9:24 P.M. (EASTERN TIME).
When he was coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Parcells said what has become a famous aphorism in sports: You are who you say you are.
After the Boston Celtics lost 15-15 in the Big Easy Sunday afternoon, the New Orleans Pelicans went down 120-115 after leading by 24 points in the second period, that’s for sure.
We obviously have a lot of cleaning up to do, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
Sunday was a microcosm for Boston throughout the season. The Celtics had some brilliant moments thanks to Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who scored 57 points in total even last weekend. The other players didn’t do much, as the rest of the team only scored 58 points by shooting 4 of 20 on 3-pointers.
Eleven of those failures are due to Kemb Walker, whose play, since his debut in early January after completing a 12-week program to strengthen his ailing left knee, has been as steady as Boston’s steady climb to nearly .500. After Walker had his best game of the season in Friday night’s win over the Atlanta Hawks, scoring 28 points and going 10 of 16 from the field – Walker hit at least half of his shots for the fourth time this season – Stevens was mildly critical of his playmaker, and Tatum said the playmaker’s play is starting to take its toll.
Walker scored 5 of 21 points in 36 minutes Sunday, including 1 of 12 from three-point range. He is now shooting 37.1% on the season and the Celtics are putting him on the floor.
Overall, the Celtics look like a team that never replaced Gordon Hayward, who played at the All-Star level after signing with the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason. It’s clear that Marcus Smart’s recent calf injury – an injury that Smart has been dealing with since the 30th round of the draft – is a major concern. January out of the lineup and an injury that ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported before Sunday’s game will keep Smart out of the lineup until the All-Star break next month – part of Boston’s problems. But the Celtics also did nothing in the offseason to replace Hayward’s production on the wing. Instead, they signed another leader (Jeff Teague) and another cross (Tristan Thompson) for the team that is strong at both positions.
Teague has been a terrible disaster, shooting less than 30 percent on two-pointers this season and has rightfully been left out of Stevens’ rotation in favor of rookie Peyton Pritchard. Meanwhile, Thompson was slowly returning to form after a hamstring sprain cost him the entire training camp with his new team. But even his improved play left Stevens juggling a rotation he admitted was unbalanced before Sunday’s game with Boston’s top three players – Thompson, Daniel Theis and Robert Williams – all under center.
I’ve been saying that all year: One of the problems with our team is that we’re catching up to our best players on the perimeter, and the next three top producers on our team are on the face of it probably top 5, Stevens said.
While Stevens continues his search for wings, the team’s other newcomer, Aaron Nesmith, is the first player to leave the bench in the last five games. And while he was good, he wasn’t as good as Hayward was for Boston last year – let alone what he was for Charlotte this season.
This put a heavy burden on Tatum and Brown, who had to produce for the Celtics. And in games like Sunday afternoon’s, when Walker struggled to score from the outside rim, that enabled New Orleans to throw everything at them without worrying about anyone else on the field – a formula that allowed the Pelicans to overcome a big deficit and ultimately win in overtime.
Obviously, we gave ourselves a chance by working overtime, Tatum said. But if we want to be a really good team, we have to shut teams down early, especially by 20 points.
But we’ll let them come back.
While Stevens never said it like Parcells did, he didn’t hesitate to point out that since Boston has been around .500 the last few weeks, there’s no reason to believe the team’s current form should allow it to be better than that. Yes, Boston wasn’t smart, but almost all teams were dealing with significant absences due to injuries or NBA health and safety protocols due to the ongoing COWID-19 pandemic.
The combination of this fight continues, with basketball team president Danny Ainge, said : Our list is obviously not very good…. no if, and or but, but in a radio interview this week, Boston will be in the spotlight by next month’s deadline.
From the time Boston wakes up Monday morning, there are 31 days to go until the deadline of the 25th. March, a time when the Celtics, armed with all of their first-round picks and a huge commercial exception due to Hayward’s mid-season departure, need to make a move to replenish their current roster.
If they can make a move, they have a chance to make it to the Eastern Conference, where there are several potential opponents, including Boston, all of whom have serious weaknesses. If they can’t do it, it’s hard to imagine how they’ll do it.
After all, we’re 30 games removed from a 72-game season and the Celtics are a team of 500 players. And in this case, their records say who they are.
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