The Boston Celtics tough season continued to disappoint tonight, as they suffered a 107-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings. The Celtics just can’t seem to click this season, and their grip on a playoff spot appears to be slipping. They now fall to 20-21, which is the first time they’ve been under .500 all season. Nobody scored above 20 points in this one, which is a convenient way of saying nobody had a good night shooting.
The Celtics came out just looked flat in the first half. The Kings easily controlled the first half and took a 10 point lead into the break. There wasn’t really any defensive resistance, and nobody wanted to step up and take control of the offense. Things changed and provided the Celtics with a brief glimmer of hope in the third quarter, as the Celtics came out and scored 36 points and went into the fourth quarter only down by 1. For the first time in the past couple of games, the Celtics looked like they actually wanted to win a game.
That all changed very quickly in the fourth quarter. It was a pretty ugly display by both teams for most of the first eight minutes of play, and the Celtics actually took the lead back twice throughout the quarter, only to completely collapse in crunch time yet again. Jaylen Brown hit a pull up mid range jumper to give the Celtics a 91-90 lead with about four and a half minutes left, and then the Celtics proceeded to get outscored 17-5 the rest of the way. They seemed to be completely demoralized by a three pointer from Richaun Holmes that he banked in with 1.2 seconds left on the shot clock that put the Kings up 95-91. It’s just an unacceptable performance from a team of this caliber, and something needs to change in that locker room now.
Quite frankly, the Celtics just look uninterested for the most part. This team plays lazy defense, and seems intent on just shooting threes that would look great on highlight reels if they hit them, but end up clanking off the rim and hurt the team more often than not. It’s mind-boggling this same starting five made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, as they barely stayed competitive with the Cleveland Cavaliers and now the Sacramento Kings, two of the worst teams in the league. It’s probably time to start writing off those championship hopes for this season, because this team can’t even beat non playoff teams right now.
The Celtics have the talent in place to fix these issues, it’s just whether they want to. The defensive intensity that was associated with previous Brad Stevens coached teams has vanished. They seem too willing to accept that they’ve been beat on a play, when a simple contest may throw off an opponent’s shot. That’s on the players to step it up, but Stevens willingness to switch in and out of zone defensive schemes with a roster this young probably isn’t helping. Come up with a defensive scheme that you can use throughout the game and not one that needs to be changed on the fly. A team with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown shouldn’t be allowing this to happen on a nightly basis.
Brown and Jayson Tatum have been extremely impressive this season, but their effectiveness is beginning to fade away. Too often they end up taking more shots than points scored, which typically isn’t a good sign, and was the case tonight for both guys. The offense as a whole keeps forcing up low percentage takes way too early into the shot clock, which just leads to easy buckets on the other end. Tatum’s stepback jumper is effective, but there’s no reason it should be the first option the offense goes to. Pass the ball around or run a pick and roll to try and create an open look rather than settle for an isolation play that probably will result in a tough shot. It’s hard to watch so many ridiculous shots get fired up for no good reason, and it has been a huge reason for this recent Celtics skid.
One thing that certainly didn’t help the Celtics tonight was the free throw disparity between the two sides. The Kings made their way to the charity stripe 26 times in this one, while the Celtics somehow only managed to take seven free throws. The Celtics are regularly one of the toughest called teams in the league, and there’s no excuse for them to only get to the line seven times in any game. Richaun Holmes nearly doubled the Celtics attempts by himself, as he took 12 shots from the line by himself. The refereeing in the NBA has been criticized often this season, and Brad Stevens should voice his concerns to the NBA about this issue, because this is starting to become an issue that the Celtics can’t control.
While the free throw issue is most certainly not going to solve the Celtics many issues, they’ll have a chance to get back in the win column against another team at the bottom of the standings, as they welcome the Orlando Magic to town on Sunday. The Magic somehow ended a nine game losing streak with a victory over the Brooklyn Nets tonight, so they’ll come into the TD Garden with some momentum. Things are already bad enough for the Celtics as is, so they absolutely need to come away with a win in this one to try to prop themselves back up before it’s too late.
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