5 rational thoughts about Celtics’ close but painful loss in Milwaukee

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks

We had our quick reactions to the Celtics’ down-to-the-wire loss against the Bucks last night; now we gather to look at the whole bloody affair with more nuance. Let’s ramble:

Lack of ball movement reared its ugly head again.
The common thread in many Celtics losses—not just last night, or even solely within this season, but throughout the whole Brad Stevens era—is the players’ failure to move the ball well on offense, for one reason or another.

Sometimes an ironclad defense breaks it up; other times various Celtics have held the rock too tightly. (For the latter, see “2018-19 Celtics season, entirety of.”) Boston under Stevens isn’t a team like the Harden/CP3 Houston Rockets, or many of LeBron James’s Cavs squads, that could thrive or at least manage with constant isolation offense. Shit’s gotta move.

In many of the losses during this brutal January stretch, the offense has been gummed up by possessions dying in players’ hands. Jayson Tatum was definitely one of them last night, as was Gordon Hayward. For them, this was due in no small part to the Bucks’ league-leading defense; others are guilty of it more consistently, like Enes Kanter. But forget the blame game—the team’s just gotta do everything it can to maintain good ball movement.

The missed shots early on were too much to overcome.
Milwaukee’s offensive game plan is simple and devastatingly effective when their possessions on that end start in transition: Barrel down the court and either get it to Giannis to feast at the basket or kick out to one of the squad’s many effective beyond-the-arc shooters. When their opposition misses a ton of jumpers, as Boston did, the transition opportunities are in the bazillions and Milwaukee’s scoring is often commensurate with them.

This changed during the Cs’ various runs, particularly that outstandingly relentless third-quarter attack. They put a strangehold on the Bucks’ transition opportunities, pressed for second-chance points and, of course, made a whole bunch of shots they’d previously missed. But with so much ground conceded early on due to misses and less-than-crisp transition defense, the hole Boston was in proved too deep to escape.

Hayward was quite bad, but your trade ideas are still wrong.
Going 1-for-10 is really bad, especially when 9 of those shots were triples, including the lone make. Hayward was driving everyone nuts last night, as noted in the Rapid Recap, for that reason as well as relative ineffectiveness on defense. (No one expects him to guard Giannis, but he could’ve managed to make Khris Middleton’s life harder last night, and didn’t.) And I included at least one frustration tweet about a Hayward trade in said recap.

However. Just to be clear, those who are in any way serious about trading Hayward are out of their goddamn minds.* Especially anyone thinking about Hayward for Drummond, the guy who lets the star of Boston’s biggest Eastern Conference rival, Joel Embiid, live rent-free in his head. This sort of suggestion mostly resides on Twitter, but I’m sure it’s run through the heads of various talk radio meatheads. (Thank God there’s a scandal going on in the MLB or Lou Merloni would surely have said this sort of thing by now.)

As Rich Jensen noted in this morning’s Dump, Hayward will suffer when the entire offense gets mud-stuck, as it was last night…just like the rest of the team will. Perhaps he needs to be made a sixth man again—if he remains a Celtic, this will almost certainly happen during the span of whatever new contract he receives—but that’s the biggest adjustment I can think of.

On the brighter side, the Cs lost by five to the Bucks while missing a starter.
Jaylen Brown was out, and his absence was certainly felt—particularly on the defensive end. Donte f***ing DiVincenzo doesn’t score almost 20 if Jaylen is on the floor, for one, and the other wings have more room to work against guys like Middleton and Antetokounmpo. While the ball-movement problem would’ve affected him, the added threat makes all the difference.

Without Brown, the Celtics came within a hairsbreadth of completing a comeback against the NBA’s best squad. What the Celtics are currently in is a rut, not quicksand.

Marcus Smart, elite NBA scorer, rode again (sort of).
Yeah, I know his percentage was bad; I said as much in my recap. But his threes helped keep the Celtics’ hope alive, as did his ability to get to the line (where he canned all 7 of his free throws). These are all signs that Smart’s offensive capabilities are working well.

*There is one (1) player I would currently trade Hayward, a metric ton of picks and salary filler for, in the most hypothetical of universes: That is Bradley Beal. The Wizards can’t trade him until Dec. 15, 2020, due to his extension, in the first place, and likely wouldn’t go for such a trade at that point even if Hayward was still in Boston then, which, while fairly likely, is far from a fait accompli at this point.

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