What to pull from sloppy Celtics win following Friday's loss

Nick Friar
December 01, 2019 - 7:17 pm
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There are only a few teams in the league the Celtics could’ve beaten with the way they played on Sunday. Good thing for Boston they played one of those teams.

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The Knicks’ 4-16 record speaks for itself. The Celtics are going to have off nights, but beating New York by single digits shouldn’t happen.

“I feel like we got outplayed (in) the first half. And last game we lost (to the Nets),” Jayson Tatum said on NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics Post Game. “That’s what we just talked about (at) halftime. We got to get back to having fun and competing. We weren’t playing how we normally play.”

The Celtics are still 14-5 and one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The sky isn’t falling because they lost to the Nets and only beat the Knicks 113-104. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

But this rough patch is a good test to see how everyone responds.

The Celtics had their lengthy West Coast trip. Guys are banged up (i.e. Marcus Smart, even before his abdomen injury). And teams are bringing a little extra every time they play the C’s because they’re one of the best teams in the conference.

Plus, everyone should have a decent idea of what their role is going to be this season. Although Gordon Hayward’s return will change things a bit, there will only be so much of a change in whose number is called. Now we should get an idea of everyone's thoughts on their responsibilities, since they have a full understanding of their respective roles. So far, there haven’t been any apparent issues.

Tatum has been great over the last two games. After scoring 26 on 10-for-19 shooting (4-for-8 from three) against the Nets on Black Friday, he scored 30 on 10-for-23 shooting (5-for-11 from three) against the Knicks. He also had a career-high seven assists, plus six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

More importantly with Tatum, he’s starting to expose mismatches off screens. On Sunday, he torched Bobby Portis and made easy work of Frank Ntilikina when he had him in the post.

Jaylen Brown responded well from a tentative performance in Brooklyn, finishing with 28 on 11-for-18 shooting (4-for-10 from three) at Madison Square Garden.

Again, Brown did this against the Knicks, but Brown and Tatum’s production was crucial because Smart was ice cold before he got hurt (0-for-6) and Kemba Walker only went 6-for-18 from the floor (3-for-9 from three).

“If there’s one thing we’re going (to) do (it) is stay positive with each other, amongst each other. Not let things affect us as a group,” Walker told reporters. “I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball as of late. So we’re just trying to stick together and that’s all we can do. It’s a long year.”

Daniel Theis has hit a rough patch. He only played seven minutes on Friday and logged 17 on Sunday. He’s been dealing with an ankle issue that could be catching up to him and impacting his decision making, which hasn’t been up to par of late.

The starters have been the primary concern over these last two games. Because Enes Kanter followed up his 10-point performance on Friday with a double-double against his old team (11 points and 11 rebounds). Brad Wanamaker finished in double figures again (11 points) and Semi Ojeleye has been much more efficient than his usual self of late (47.1 field goal percentage, 36.4% from three in the last four games).

Furthermore, Boston’s bench has been helpful on defense, which is to be expected (with the exception of Kanter). The same cannot be said of the starters. That shouldn’t be the case with Smart and Brown out there, Tatum’s ability to pick off passes and Walker being one of the best at drawing charges this season.

“I think communication, just being more positive, stuff like that (is important),” Brown said when asked what sparked Boston’s improvement on defense late on Sunday. “It’s a long season, we know that. We know we have expectations for this team, but it’s a process in doing that. You know, we’re going to make mistakes. We’re not going to be perfect every step of the way, but (if we can) be positive as a team moving forward, we’ll be fine.”

Having two days between Sunday and their next game is huge. Especially with Boston’s next opponent being the 14-5 Miami Heat.

The Celtics need to take advantage of Monday and Tuesday and reset.

Jayson Tatum’s performance on Sunday marked the first time in his NBA career where he scored at least 30 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists.

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