Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The Celtics didn’t cover themselves in glory defensively in the second half with their reserves in the game, as Oklahoma City stretched a double-digit lead up 18 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter against Boston’s second unit, but the starters set the tone by struggling immensely in the early going. Jayson Tatum finished 1-for-6 and never looked comfortable. Gordon Hayward hit a couple shots to even out his numbers, but he was 3-for-7. Marcus Smart was 3-for-8. Only Jaylen Brown (3-for-6, more on him in a minute) and Daniel Theis (4-for-5) seemed to have range on their jumpers.
All-Star point guard Kemba Walker sat out as he continued to work to regain strength in his left knee. The sense I’ve gotten is that this is all part of Boston’s plan to be overly cautious with Walker as the team ramps up for the playoffs in about four weeks. Obviously the Celtics would prefer he never had a knee issue, but it does not sound like there have been any recent setbacks. Walker took part in Thursday’s full practice.
The atmosphere was certainly unusual. A video board flashed Celtics-related images throughout the games, there were some sound effects, and there was a public-address announcer. But it still felt like watching a pickup game, with sneakers squeaking and players yelling. That worked fine in this instance, because that’s basically what it was. But it’s wild to think that the NBA Finals will take place in a similar setting. […]
Tremont Waters missed all three of his 3-pointers, but he probably had the best stretch of the second-half crew anyway, showing off his quick hands, uncanny vision and skillful passing. The rookie finished with 7 points, 5 assists and 3 steals.
No, it wasn’t a dream. After 136 days of waiting, the Boston Celtics did actually play an NBA game yesterday.
It wasn’t the best outcome for your favorite team. They trailed most of the night and never found their rhythm. The starters played heavy time in the first half, each logging between 15 and 18 minutes (this game was played with 10-minute quarters), but – as noted above – they struggled.
A 12-2 run in the late second quarter gave OKC a 10-point lead, and the Thunder settled for a 47-42 margin at halftime behind 50% shooting – 12 of their 19 hoops were dunks or layups vs. Boston’s surprisingly porous defense. Steven Adams overwhelmed Theis to the tune of 17 points and 7 rebounds in 15 minutes.
Boston’s starters all sat out the entire second half, and although Waters (several sweet assists) and Enes Kanter (11 points, 10 rebounds) were bright spots on offense, OKC pulled away with a 51-42 advantage over those final 20 minutes. For the game, the Thunder shot 52.1%, helped by an astounding 21-of-22 (95.5%) success rate in the restricted area. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also scored 17 for OKC. (Box score)
So, after more than 19 weeks off, the Celtics did not have the glorious return to action we’d hoped to see. Good thing the NBA started its Hail Mary for 2020 with scrimmages that don’t count. The next one is Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern vs. Phoenix, and they need a better showing. See Page 2 for more about that.
Related – Herald: Thunder exploits Celtics inside in first scrimmage | Celtics fail their first tune-up | MassLive: Limited starters, Kemba Walker’s recovery, and Boston Celtics-Oklahoma City Thunder pregame notes | Boston Celtics rookie Romeo Langford missed opening scrimmage vs. Thunder with stomach illness | The Athletic: The Celtics are back: 6 observations from their scrimmage vs. Thunder | Boston Sports Journal: Nine takeaways from Celtics’ opening scrimmage vs. Thunder
On Page 2: A quiet place…too quiet
“We’re a fairly quiet group, generally, and I think that’s going to have to change, collectively, just because of this environment. It’s so unique that the collective voice of a group is going to be important. I think everyone is going to have to make sure that they do their best to communicate and help each other through.
“I point back to the biggest thing we take away from this is we all heard Chris Paul dominate the game with his voice. That’s it. If we would have played the whole game, they would have won because he was dominating the game with his voice. They are going to be a tough out, just being out here and watching them in person and hearing them in person.”
NBC Sports Boston: Lesson from the bubble: Brad Stevens wants louder Celtics
The Celtics lack of communication was evident pretty quickly as defensive breakdowns led to easy Oklahoma City buckets. Boston’s fourth-ranked defense depends on communication and staying connected, and the 28 first half points in the paint the Thunder scored showed that was lacking.
“It was a combination of being more vocal, and also mixing in conditioning and mixing in our first game we played live versus an opponent,” Jaylen Brown said. “We played against each other, but playing against Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder, those guards are coming at you fast. So just being able to adapt in this environment is going to be key for us.”
It was Boston’s first experience in this new coronavirus-sparked environment and the Celtics essentially failed their first test in a 98-84 loss. What was evident after just a few minutes is the Celtics are going to have to alter their approach if they want to be successful here under the NBA bubble.
It was apparent the Thunder were the more vocal and spirited team. The players talked trash from the bench, encouraged each other. On released 3-pointers by teammates, Paul would yell, “That’s three of them” make or miss.
The Celtics were timid in this environment, with Marcus Smart the lone one making any real noise. The bench was quiet, hardly encouraging. The players didn’t talk much on defense. The workmanlike Celtics thought their old style would work here, and it may, but the Thunder taught them a valuable lesson about self-motivation because that’s required when there are no fans.
No one wants to overreact to one scrimmage loss…but then again, overreacting is one of Boston fans’ go-to moves. In light of all these post-mortems above, there’s only one logical conclusion: the Celtics weren’t ready to play.
Failure to communicate, lack of spirit and self-motivation, perhaps even some conditioning problems – that’s a bad look. And they can’t make the excuse that it was their first game back, because it was OKC’s first game, as well.
The Celtics have been all over social media showing how well they’ve bonded at Disney World – on the golf course, in the pool, playing volleyball, and so on. They now need to bring that camaraderie to the basketball court, urgently. The gyms are going to be quiet for the foreseeable future, so they’d better generate their own noise. There’s also no time to waste; the seeding games begin in less than a week, and before we know it the playoffs will start.
By the way, this is what passes for “home court advantage” in the NBA bubble.
Also, thank you to NBC Sports Boston for not adding any artificial crowd noise to its coverage of the feed from Disney. We know there’s no fans there, and we don’t need any BS sound effects. It’s far better to just listen to the sounds of the game.
And, finally… Hair today, gone tomorrow?
Tatum’s first performance with his new hairdo was, umm, not great, leading to this.
If he has another dud on Sunday, yes, send him to the bubble barbershop.
The Rest of the Links: