The Celtics were playing well for the first three-quarters yesterday in New Orleans––one could even say ready to coast to an easy win. However, everything changed in the 4th quarter: Josh Hart became a ubiquitous pest, Melli became a significantly more impactful big than Hernangomez, and the Celtics offense stagnated.
Before Robert Williams caught a lob to begin the overtime, even before Jayson Tatum made a pair of impressive shots over Josh Hart to force the overtime, the Celtics had worked to get a comfortable 20-point lead. I was mentally preparing to write a positive article about how this team had finally built some momentum. We would’ve won our third game in a four-game stretch after last weekend’s disappointing losses to the Pistons and Wizards. But we didn’t. The Pelicans simply wanted it more than us down the stretch.
It’s becoming a trend
Disappointing. That’s been the word to describe these Celtics losses. Letting Tyrese Haliburton control the energy of the game in Sacramento, disappointing. Shooting under 36% from the field on the afternoon game in Phoenix, disappointing. Rolling over to the Jazz, disappointing. The aforementioned Pistons and Wizards games, super disappointing. Letting Trae Young take control down the stretch, yep, you guessed it, disappointing. So after a really nice revenge win against the Hawks on Friday, the Celtics had a great opportunity today to build some momentum. To finally string together a second straight win. But nope, we couldn’t hold on to a 24-point lead.
After three quarters, I was ready to write about Kemba getting his bounce back––despite the jump shot struggles, Timelord’s extremely impressive play, and Nesmith’s quality play in his increased minutes. I was ready to be excited about finally getting a win in an afternoon game. I was ready to be optimistic for the first time since the four-game win streak before our COVID pause.
The Kemba thing is almost an epitome of this team as a whole. We finally see signs of him getting his swagger back, then he throws up a 1-12 from behind the arc. Brick after brick. Ugly misses. Members of the Celtics media had made it known following Friday’s game that Kemba was rounding into form. After all, he had averaged 22.8 PPG on 49.2% FG% and 54.8% 3PT% in his four games before today’s disaster. But 1-12 from three and 5-21 from the field is unacceptable, and the sad part is shooting performances like today have not been uncommon for him this season.
Not only is he not the same guy he was in Charlotte, but there are also times where it’s like “are we sure he should be in over Pritchard here?” The idea of trading away Kemba seems nearly impossible given his contract, so we just have to hope that he gets better; the unfortunate reality of the situation.
Even in the loss, the Celtics have definitely found themselves something with Robert Williams. Over his last eight games, he’s averaged 7.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.0 BPG on 72.2% FG%. Stevens rewarded his good play with some overtime minutes yesterday, as he put up 8-13-4 on 4-6 from the field. His lob finishes are breath-taking and his shot-blocking presence is a huge wrinkle for this team. Good things happen with him on the court.
A lot of work to be done
Yesterday was a step back the Celtics. Instead of going two games above .500, Boston falls back to .500 and the “identity crisis” questions still persist with this group trying to find their footing with Marcus Smart, the heart and soul of the team, still out with the calf injury. New Orleans got after us with the energy from the trio of Hart, Lonzo, and Zion, so it was almost fitting that Jaylen just had to overhelp on Zion to let Brandon Ingram sink the dagger three. When you juxtapose that recipe with this Celtics team, we don’t have the collective difference makers on games this like when Tatum and Brown can still get their points but do so on poor efficiency (17-47 FGM-FGA).
That issue can be fixable with better play out of Kemba, but at the same time, all of our bigs did pretty solid today and we still fell up short in the end; of course, we were also just a two or three minute stretch of focus in the 4th quarter away from winning the game handily.
We’re at least two tiers below the Nets right now, who, unlike the C’s, dominated their west-coast trip. But we shouldn’t even compare ourselves the Nets at this time. I don’t know what the near future holds for this group but I do know that the team-wide effort and discipline need to be present for more than just the entirety of one game and the majority of the following game for me to believe the 2021 Celtics are serious contenders in the East.