The Boston Celtics suffered an inexcusable loss at the hands of an undermanned Washington Wizards squad last night, ending the team’s brief three-game winning streak. While wide-open misses played a big part in the loss as a whole, a game against a historically awful defensive team like the Wizards is a must-win if Boston wants to secure home-court advantage later in the playoffs.
The fact that Kemba Walker didn’t play or that the game was on the road shouldn’t matter – the Wizards were short their own All-Star guard, and truly great teams win road games against bad teams. However, the sky isn’t falling, and a night in which Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward shot a combined 22-67 from the field (32.8%) is much more of a fluke than it is a long-term warning sign. There are some positive things to take away from this loss, and the Celtics stand to benefit from taking a look back at their performance and dissecting exactly what worked and what can be improved upon.
1. Jaylen Brown Showed Why He’s An All-Star
Jaylen Brown’s first off-game in what felt like a month was promising despite the abysmal shooting numbers, as he was still able to pour in 23 points, including a 7/7 performance from the free-throw line. That increases Brown’s free-throw average to 76.5% on the season – up over 11 percentage points from the 65.8% he shot last year. The free-throw developments, like his overall efficiency from the field and from behind the three-point line, point to how much he committed to improving his game this summer. Brown also pulled down 12 rebounds, increasing his season average to 7.2 per game and furthering his claim as one of the best rebounding guards in basketball.
Jaylen Brown’s 7-22 shooting performance (including 2-10 from three-point range) was his worst of the season – coupled with unimpressive shooting numbers from Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart as well, the Celtics might have walked away with a win had their stars been any more effective from the field.
2. Tremont Waters Has More Value than Anyone Thought
Tremont Waters was very impressive in last night’s game, pitching in eight points, an assist and a steal in eight short minutes. The nature of his two-way contract dictates that he can only spend so many days with the team this season, but the Celtics may want to consider converting his contract into a fully guaranteed deal in order to either use him or trade him. Teams around the NBA have reportedly taken notice of Waters’ play in the G-League, and performances such as the one he put on last night only help to bolster his trade value. I don’t think the team should be giving up on Carsen Edwards just yet, but Waters has been objectively better in the short amount of time he’s been on the court. If the Celtics want to pick up a lower-salary big man, such as Aron Baynes or Dewayne Dedmon, at the trade deadline, having multiple promising, low-salary young guards to offer up could be very useful.
3. Grant Williams Impresses Again
Surprisingly enough, Stevens opted for Grant Williams over Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter at the center position to close last night’s game. While his defense wasn’t perfect and he wasn’t able to secure a few defensive rebounds that may have changed the outcome of the game, he had a good showing overall in 25 total minutes. Williams had 9 points on 3-3 shooting from the field, including 1-1 from three-point range., to go along with 6 rebounds, one block and one steal. His finished tied with Daniel Theis and Tremont Waters in overall plus/minus (+1), and his all-out effort on the court seemed to be contagious at times, with the team having some of its most aggressive defensive spurts with Williams on the floor. Williams has beautiful touch around the basket, and after a 0-25 start from the behind three-point line, he’s made eight of his last 20 attempts (40%). He’s dripping with Draymond Green-like, swiss-army-knife-forward potential – once he can consistently defend without fouling (as he fouled out of last night’s game with 9 seconds remaining), he’s going to be a staple of the Celtics’ rotation for years to come.
4. Games Like This Happen – But the Team Should Learn From It
With 1:21 left on the game clock in the fourth quarter of last night’s game, Jayson Tatum passed the ball to Gordon Hayward in the corner for a wide open three-point attempt. The shot would have brought the Celtics to within one point of tying the game, potentially setting the team up to take the lead with under a minute remaining in regulation. Hayward subsequently air-balled the shot, sending the ball sailing into the arms of Washington’s Ish Smith and tremendously hurting Boston’s chances of stealing a win. The shot was a microcosm of Boston’s shooting performance over the entire game – a nail in the coffin after 47 minutes of ugly basketball. The Celtics were able to get plenty of open shots throughout the game – which should convey that this was more of off-night than anything else. These nights are inevitable over the course of an NBA season, and it was only the second time that Boston had lost to a team outside of their conference’s playoff picture all season. There are adjustments that can be made following this loss, but there is no reason whatsoever for legitimate panic.
However, that’s not to say that the Celtics should just shrug this off as a “whatever” game and never think about it again. Many of the missed field goal attempts in last night’s game came as a result of momentum-killing turnovers that didn’t properly allow for any of the Celtics’ top four players top get into a consistent offensive rhythm. It was a fluke game, but it can easily happen again if the team doesn’t stay focused and committed to their core values – sharing the wealth offensively, playing great team defense and staying together as a unit. Luckily, it’s not 2018-19 anymore – effort and focus isn’t something the fans really have to worry about with this Celtics group.