The Celtics Got Punked By Atlanta, So How The Hell Do They Fix It

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 9.01.55 PM

An 82 game schedule is filled with all sorts of runs. Peaks and valleys like a motherfucker. That’s why they call it a marathon and not a sprint. Well, for the Boston Celtics right now, things are a bit tense. Post All Star Break hasn’t looked quite right, and everyone has their own theory as to why, including me. I think the Celtics we’ve seen since the calendar turned to 2017 has been them at their absolute peak (despite health). The way they played helped form their identity to some degree, but also unless you’re GS, it’s not something that is going to sustainable for all 82 games. They are going to go through tough stretches. They are going to play like shit and lose games. The Celtics are not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, farrrrrrrrrr from it, and after watching their last three games, they deserve everything they get. As a fan I’m angry because I know they can play better, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Which brings me to last night. That was atrocious on about a billion levels.  I’m not going to say “well it was a B2B so it’s w/e”, because that Celtics over the last two plus seasons have flourished in that situation. To me it came down to poor shooting, worse rebounding, offensive passing, and again another lapse in mental toughness. I don’t care who you are, when you combine all those things you aren’t going to beat a playoff team with a top 5 defense.

I also don’t think it’s as simple as, “they Celtics lost because Danny didn’t make a trade”. That cannot be the blanket reason why the Celtics lose games, because it ignores other factors. Yes a rebounder would help this team, no matter who it is, but it also doesn’t cover up all the other trouble areas from last night.

So how can the Celtics fix things? Well let’s take a look

The Good

– I’ve only done this one other time on this blog. When things get a little out of whack, sometimes you need to shake things up. That is why we are going to do one thing and one thing only in this section, and that is enjoy the performance of Jaylen Brown. Sure there may have been other good things that happened, but you know what, I’m fucking pissed and don’t feel like giving praise.

So here, take a minute and enjoy the future

The Bad

– Let’s talk about the obvious. This was about as piss poor a shooting effort as the Celtics have had in a longggggg time. It’s not too often as a team they have 39/29% splits, and really without Jaylen’s performance, it’s much much worse. Really the offense as a whole looked like dogshit, and this has been the case for three straight games now. Again, this is not a rebounding problem. What stands out to me is the Celtics are straying away from what has made them one of the best offenses in the entire NBA. We’ll start with Horford.

Another brutal night no other way to spin it. The problem is, after getting off to his hot start, Horford did not take a shot in the entire second half. When he did get the ball, he didn’t get it in a a spot that put him in a position to succeed. Just like I said the other day, this is on everyone. It’s on him to be more aggressive, it’s on his teammates to find him, and it’s on Brad to make sure he’s getting touches. It’s easy to say stupid things like “Horford sucks blah blah blah. This team is trash blah blah blah”, without even trying to talk about how to fix things. Any blowhard on Twitter can do that. That’s not going to happen here, so let’s take a look.

Horford is at his best when you do things like this

This is the first thing I feel like the Celtics are getting away from with Horford. As of the last three games, when we see him run this high screen, he isn’t popping out to that same sweet spot, instead he’s staying just a little too far out and as a result is forced to put the ball on the ground, where things turn into a disaster. In the game last night he had 1 FGA from this sweet spot, and guess what, he made it. I’d like to see the Cs get back to running sets that get him in this area. But it’s not just about his shooting from this area. When Horford runs this pick and pop in this spot, he becomes a threat in multiple ways, and when the Cs offense is flowing, plays like this happen too

One of the best parts of Horford’s offensive skills is his face up game. Whether he makes the correct pass to a cutter, or hits the jumper, we really haven’t seen that either post AS Break. The reason this is so important for the Celts offense is it makes them unpredictable. I want to see them run more stuff like this

When Horford is put in a position like this, everything is clicking. There’s good spacing, there’s good cutting, and the most important part, his dribbling is kept to a minimum.

It’s hard to continue to be successful when everyone knows what’s coming, and over the last three, especially with Isaiah, that’s what I’m seeing. Almost every offensive possession starts with a high screen for Isaiah, and that’s fine. But for example in last night’s game, he was very predictable in what he did after he got that screen. I’ll never fault him for being aggressive, especially with the rate that he gets to the line, but I would like to see some variation in what he does. It’s nothing major, but maybe take a few less dribbles and take the open midrange, like he does here

So much of Isaiah’s success relies on the defenses not knowing what to expect from him. Similar to what we saw in the playoffs, the Hawks knew what he was going to do coming off that high screen, and as a result they were able to properly defend it. It’s no secret Isaiah works the best in space, and to get that space he needs to make sure he uses all the moves in his arsenal. While I don’t think he’s going to miss that many layups moving forward, it doesn’t ignore the fact that he and the team didn’t adjust when things weren’t working.

But this goes for the entire offense. Things are at their best when the Celts move the ball with conviction and get the defense moving side to side. This is what opens up lanes for Isaiah and Jae and Marcus to take it to the rim. Well last night we didn’t see that ball movement in the second half, we saw them settling for long jumpers that weren’t there. We saw a team that was not putting pressure on a defense. That’s bad and shouldn’t come as a surprise it didn’t work out.

– Now I want to shift gears to the defense, or really lack thereof. When the Celtics play a team that is aggressive like the Hawks are at attacking the rim, they need to be better with their rotations. For example, Horford’s lateral quickness is not quick, so when he has a player like Millsap, or shit even Bazemore on a switch, there needs to be good communication for help. Too often did we see Celtics players on an island, get blown by, and there be no second line of defense. THIS is where that rim protector helps you and why Ainge needs to do something in the buyout market. Time after time we saw German Rondo get to the rim, Sefolosha shot 5-6, basically all layups, Bazemore shot 7-13, you get the idea. The Hawks starters shot 54% in this game, which is really all you need to know in a make or miss league.

We all agree that things turned in the second half, and I can’t point to anywhere other than the defense. We talk all the time about how the Celtics can’t win games where they give up multiple 30 point quarters. Well, that’s exactly how they ended this game. A total of 33 points in the third, and 30 in the fourth. That is not going to cut it. Period.

– It can’t be ignored, the Hawks played harder and deserved to win. They dominated the glass 55-40, and it wasn’t just Dwight. Some dude named Taurean Prince had 12 himself, including 5 OREB. As a result they killed the Celts on second chance points (20-11) and points in the paint (60-34), but also in fastbreak points (15-7). To put it simply, the Celtics were flat and couldn’t match the Hawks energy. That’s a bit concerning.

The Ugly

– This is not a great time to be Kelly Olynyk, or a Kelly Olynyk fan. You could argue that his struggles since the break are really hurting this team because his fuck ups are never minor, they always lead to points it seems. Another game in which he was Hesitant Olynyk, another game in which he had awful turnovers, and the worst part about his night for me, was he lost his composure when calls didn’t go his way, which again, led to points for the Hawks. Watching him over these last three compared to what he was for the last few weeks before the break is like watching two different players. I’m not sure what happened, but he needs to get back to just doing his job, which is to shoot the ball. This is probably true for everyone on the roster, but when things tense up, Kelly is trying to do too much, and as a result is failing miserably. I just want him to get back to playing within himself and it will surprise you how much that helps the team.

– Brad said it himself after the game, and I agree with him. It’s hard to win when you are throwing the ball to the other team. Cry all you want about not having a rebounder or standing pat at the deadline, but the Celtics lost this game because they were careless. At halftime Atlanta had 11 TOs, the Celtics had 7. By the end of the game the Hawks had 14 and the Celtics 18 which lead to 25 points for Atlanta. As a team that is very good at taking care of the basketball, that’s probably the most frustrating part of this loss for me. When you are shooting as poor as the Celts were, you cannot be careless with the basketball to this degree.  Isaiah was the main culprit with 7, which is unacceptable, but when you have Amir Johnson getting an inbounds pass stolen, and Horford with multiple TOs, this speaks to the Celtics not being there mentally. That bothers me.

– And speaking of not being there mentally, here was another example of where the Celts let noncalls get to them WAY too much. Things start to go south, they don’t get a call, they bitch and moan, have a mental lapse on defense and ATL made them pay. Time and time again. It’s not even about whether or not they are right about getting fouled, its the approach. It’s almost as if the team as a whole just needs to take a collective breath rather than throwing oil on the fire and next thing you know, its a 17 point lead.

I’m not giving Brad a free pass on this either. He needs to do a better job of sensing when things are teetering and stop that shit in its tracks. I don’t think we got that last night. Avery Bradley said it best, the Hawks came out in that second half and punked the Celts. I can let a lot of things slide on any given night with this team. I cannot give this a free pass. Allowing a team like that to come into your building and do that to you (especially after you had momentum after that Jaylen alley oop) is inexcusable.

– It was so bad I need to mention it twice. That 4-20 shooting in the third quarter was a disaster.

It’s clear the Celtics are in a rut, but we’ve seen this from them before. They are 4-1 coming off a 15+ point loss, and each of the last two times this has happened, they’ll pulled out four straight wins. To be consistent I’m not going to say a game like this means they are fucked in the first round. The Celts are something like 7-3 against teams that are 5-8, so I think that is a little extreme. Having said that, we are seeing trends that need to be addressed, and quickly, so that they ultimately don’t ruin what the Celtics have built over the last 50+ games. We’ve seen enough great basketball from this group to believe them when everyone from the players to Brad says it’s just one of those nights, so I can forgive them for that. But that doesn’t mean I’ll forget it.