Boston had a shot to start the road trip 2-0, but let it slip through their fingers
1. Splitting the first two games of a five-game west coast swing isn’t the worst thing. The Sacramento King are also no longer the KANGZ, where you just show up and get a victory. Losing to them on a back-to-back isn’t anything to be ashamed of. And Boston was without their top three options as lead ballhandlers.
That said, this was a missed opportunity. A couple of defensive breakdowns and a couple of sloppy possessions late in the fourth and that was that. Now, to salvage a good result from the trip, the Celtics need to beat either the Clippers, Suns or Jazz. None will be easy. The guess here is Boston wins at least one of those games and returns home with a 2-3 trip behind them.
2. Tristan Thompson turned in his second consecutive strong game. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds and was a presence defensively. That’s why it’s confusing and frustrating that he didn’t see any minutes late in the game. Brad Stevens said it was about matchups and the play of Robert Williams (who got a longer than usual stint in the second half because of good play) and Daniel Theis (who was good again). But Thompson was bullying Sacramento inside and creating some easy scores. Williams and Theis earned their run, but Thompson more than earned his as well.
3. Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard were all out. That left the point guard minutes for Jeff Teague and Tremont Waters. Those two split them almost equally at 23 minutes apiece, with the Celtics playing just under two minutes without a traditional point guard on the floor.
That means that 23 minutes each for Teague and Waters were basically 46 minutes that were burned on bad play.
Teague is mess right now. He’s hesitant to shoot, which leads to him over-dribbling. Then, with the clock mostly used, he takes shots that are best described as a fling in the general direction of the rim. Defensively, he’s not much better. His effort isn’t bad initially, but if his player sticks with it, they eventually break him down.
Waters simply doesn’t look like an NBA player and, outside of flashes here and there, never has. He’s too small to create much offense. His shot looks fine, but rarely goes in. Even as the G-League Rookie of the Year last year, Waters only shot 43% from the floor. On defense, he’s a pest. He can get up into ballhandlers. He was able to make Cory Joseph struggle some. But when matched against De’Aaron Fox, he had no chance at all.
Fox and rookie Tyrese Haliburton were two of the best three players on the floor. A large part of the reason for that was the lack of pushback from their direct counterparts. It was two clear rotation players going against two deep backups and it showed.
4. Related to the above: Some have started to wonder if Boston needs to look for a point guard. It doesn’t seem quite that dire. Walker, Smart and Pritchard should be able to handle things once all three are healthy. That’s good enough depth to get by at that position. However, the presence of those three could mean that Teague is in a tenuous place roster-wise. If the Celtics need that roster spot via trade or even buyout, Teague could be the odd man out.
5. Jayson Tatum just missed the first triple-double of his career by one rebound. That’s a testament to how far he’s come as a passer. None of his passes were highlights per se, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes simple is best and Tatum seems to be well on his way to mastering that skill.
6. Jaylen Brown’s shooting has slipped a bit since his molten start. That’s not unexpected. No one shoots for an entire season the way Brown opened the year.
The good news? Brown seems to understand when the jumper isn’t falling now. He makes an effort to get inside. Several times in this game, he bullied his way through Buddy Hield for baskets. That’s how a complete scorer gets it done.
7. As mentioned above, the Celtics face one of the more difficult stretches of the season over the next week. The Clippers look the part of a title contender. The Suns are sort of like Boston as far as being up-and-down, but are a talented group. And the Jazz have surged to the top of the Western Conference.
All three teams are very different in terms of style of play. The real test will come for the Celtics defense. They’ve been better over the past week or so. To finish the road trip at 2-3 or better, they’ll need to really lock in on defense. Otherwise, a 1-4 trip and a four-game losing streak could be what the Celtics take home to Boston.