Why loss to Sixers might be Celtics' worst of 2019-20

Nick Friar
January 10, 2020 - 6:30 am

Every loss stings in some capacity, but Boston’s loss to the Sixers on Thursday was different. It was a gut punch.

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Despite how Brad Stevens felt after the game, this was one of the Celtics’ worst losses of 2019-20.

“I’m just not as discouraged as I’ve been the last couple days,” the Celtics head coach told reporters in Philadelphia.

Straight and simple, Philadelphia shouldn’t beat the Celtics by double-digits when Joel Embiid is out. Under those circumstances, Boston should win more often than not.

Compound that with Thursday being the third time the two teams have played this season and the Celtics entering the night 0-2 in the season series. “It's hard to beat a team three times” may be a cliché, but it’s accurate — usually.

Then there’s the part about this being Boston’s third loss in a row. Look, losing to the Wizards is bad. The Spurs haven’t been themselves this year either, so that’s a tough one, too — but San Antonio could turn things around, they always find a way to get things right.

Generally, losing to a sub-.500 team is more frustrating than a team that’s expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title. But the Sixers are in fifth place, right now. They were dealing with issues before Embiid dislocated his finger.

There were too many reasons why Philly shouldn’t have won Thursday’s game. Instead, Charles Barkley looks like a genius for illustrating on TNT how it’s a two-team race in the East, while claiming the Celtics aren’t one of those teams.

Now, all that being said, if the Celtics approach Thursday’s 109-98 loss the right way, this experience could help them. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' loss, click here.)

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been hyped up as legitimate All-Star candidates for a while now. They’ve earned that, so far. But it doesn’t mean they can turn on cruise control. They need to be consistent with their play in order to continue receiving All-Star consideration. Going 2-for-12 (Brown) or 4-for-13 (Tatum) from the floor against a contender, who also happens to be a rival, isn’t going to cut it.

“Some easy shots that I normally make — threes, layups — for the last two to three games, they’ve (gone) in and went out, for whatever reason,” Brown said. “Keep working. That’s it for me. Just continue to shoot them with confidence. They’re going to go in, I’m sure of that.”

These are the games when stars show up. Especially when it’s on national TV.

Which is what Kemba Walker did (26 points on 10-for-20 shooting, 5-for-11 from three). Marcus Smart went off, too (24 points on 9-for-14 shooting, 5-for-7 from three).

Walker was on another level with the way he moved on the floor. Seems like one game might’ve been all he needed to get back in the swing of things.

Smart has taken some time to fully recover from his ailment (eye infection), too. Before Thursday’s game, he’d been shooting 23.3% from three since returning from his injury (five games). And in the five games before the eye infection, when Smart was banged up, he was shooting 26.3% from three.

While one game may have been enough for Walker, one strong showing doesn’t mean Smart is back to what he was in the first 15 games of 2019-20 (34.6% from deep). But, he took a step in the right direction.

The same could not be said for Gordon Hayward. A measly eight points on 4-for-11 shooting.

The real significance of all those good performances he’s had against bad teams is they’re supposed to get him on the right track for the big games — like Thursday’s. If he proceeds to have nights like the one he did against Philly, there isn’t much of a point to those other performances.

But, again, if Tatum, Brown and Hayward look at this game and can identify their flaws, then improve upon them, this loss could be helpful toward the team’s greater goal.

“For whatever reason, guys are a little too comfortable playing against us,” Brown said. “We just got to watch the film, get back in the lab. All is not lost. Just keep watching film and getting better and learn from it. Keep working.”

Still, the Celtics have quite a bit of work ahead of them.

“We just haven’t played hard,” Smart said. “(The Sixers) got easy transition baskets on us because of our mistakes. We just got to turn it around. Like I told everybody: it’s part of the game. We (are) not going to play perfect. The games (are) not going to be perfect. We (are) going to have games. We got a lot of basketball left. We got to figure it out. Hopefully, we can figure it out sooner than later.”

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