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 Sixers led 101-89 with 7:45 left and looked to be pulling away. Brown started an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer from the top as Boston climbed back in down 101-97.
Boston got within one possession with 4:39 left when another Brown 3 made it 103-100. But Simmons, who was quiet Wednesday, had a three-point play and then picked off a Marcus Smart pass for an easy layup that stretched Philly’s edge back to 108-100 sealing the game.
The Celtics began this week on top of the East standings with an 8-3 record. They’d won five straight after routing Orlando, even though Jayson Tatum had just been required to quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test.
And suddenly, it all went south. The Cs managed to score only 75 points in losing to the Knicks by 30, and now they’ve been swept in their two-game set at Philadelphia. On Wednesday, the Celtics gave up 117 points, and last night 122, including a disastrous 42-point third quarter. Getting stops simply wasn’t happening.
Where’s the defense? The 76ers are a middle of the road offensive team, but the Celtics made them look like juggernauts in the past two games. Philly erupted for 73 points in the second half behind their top three scorers, as the C’s had no answer for containing Ben Simmons, Harris or Embiid in the final 24 minutes — as the trio combined for 46 points on 15-of-22 shooting from the field. Embiid is a tough cover for any team in the NBA, but a lot of Philly’s best scoring runs came with him on the bench during a 42-point third quarter for the hosts. There have been lapses in all areas of the floor and it’s produced easy buckets and constant free throws for the Sixers. Without Tatum in the fold, the C’s don’t have the firepower to match teams in a shootout right now.
The Celtics really had no answer for the Philly trio in either game. Simmons posted 19 assists over the two nights, and his 11 points in the fourth quarter last night broke open a close game. Tobias Harris scored 22 on 9 of 17 shooting Wednesday and did even better on Friday: 23 points on 10 of 12 shots.
Most of all, the Celtics were helpless against Joel Embiid, who may have finally figured out how to win against Boston. Embiid’s two-game totals: 80 points (!), 24 of 34 from the floor (!!), 31 of 36 (!!!) at the line, and 21 rebounds (okay, that’s normal). The Cs just don’t have anyone to match up with him. On the NBC Sports Boston postgame show, they said the big man now has five straight 30-10 games against the Celtics. Yikes.
On the Boston side, Kemba saw his first action of the season on Wednesday. He didn’t shoot well overall (6 of 15), but he made 5 triples, scored 19 points, and added 6 assists.
Last night Kemba was moving like his old self and driving to the rim successfully. Although he made just 1 of 7 threes, he was 8 of 16 overall for 19 points again, plus 5 assists. All indications are that his knee pain could be in the past. (Here is where you, the loyal fan, should say a prayer or activate your favorite good-luck ritual.)
The main man was, of course, Jaylen Brown, whose week included 25 points against New York, 26 on Wednesday in Philly, and 42 last night, tying his career high. He displayed his leadership, too.
With Tatum out and Walker’s playing time still limited, Brown has been more than willing and able to take on the responsibilities of a primary scorer. He looks incredibly comfortable in every facet of his offensive game, and that’s leaving defenses with tough decisions. His mix of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, mid-range pull-ups, and daring drives to the rim thanks to his improved ball-handling have turned him into a true force. The Celtics have to be eager to finally have Brown, Tatum, and Walker on the floor together.
After this loss, though, Brown was in no mood to celebrate his offensive onslaught. Instead, he took the blame for some of Boston’s defensive deficiencies.
“Just really getting after guys, making them uncomfortable, rebounding, really making their life a living hell,” Brown said. “I can do that, while being great offensively at the same time. It’s a level of commitment and mentality, and I’m capable of it. I’m up for it. Can do more and I will do more.”
Brown has been sensational this season. In 14 games, he’s scored 42 twice and has been below 20 points just twice (with 18 and 19). His stats in the two-game Sixers series: 68 points, 26 of 52 shooting, 8 of 15 threes, and 13 rebounds. The Celts are riding him (his usage rate is 30.0%, 10th in the league), and he’s delivering.
As we know, health is always a problem with this squad. Last night’s lowlight was the sprained knee suffered by Payton Pritchard, thanks to a dick move by Dwight Howard, who bodied Jaylen from behind (truly a foul that went uncalled) and caused him to fall into Pritchard’s leg. It’s plain to see in this video.
Payton Pritchard is helped off the court after a collision with Jaylen Brown.
Thoughts & prayers to the rookie. 🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/vzQmPUEao1
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 23, 2021
Fortunately, the rookie was seen watching from the bench during the fourth quarter, giving hope that his injury might not be catastrophic.
As for what happens next with the team, there’s one key reason for optimism: Kemba and The Jays have not yet been on the court together this season. If they could all log significant minutes every night, that would change Boston’s entire outlook.
The Celts next play tomorrow at home versus the Cavs, winners of three straight. Tipoff has been changed to 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (it was originally 4 p.m.). Tatum will probably return to the lineup, so maybe, just maybe, we’ll have our first chance this season to see what Boston’s current Big Three can do together.
Related – NBC Sports Boston: Forsberg: Celtics need to find lost defensive identity | Celtics vs. 76ers Overreactions: Jayson Tatum’s absence is glaring
Boston Sports Journal: Robb: A familiar problem has re-emerged amid the Celtics losing streak
On Page 2: Troubled trio
Regardless, the Celtics splurged to acquire Thompson this offseason with hopes of adding a veteran backline defender who could control the glass and make things difficult on the East’s best bigs. The NBA’s defensive tracking data has Thompson’s opponents shooting 57.5 percent this season – or a whopping 10.7 percent higher than their expected field goal percentage. Among the 77 big men defending at least 5 shots per game, Thompson ranks 75th in field goal differential percentage. […]
The flip side is that Teague is shooting just 33.3 percent overall from the floor and, despite the team’s glistening defensive rating during his court time, his defensive limitations are accentuated by the fact that Boston as a whole has routinely offered little resistance from guards trying to get into the paint. […]
For Williams, it might be as simple as finding a way to reclaim a little bit of that bubble 3-point magic. He is shooting just 33.3 percent beyond the arc early in his sophomore season – this after hitting a blistering 58.8 percent of his playoff 3s after the restart.
NBC Sports Boston: Forsberg: Celtics simply need more from these three players
Forsberg’s piece was posted Friday midday, and Friday evening this trio proved his point with more lackluster performances. The Philly trip wasn’t fun for them; here are their cumulative stats for the two games.
- Tristan Thompson, 3 of 8 shooting, 6 points, 14 rebounds, 10 personal fouls, and overwhelmed on the defensive end by Embiid.
- Jeff Teague, 3 of 12 shooting, 8 points, 4 assists while playing exactly 17 minutes and 53 seconds each night.
- Grant Williams, 2 of 6 shooting, 6 points, 3 rebounds, 9 personal fouls.
This is not to pick on these guys, but facts are facts. The Celtics need better contributions from all three.
Teague is the oddest of the bunch. His inconsistency is extreme. He can score 17 and make 4 triples one night, then go scoreless the next time. Now, with Kemba still on a minutes restriction and Pritchard possibly sidelined for a while, Teague is going to get plenty of playing time. What he does with it will matter greatly.
And, finally… Flopping fail
With the pair of games this week, Marcus Smart and Joel Embiid went at each other, on and off the court, about who’s the real flopper.
Answer: they both are, but since Marcus is our flopper, we choose to make an example of Embiid.
Joel "I don't flop" Embiid just hurt himself while flopping pic.twitter.com/c5MycvGLVz
— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) January 23, 2021
Have to say, however, although Marcus scored well in Philly (25 and 20 in the two games), he didn’t seem as focused as usual. That’s from my eye test only, no analytics involved. Perhaps he was distracted by the woofing with Embiid, but whatever the reason, he appeared frustrated.
Late in last night’s game, Smart got cooked by a Simmons drive, then threw away a terrible cross-court pass that Simmons turned into another layup. Those plays turned the tide for the Sixers. That’s the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from Smart.
We’ve already said that having Kemba and The Jays together is the key to the Celtics’ fortunes. Having an engaged Smart making his trademark “winning plays” is a close second.