain has scared me straight. Your entire playoff run can change in a single moment. One bad step, one rolled ankle, that's all it takes. So it's understandable why the team may feel that the only thing that matters is just getting to the finish line healthy. It just so happens that in mid April they've had 2 games back to back against teams who are DESPERATE for wins. Their playoff seeding is very much up in the air where a single win could drastically change their path. You compare that to a team that is only playing for health, and there is obviously going to be an intensity/effort difference.

But here's the thing with that. Just like I said after the MIL loss, the ass kicking last night should not just be lumped into "the Celtics didn't care or didn't try". No, that's wrong. They did try (at times). They were just severely outplayed. Again. Does it mean anything in the grand scheme of things? Not really, but that doesn't make it an acceptable level of basketball. Bad basketball is still bad basketball whether you "care" about the game or not. 

Maybe you think the Celts should have just sat everyone if this is how they were going to play, only there's one problem with that. The league put these last two games on TNT, so right off the jump the Celts can't sit both Tatum/Brown. Last night was also most likely the last time we see the regulars until at least April 20th, so staying in game shape is important. This is where that delicate balance comes into play. They have to be out there, no one wants them to get hurt, but then when they lose because they are maybe playing in a way that helps prevent injury or is pretty vanilla against a potential playoff opponent, it's this some sort of doomsday scenario?

I just think there has to be a balance. It should be possible for you to play in a way to prevents injury, and also not play in a way that gets you down by 30 at home with your starters playing 3 quarters.

The good news is we are almost through the glorified preseason and the real games are on the way. But before we get there, we need to talk more about last night

The Good

- Hey, at least the bench shooters showed up! If I'm being told that everything we see in these fake games 1000000% means it's what we're going to see in the playoffs, well then that must mean that Pritchard and Hauser are going to be awesome

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If you were curious what actual effort and intensity looks like, I'd say the Bus 1 boys gave us that in the 4th quarter. Down 29 to start the 4th, ending the game down 9 at least showed some guts, even if it was clear that the Knicks had taken their foot off the gas. Sound familiar? One team was desperate (Celts) and one team knew they had nothing to play for (Knicks), and the 4th quarter ended 38-18. This quarter and the play of Hauser/Pritchard were basically a microcosm of the entire game. 

One team was desperate in the first three quarters (Knicks) and one team knew they had nothing to play for (Celts) and the first three quarters ended 100-71. 

I'm also somewhat intrigued by Svi. Not in a sense that I think he'll get any sort of legit playoff rotation minutes, but if the Celts are in a situation where they need shooting on the floor and maybe one of Pritchard/Hauser is having an off night? That's why I'm interested in these final 2 games, because they should heavily feature this group (plus the Maine kids). Reps for the bench are just as important heading into the playoffs, so for that group to be playing well is encouraging.

- Sadly, when you get down by as much as 31 points in 3 quarters in your own building, that's pretty much all we're going to have for this section.

The Bad

- I have been screaming about this for months now. Everyone talks about how the biggest issue for the Celts this playoffs is late game offense, clutch time performance etc.

Wrong. In fact, I'm going to say dead wrong.

The biggest issue for the Celtics in their playoff run is no different than it has been in previous seasons.

Opponent offensive rebounding and 2nd chance points.

If you look at the Celts last 4 losses, they are against 3 teams you could potentially see them playing in a playoff series (ATL, MIL, NYK). Here is the rebounding breakdown in all 4 of those losses

vs ATL: 44-38, allowed 15 OREB

vs ATL: 53-43, allowed 17 OREB

vs MIL: 49-38, allowed 10 OREB

vs NYK: 52-36, allowed 17 OREB

Notice a consistent trend? Here's why that matters. We all want the Celts to not fuck around and make series go longer than they should right? Well you do that by fucking around on the defensive glass. Allowing your opponent to get 2 or 3 tries every trip down the floor is not a winning formula. 

If you know you are playing a team like ATL and NYK, two teams that are among the best in the league at OREBs, to me that should have you even more focused on protecting the glass. That's not an excuse for getting worked on the boards. If you know Team X is good at Y, and you immediately let them do a shit ton of Y, that is bad. 

Looking at the rebounding numbers from last night and man is it pathetic. Jaylen with 2 rebounds in 28 minutes. Tatum with 4 rebounds in 31 minutes. White with 2 rebounds in 28 minutes. Horford with 2 rebounds in 15 minutes. Did that look like a team that was playing hard to you when it came to handling their business on the glass? It was hard enough for the Celts to generate stops last night, and then when they did it still didn't matter because they couldn't finish the possession off cleanly.

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17 OREB and 22 2nd chance points is going to get you blown out pretty much every time, and this isn't really just an end of season issue either. Since the ASB, the Celts are 26th in opponent OREB overall. In their 6 losses since the ASB, they are 29th. Now given their defense is good and forces a lot of misses, it's not surprising to see they give up a high total, but things look no different when you break it down to OREB%.

In that, the Celts rank 25th overall in opponent OREB% since the ASB, and in their losses it drops to 27%.

That's an 18 game sample, and even if you expand it to the entire season it tells a very similar story. That is why this is the biggest concern/problem area for the Celtics ahead of their playoff run. They have to rebound. Don't take my word for it, just listen to Joe

- Pick a player, any player, and you will find someone that was cooked by Jalen Brunson. 

His most common matchup was Jaylen, which he torched for 7 points on 3-4 shooting.

Then came White, who Brunson shot 2-4 against.

Next up was Jrue, who held Brunson to a stingy 3-3 shooting.

Then we had Tatum, who allowed 2-2 shooting.

Those are arguably your 4 best defenders, and they allowed a combined 10-13 shooting. That is about as awful as you could possibly get. 

It was a lot of the same we've seen when playing Brunson, just zero resistance when it came to keeping him out of the paint. So far this season, Brunson in the 5 games is averaging 27 a game on 47.7/40% splits. To put it simply, the Celts at no point this year have shown an ability to limit his production, or at the very least make things hard for him. It's a large part of why the Knicks crushed the Celts in the paint 56-40 last night. There was no resistance from the perimeter defenders. When Brunson is allowed to get to his spots, make a few easy paint floaters, it gives him the confidence to step behind the line and the next thing you know he's also 6-11 from three. 

Quick, shifty, offensive minded guards could very well be in the Celts playoff path this year. We've seen guys like Trae Young, Mitchell, Tyrese Maxey, Dame, and Brunson all go off this season, so how the Celts are able to defend that type of player is going to be very important. Given how we talk about the Celts perimeter defense, there's no real excuse for being that poor.

- It does feel that in these games where the Celts are maybe trying to limit their energy, if it was a game where their shots weren't dropping they sort of just chalked it up to a loss. I get why, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

If we subtract the last 2 4th quarters where it was all the bench guys playing and only looked at the performance shooting the basketball in quarters 1-3, you aren't going to like what we see.

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vs MIL 1-3 quarters: 27-73 (13-41)

vs NYK 1-3 quarters: 26-62 (8-30)

That brings you to a total of 53-135 (21-71) or 39/29% from minutes that the regular starters were on the floor. I think it goes without saying that if the regulars are going to shoot 39/29%, things will not go well. The bar is simply league average. You can even be slightly below league average if we're being honest, you just can't be 39/29% bad. 

- When we talk about one side playing with more energy and pace and the other going through the motions, this is what that looks like

Did that look like Tatum was all that interested in stopping the ball? Jrue's just going to let Al get cooked in space like that while he stands and watches? The man is 37, he should not be asked to stop a guy going full speed in transition. 

It's small moments like these that show the difference in energy and effort. Then you also had multiple bad closeouts like these

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and it's no surprise you were blown out with your starters on the floor. I feel pretty confident that is now how the Celts will be closing out on shooters in the playoffs, but that doesn't mean it wasn't gross last night.

- A pretty tough night on both ends of the floor for the starting backcourt, no two ways about it. Couldn't get stops on one end, shot a combined 4-11 (1-7) on the other and were a combined -55 in their 28 minutes. 

The concern level is the fact that in both MIL/NYK games, the White/Jrue backcourt was nowhere to be found on either end. That cannot happen. Given their shot diet, there are going to be moments where the Jays aren't efficient. That's where the backcourt needs to come into play and close that gap. When they don't, you get back to back blowouts. 

- It continues to be interesting that in these last two games, we saw the Celts play a team that fouls on average 19 times a game be called for 4 fouls, and a team that fouls 17 times a game be called for 10. Yet the Celts are called to their average of 16 last night (2nd best in the league). 

It's pretty clear there's been an adjustment, and the Celts need to find ways to get past that. 

The Ugly

- No other place to put the Jays other than this section. Tatum a team worst -30 in his 31 minutes with a 5-13 (1-7) and Jaylen not that much better with a -29 in his 28 minutes with 6-15 (1-5) while leading the team with 3 TOs.

Quite frankly, I haven't liked how Jaylen has played these last few games, not just last night. It's less about the efficiency for me and more about the decision-making. It's getting a little too close to ECF Jaylen in terms of his approach and his carelessness with the basketball. Driving into traffic, getting caught from behind dribbling and having the ball poked loose which starts a fastbreak, stuff like that. 

With Tatum, it does sort of feel like he's taking the safe approach and mostly just launching 3s, but at no point in the last two games did you ever say to yourself "Tatum is the best player on the floor right now". That, is a problem. 

Ultimately, everything comes down to how Tatum and Brown perform during this run. If they have showings like we've seen these last two games, nobody is going to like the results. As we know, everything starts at the top. If they don't play with energy and effort, that will trickle down. They are the tone setters, they are the most important pieces. 

All I will say is this. We've being told that this is just the approach to end the season and there will be no issue getting back into their normal form for the playoffs. That could absolutely be the case, but I'll just say the pressure is on even more to now not lay an egg to open Round 1. This is the final time we'll most likely see the regulars until then, so rest up and be ready to come out firing.