Here are the takeaways as the ice-cold Celtics fell 115-112 in double-overtime to the Wizards on Saturday.
1. Given what just happened, it feels like we need to start with the 3-point shooting, but there isn’t much to analyze. The Celtics were 2-for-26 from behind the arc. They somehow managed to send the game to double-overtime, but a team simply has no business winning an NBA basketball game in the year of our Lord 2021 when it makes just two 3-pointers.
“What can you say?” Josh Richardson asked rhetorically after the game.
Jayson Tatum missed his first three of the game — a relatively open spot-up look that rimmed out. Dennis Schröder — who has been red-hot from deep — missed the next two, both open looks. Richardson missed a good look next. Payton Pritchard missed an open 30-footer. Romeo Langford missed a wide open look from the corner. Grant Williams air-balled an open one. Jayson Tatum tried to go 2-for-1 but hit the side of the rim.
We could keep going, but you see Richardson’s point. All were good looks, but nothing connected until Pritchard finally broke the seal in the third quarter on the Celtics’ 21st attempt. The mental damage was done however — the Celtics attempted just five more through the fourth quarter and two overtime periods.
2. A major part of the reason the Celtics stayed alive was Jaylen Brown, who carved up the Wizards’ porous interior defense en route to 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting. Ime Udoka hinted the Celtics wanted to get him going earlier after his lackluster (or “mind-boggling,” as Udoka put it) performance on Wednesday, and two minutes into the game, Horford found Brown cutting backdoor for an easy two-handed dunk.
That opened the floodgates for plays like this.
The dunk was nice, but perhaps more impressive were Brown’s forays into the paint when he adjusted to the defense — switching hands and angles, sometimes in mid-air. He showed off his devastating euro-step in transition and found several impressive ways to score without making a 3-pointer (0-for-5).
“He’s a prideful guy, holds himself to a high standard,” Udoka said. “You knew he was going to have a bounce-back game. He said he really wanted to focus in on maintaining every possession and playing through every possession, and you could see the focus and attack and spring in his step from the start of the game.”
3. Jayson Tatum is now shooting 40 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from 3-point range after a 10-for-32 outing on Saturday. Tatum is streaky, but he simply hasn’t been good enough to start the season.
Tatum’s struggles are most stark late in the game. The Celtics ran isolation sets for Tatum down the stretch on Saturday with very limited success — not for the first time this season. Brown got the final shot of regulation (and he probably could have taken it to the rim, rather than settling for a jumper), but Tatum’s iso sets haven’t looked good in the early going.
Per the NBA’s tracking stats, isolation sets made up 22 percent of Tatum’s offense prior to Saturday’s game, and he averaged 0.68 points per possession. That puts him just below the 14th percentile. Presumably, the Celtics will give him a chance to turn things around, but early returns on Tatum’s isolation offense this season are not promising, which is in line with previous seasons.
4. On the NBC Sports Boston broadcast, Brian Scalabrine praised the way officials are letting physical contact go, and he will get no argument here. Keeping players safe is important, but allowing more borderline physical plays ratchets up the intensity and allows for fun little story lines within the game (for example: Al Horford absolutely leveling Spencer Dinwiddie in the post in the fourth quarter after Dinwiddie iso’d against him on multiple possessions) and keeps the game flowing nicely.
5. Montrezl Harrell presents both teams with a dilemma: The Celtics struggled to contain him offensively and once again gave up too many second-chance points (and 12 offensive rebounds), but they targeted the talkative big man relentlessly in the pick-and-roll.
Udoka doesn’t mind telling reporters when the Celtics are targeting a certain player — he said the Celtics went after LaMelo Ball after the Hornets game, and he once again named his team’s primary goal on Saturday.
“They had two guys we were picking on and being successful again, and we were trying to put Harrell in the action,” he said after the game.
Udoka’s candid nature continues to be a fun side plot this season.
6. Aaron Nesmith once again did not play and continues to be out of the rotation, even as the Celtics bricked a historic number of 3-pointers. Pritchard, who made one of the two, cracked the rotation with Marcus Smart out sick.
7. After a slow start and an invisible night on Wednesday, Josh Richardson bounced back with a really nice two-way performance: 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting (including the other made 3-pointer). He hounded Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie as best he could, despite a recent bout with back spasms (he said he felt better on Saturday).
Richardson doesn’t do much to solve the Celtics’ spacing issues, but like Schröder, his good performances offensively are a nice boost.
8. The Celtics were pleased with their effort, despite the loss which dropped them to 2-4.
“We guarded them pretty well all night — 36 percent overall,” Udoka said. “Shot-making wasn’t there. We relied on our defense and just came up short when we needed a few extra shots. But if we shoot like a normal or less-than-normal night, we’d be in good shape.”
“Sometimes it’s an adjustment period,” Richardson added. “No need to panic.”
Their point is taken — we haven’t even reached November on the schedule.
Still, the Celtics are yet to look good, outside of Tatum and Brown’s 71-point explosion against the Hornets. They are now 2-4 and have dropped winnable games during a soft part of their schedule before the difficulty kicks up December, and their best players have played five overtime periods in their first six games.
“I wouldn’t really say [the losses] are starting add up,” Richardson said. “… I don’t think anybody is hanging their heads or sagging their shoulders. I think that we all kind of know that we’re close.”
The Celtics need to be close, because whatever Richardson says, the losses are — in a literal sense — adding up. It’s early, so the Celtics don’t deserve a full-fledged panic, but we probably have sufficient warning signs to raise a concerned eyebrow.
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