The Boston Celtics suffered a 123-95 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in this evening’s Christmas Day match up. The Celtics were actually leading heading into halftime, and then underwent a shocking second half collapse. This resulted in the Celtics essentially giving the the Nets the win as a midday Christmas present. It was an unnerving performance from the team after their thrilling season opening win over the Milwaukee Bucks, and leaves the team with some questions as they head into their next set of games.
The Celtics played the first half looking like they were ready to build off of their win against the Bucks. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 25 points, which was matched by the Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant duo dropping 25 combined points as well. They received some solid play off the bench from the likes of Semi Ojeleye and Payton Pritchard, and went into the half with momentum on their side. While Irving had 17 points, the Celtics did a good job of limiting Durant’s opportunities to score, as he only had 9 points.
That all changed at the start of the second half. Durant came out of the gate on fire, and shifted the momentum of the game. He got pretty much any shot he wanted, thanks in part to him being guarded by Tristan Thompson. This was the first in a line of puzzling lineup moves made by coach Brad Stevens. Tatum is probably the best bet to slow down against Durant, although the Celtics slowed him down by sending a number of different defenders his way in the first half. Thompson has the size to be physical against Durant, but he is not nearly as agile as he is. Durant knew the mismatch, and took full advantage of it.
Once this happened, the Nets offense found a lot more success. More attention was given to Durant, which allowed Irving and others to find more holes in the defense. The Nets finished shooting 54% from the field, including an astonishing 51% from 3, which is a telling sign that it was just too easy for the Nets on the offensive end.
Coach Stevens also mismanaged this game horribly. He held Brown and Marcus Smart out for long periods of the second half when the team was loosing it’s footing in the game. Smart and Brown were in foul trouble, but so was Irving on the other side, and he was effortlessly scoring against the Celtics bench players. The Nets started pulling away when it was just Tatum and bench players on the floor, and Stevens simply waited too long to get his starters back on the floor. Sometimes you need to take a risk to keep your team in the game, rather than taking a risk that the game will even be close when they get back on the court. Stevens did the latter, and he paid the price for it.
This game exposed some flaws that the team experiences in it’s current state. The bench got put in a tough spot tonight having to compensate for Brown and Smart being in foul trouble, but they provided the Celtics with very little in this one. With Kemba Walker sidelined, somebody who isn’t Tatum or Brown is going to have to step up and provide some scoring to take the attention off of them. Last game it was Jeff Teague, but this game no one answered the call. Tatum and Brown combined for 47 points, but they also combined for 47 shots to get them. Once they fell behind, the Nets knew Tatum and Brown were going to need to step up, and they forced them into inefficient shots. If someone else can’t emerge as a third option in Kemba’s absence, this offense could routinely struggle to put up points.
The Celtics will play their next game on Sunday night against the Indiana Pacers. This will be the first of two consecutive games against the Pacers, and the Celtics will be looking to rebound from tonight’s dud. The Celtics will look for another scorer to emerge alongside Tatum and Brown, and play better defense against the Pacers top players. The Pacers are not on the same level of the Nets, but they still provide a threat to give the Celtics trouble. The Celtics reverted back to their poor preseason form tonight, and they will need to show their resiliency to come out fighting Sunday night against the Pacers.