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On a frigid night outside, Boston was cold inside TD Garden too
1. On an absolutely frigid night in Boston, things were freezing inside TD Garden too. The Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns never quite found the shooting touch, but Phoenix found their energy to pull away from Boston a couple of different times.
At points in both halves, the Celtics looked like they were sleepwalking through the game. Joe Mazzulla called it “inconsistent execution”, while Jaylen Brown said Boston was “going through the motions”. Either way, it was an annoying performance.
For large portions of the game, the Celtics looked like they were at the end of a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch or something. In those situations, a team having low energy is understandable.
But Boston was in the midst of a stretch where they played two games in a week. The Celtics played the Los Angeles Lakers last Saturday, then had three days off before crushing the Brooklyn Nets. This game came on the regular one-day of rest, but Boston now has the weekend off before next playing on Monday. That means from Sunday to Sunday, the guys in green will have played just two games.
And that means there is no excuse to play without energy.
2. Jaylen Brown has had a terrific season. His scoring game is the best it has ever been. It’s approaching a level where he’s as good as anyone in the league at putting up points. He’s also rebounding better than ever and rounding out his playmaking game.
On the other end of the floor, Brown is at his best when he’s on-ball or pressed into a ball-denial role above the break. He did a wonderful job of denying Stephen Curry the ball in Boston’s win over the Golden State Warriors a few weeks ago.
But when Brown is asked to simply guard his man away from the ball, things like this happen far too often:
Deandre Ayton had done all of the Suns scoring to this point, so it’s fair to have an extra eye on him. But Brown had no idea Mikal Bridges had slid down to the corner, and less of an idea that Bridges was cutting out of the strongside corner.
These sorts of lapses cost you against good teams. In the playoffs, where games slow down and every possession means more, this can be the difference between a win and a loss.
In a deserving All-Star season, and possible All-NBA year, Brown really needs to clean stuff like this up.
3. The above being said, Jaylen Brown was the only Celtic who showed up to score in the first eight minutes or so of the game. Boston started out dreadfully cold from the floor, minus Brown, who had 10 points to open the game.
Sadly, this three-pointer on the first play of the game wasn’t an indicator of things to come, but it was still good play-design. Whenever Jayson Tatum screens for Brown, or vice versa, good things seem to happen:
Brown is better than ever at attacking bigs on switches, and that comes from his versatility as a scorer. When he was younger, Brown would get the big on a switch, back the ball out, put his head down and drive all the way to the rim at 100 MPH. And it was every time he got that situation.
Here, Brown got Deandre Ayton on the switch, backed the ball out and when Ayton laid back, Brown pulled up for the three:
We showed you Brown losing Mikal Bridges earlier. Here’s the difference when he’s up and pressuring his man. Simply put, Brown is a different, and better, defender when he’s guarding above the break:
4. The Celtics got down by as many as 20 points in the first half. They eventually chipped away at that to end the half and throughout the third quarter. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, Boston had the ball and a chance to take the lead. Malcolm Brogdon missed a floater and in a very real sense, the game was over.
We didn’t realize it in the moment, considering there was 11:44 to play when Brogdon missed, but the Suns were about to snatch back control and put the game away. And they did so with a lineup that featured two Two-Way players (Saben Lee and Ish Wainright) and two players who are only occasionally in the rotation (Dario Saric and Jock Landale).
Phoenix went on a 14-2 run to open the fourth quarter to push their lead from one-point to 13 points over a three-minute stretch. Boston never seriously threatened again.
This play was emblematic of the lack of energy all game from Boston. We’re not going to blame Luke Kornet for Jock Landale outrunning him for this and-1 dunk, because Kornet exited with some sort of injury right after this play. But no one else is back. That’s a center outrunning the entire defense right to the front of the rim:
Good steal by Grant Williams to start this play, but there’s a reason coaches preach from youth league onward to never blind-save the ball under your own hoop:
Landale missed a three here and Boston let the ball bounce all the way back out to him. From there, he swung it to Damion Lee who drilled a backbreaking triple:
Three plays that were all preventable, and all helped fuel a Phoenix run.
5. Related to middle video of the above takeaway…what happened to Grant Williams?
Through December, Williams looked like someone the Celtics were going to have to hand a big contract to as a restricted free agent. Williams was playing the key third-big role and putting up some impressive stats. Williams averaged 9.0 points and 4.7 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game off Boston’s bench. And he did so on 52/44/83 shooting splits.
When the calendar turned, so did Williams’ play. In 17 games from January 1 onward, Williams is shooting just 40.2% from the field and his three-point shooting has dipped to 36.2%. In addition, Williams hasn’t been nearly as effective on defense either.
Maybe it’s just a slump. That happens. But maybe Williams is pressing a bit and starting to feel the pressure of playing for his next deal. Whatever it is, he and the Celtics need to get it figured out.
6. Related to all of the above: Boston has big problems when Jayson Tatum sits. For the season, the numbers are pretty stark.
The Celtics have an offensive rating of 120.8 when Tatum is on the floor, which would be the best mark in the NBA by healthy margin.
When Tatum sits, the Celtics offensive rating drops to 110.3. That would rank 28th in the league, ahead of only bottom-dwellers Houston and Charlotte. That -10.5 difference is one of the largest in the entire NBA among key rotation players.
The falloff translates to the other end of the floor too. Boston’s defensive rating when Tatum is on the court is 111.3. Which is right around the Celtics overall ranking of fifth in the NBA. When Tatum sits, the defensive rating drops to 114, which is about the league average.
Overall, the Celtics hold a +9.5 net difference when Tatum is on the floor. When he’s resting, Boston is -3.7. That’s a 13.2 margin. Again, that’s basically the biggest split for a key rotation player in the entire league.
To put it very simply: The Celtics are great when Jayson Tatum is playing. Historically good on offense and very good on defense. When Jayson Tatum sits, the offense is terrible and the defense is average.
7. We’ll continue to link things together here to say: The Celtics need a wing. Boston can’t continue to bleed points the way they do when Jayson Tatum sits, and they need cover for Jaylen Brown as well.
As it stands right now, Joe Mazzulla can barely take them off the floor, never mind resting Tatum and Brown for a game here and there. If Luke Kornet’s injury turns out to be something serious, then the Celtics will need to look at adding another big. But adding a fourth-big to play over Kornet isn’t nearly the need that adding another wing is. It’s really not even close.
8. This one is simple: For the first time in a long time, Boston was beaten up on the glass. The Suns grabbed 10 offensive rebounds compared to just three for the Celtics. That’s likely related to that lack of energy we’ve already talked about, as Phoenix isn’t a dominant rebounding team.
9. To close with a positive: Rob Williams looks like Rob Williams. He had some of those “Whoa!” plays in this one.
Unless you are quick and explosive enough to match him, challenging Williams straight up in isolation is a bad idea:
The old-timers are going to say things like “Bill Russell would have tipped this to a teammate”, but every once and a while, Russell admitted he would just destroy a shot to send a message. Williams tried to do that here:
10. The Celtics aren’t as good as the team that demoralized the Nets so badly that Kyrie Irving asked for a trade. Boston also isn’t anywhere near as bad as they looked against Phoenix. They’re a very good, but not great team. And that’s fine, as it doesn’t look like the NBA has any great teams this season.
The concern for now isn’t as much about pushing for the 60-win mark. That’s a very arbitrary marker that doesn’t really mean anything. The concern is holding off the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, who are both just one game behind in the loss column.
The Celtics have six games before the All-Star break, including ones against both Milwaukee and Philadelphia. They’ve also got three games against the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets, and sandwiched in the middle is a Super Bowl Sunday matinee against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Boston can still hit the All-Star break in a great spot, but they need to take care of their own business. Given the way this season has gone so far, it’s a good bet they will. And that starts again on Monday at Detroit.
Just two days after a blowout win over the Nets, the Celtics fell flat in an ugly loss to the Suns.
BOSTON – Following a dominant performance against the Brooklyn Nets in their previous game, the Boston Celtics fell flat on Friday night, falling to the Phoenix Suns 104-96. After a dominant offensive performance against Brooklyn, they sputtered to a halt. It’s those sorts of inconsistencies that have plagued Boston at times this year and last, leaving much to be desired on the offensive end. Rather than putting their maximum effort into each possession, the Celtics were stagnant all night.
“I think they came down and outplayed us from start to finish for the most part,” Jaylen Brown said post-game. “We got off to a decent start, but they outplayed us. No energy, they got more shots than we did, we were walking the ball up the floor every possession. We just didn’t have an enthusiasm tonight, just kind of going through the motions as a unit.”
In the NBA, simply “going through the motions” is a surefire way to pick up a loss, and the Celtics have dealt with that issue throughout the year. A similar problem occurred the last time they matched up against the Suns, only in that instance, Boston blew out Phoenix and went on to drop two straight games to the Golden State Warriors and LA Clippers.
Each of those losses came in ugly fashion, with Boston’s offense struggling to consistently generate clean looks. That’s exactly what happened against the Suns. Boston recorded just 94 points - their third-lowest total in a game this season.
Inconsistencies on one end of the floor frequently lead to more inconsistencies on the other end, and that endless spiral is where the Celtics often find themselves trapped.
“I’m not really disappointed. I think we can’t be inconsistent with how we execute,” head coach Joe Mazzulla explained. “The fragility of hanging onto playing a quote unquote perfect game is very difficult. And so, Phoenix did a great job of managing the game with their offense and their ability to execute. And we had spurts throughout the game where we gave up runs where we didn’t manage it well, whether it was because of our offense or it was because of our second-shot defense.”
Against the Nets, the Celtics shot 57.6% from the field and 48.1% from deep. Just two days later against Phoenix, those numbers dropped to 38.7% overall and 26.3% from distance. They went from putting up percentages that ranked in their top-five games this season to dropping splits that both ranked in the bottom.
Boston flipped a switch in the worst way possible in the span of two days. That sort of drastic change in performance is what has made this squad so volatile at times - being able to go from the best offensive team in the league to one of the worst.
“Every game has its own story,” said Brown. “And other times, we’ve depended on guys to come off the bench to lift us up and stuff like that. Some days it’s Malcolm, some days it’s Payton, Grant, [or] whomever. We didn’t get enough tonight. We just got to be better going forward. We got to find ways. As a leader, I gotta find ways to help get my team going. Sparks a little bit. The spark wasn’t there, and Phoenix seemed like they wanted it more than us, and that came out more, and we just came out and was going through the motions. And when that happens, everything becomes more pressure. We should be playing, flying around. But we took our foot off the gas.”
Maintaining constant confidence and pace will be key to the Celtics’ eventual success this season. Time and time again, Mazzulla has stressed the importance of not getting bored with playing the right way. That translates not only on an in-game basis but at a game-to-game level as well.
At their best, the Celtics can go toe-to-toe with anyone, and they might be the favorites to win the title. When they get bored and start drifting into stagnation, things go south very quickly.
Phoenix was without Devin Booker and Cam Johnson against Boston, which may have lured Boston into a trap game. But it all goes back to the point of consistency - if the Celtics aren’t able to bring the same intensity against a short-handed Suns team as they are against an inter-conference foe like the Nets, then where does that leave them?
“Just mindset and mentality, you know? You got to be able to get up for games and match other teams’ energy,” Brown stated. “And tonight, that just didn’t happen. We played well in stretches. We played way too slow. They shot way more shots than us. They dictated the game. I think we could’ve run a lot more, played a little bit faster, got some more shots. It didn’t happen tonight.”
Boston played some stellar defense, but the offense failed to match their efforts.
It was an extremely slow start for the Celtics, who put up just 20 points in the first quarter - their lowest total in the starting period all season. They held the Suns to just 24, but Phoenix quickly picked up the pace, outscoring Boston 33-24 in the second.
Boston failed to find any sort of rhythm on the offensive end, shooting just 15-of-40 from the field and 6-of-21 from distance in the first half. Jayson Tatum, in particular, really struggled. He didn’t score his first points until the 3:35 mark in the second quarter, leaving Jaylen Brown to carry the load in the scoring column (14 first-half points). Brown ended the night with a team-high 27 points.
All-Star JB starts the game off with 7 straight points pic.twitter.com/k6rkTKmFzB— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 4, 2023
Tatum shot just 3-of-15 from the floor and 3-of-10 from distance.
Malcolm Brogdon was also instrumental in keeping the Celtics afloat, as his first-half shot creation led to 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting. With Tatum struggling, he provided Boston with a much-needed second option.
With Devin Booker sidelined, it was Mikal Bridges who stepped up for the Suns, pouring in 25 points. Chris Paul also chipped in with 15 points, six boards, and eight assists.
Phoenix was up by as many as 20 points in the second quarter, but the Celtics battled back and cut the lead down to 13 by halftime, and midway through the third quarter, Boston was back within five. Tatum’s seven free throws did a number on the Suns, as he dropped 10 points in the third to lead the Celtics in scoring.
Despite Tatum’s free-throw extravaganza, defense reigned supreme in the third quarter, as Boston held the Suns to just 17 points. Phoenix shot just 7-of-22 from the field and didn’t record a single three-point make on five attempts. The Celtics capitalized on their defense, cutting into the deficit by 12 points.
An 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter put Phoenix back up by nine points, erasing most of Boston’s hard work in the third. And despite a relatively quick timeout from Joe Mazzulla, the Suns continued to pour on buckets early in the fourth, extending their lead to as many as 13 points in under three minutes.
With roughly eight minutes to go in the game, Robert Williams blocked Ish Wainwright, sending the ball flying into the stands. Brown came down the court after Boston finished off the possession with a stop and picked up a much-needed and-one bucket, giving life to an otherwise disinterested TD Garden crowd.
But despite the spark, Boston was unable to capitalize. They continued to play stellar defense, highlighted by an improbable transition stop by Derrick White, but their offense couldn’t match the production on the other end. Boston’s great defensive efforts were unfortunately outweighed by a complete lack of offensive flow.
The Celtics managed to cut the lead down to six with 2:19 to go, but they just couldn’t find enough offense to cap off the comeback. Al Horford had a chance to get it down to three with 1:51 left in the game, but he missed an open three, and that was the final straw for Boston.
A 21-point fourth quarter capped off an extremely disappointing offensive night for the Celtics, wasting an impressive defensive showing. The loss marked their fourth in six games, as Boston moved to 37-16 on the season.
Their next game will be on Monday, February 6, against the Detroit Pistons. That one tips off at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.
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The Celtics look to close their home stand with a win as they look to sweep the series with Phoenix Suns.
The Celtics complete their home stand as they host the Phoenix Suns. This is the 4th and final game of the 4 game home stand. The Celtics are 2-1 so far, losing to the Knicks before beating the Lakers and Nets. The Celtics will head to Detroit for one game on the road before returning to Boston for another 3 game home stand.
The Suns and Celtics split the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on their home court. This is the first game of a 5 game road trip for the Suns. It is the first of back to back games with a game in Detroit on Saturday. The Celtics are 75-59 overall all time against the Suns and they are 42-23 all time in games played in Boston. This is the 2nd and final game between these two teams. The Celtics won the first game 125-98 in Phoenix on December 7 and led that game by as many as 45 points in the second half.
The Celtics are 1st in the East. They are 2 games ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee. The Celtics are 3 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 5.5 games ahead of 4th place Nets. The Celtics are 20-6 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 16-4 against Western Conference teams and they have won their last 2 games.
The Suns are 7th in the West. They are 9.5 games behind 1st place Denver, half a game behind 6th place Minnesota and 1 game ahead of 11th place Portland. They are 8-17 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 7-12 against Eastern Conference opponents. They lost their last game but have won 6 of their last 8 games.
Marcus Smart remains out for the Celtics with a sprained ankle. Danilo Gallinari remains out with a torn ACL. For the Suns, Jay Crowder remains out as the Suns look for a trade to move him to another team. Devin Booker has been out since Christmas with a groin injury and will miss this game but hopes to return Tuesday. Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet are both out with foot injuries.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Marcus Smart (ankle) out
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Suns Starters
2 Way Players
Jae Crowder (not injury related) out
Devin Booker (groin) out
Cameron Payne (foot) out
Landry Shamet (foot) out
Robert Williams III vs Deandre Ayton
Ayton is averaging 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He is shooting 57.4% from the field and 30.4% from beyond the arc. In the first game against the Celtics, Ayton scored just 8 points but had 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal as well. Ayton has improved quite a bit shooting threes and so the Celtics have to stay with him on the perimeter. They also need to keep Ayton out of the paint and off the boards.
Jaylen Brown vs Mikal Bridges
Bridges is averaging 16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He is shooting 46.1% from the field and 39.2% from beyond the arc. He struggled in the first game against the Celtics with just 4 points on 16.7% shooting. He has played in every game of his career thus far and he currently holds the NBA’s longest active Ironman streak. He is also a first team all defense player and will make things difficult for Jaylen on the offensive end.
Derrick White vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul is playing very well for the Suns and is one of the reasons they have been so successful over the past two seasons. He is averaging 14.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 44.5% from the field and 40.4% from beyond the arc. He struggled in the first game against the Celtics with just 4 points on 33% shooting to go with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He runs the Suns offense and the Celtics need to keep him from getting open shots and also they need to keep him from easily setting up his teammates.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 110.6 (4th) but they let their defense lapse at times so they need to concentrate on playing tough lock down defense at all times. The Suns are 13th with an offensive rating of 113.5 and so the Celtics must make defense a priority if they want to win this game.
Rebound - The Celtics need to rebound on the offensive end to give themselves extra possessions and to prevent the Suns from racking up fast break points. They also have to crash the boards on the defensive end to prevent the Suns from getting tip ins and second chance points as the Suns are 10th with 14.9 second chance points per game. The Celtics are going to have to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards against the Suns.
Play Hard 48 Minutes- The Celtics seem to have lapses where they let up on their effort and where they lose focus for awhile. The Celtics have lost to sub .500 teams by allowing them to be the team that plays harder. We saw what happens when they stay focused for 48 minutes and play hard the entire time against the Nets. They can’t afford to let the Suns play harder than them for any period of time. They must come out ready to play right from the opening tip and they have to play hard and stay focused through all 4 quarters right up until the final buzzer.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to keep the ball moving and look for the open man and best shot. They are at their best when they move the ball and at their worst when they play hero ball and dribble too much. The Celtics also have to take care of the ball and avoid turnovers that seem to come in bunches at times. Against the Nets, the Celtics had 28 assists and just 10 turnovers. They need to play like that again in this game.
Home Game - The Celtics are at home where they should get a boost from the home crowd. They need to focus on the game and gain motivation from having the fans behind them. The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 4 game home stand so they didn’t have to travel and should be the more rested team. The Suns are playing in the 1st game of a 5 game road trip and should be dealing with distractions from travel, staying in a hotel, and playing in a hostile arena as well as fatigue from traveling. The Celtics need to protect home court and come out ready to play hard and win.
Revenge- The Celtics embarrassed the Suns in Phoenix, beating them by 27 points, but leading by as many as 45 points in the second half of the game. They are going to want to avenge that loss and will come in ready to play and try to get a win in this game. The Celtics need to be ready for their best shot and not allow them to get the revenge they will likely be looking to get.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating always has the possibility to be an x-factor in every game. Every crew calls the game differently, whether they call every little ticky tack foul or they let a lot of contact go and let the teams play. Some refs favor the home team and some call for both teams evenly. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not allow the officiating to take away from their focus.
The Celtics have eight players who can make an argument they should be on the floor in crunch time. Only five can be out there. Who gets the call?
Everyone loves starters. Starting is sexy. Players love to start. Fans love to debate who will and who should. The NBA makes a huge deal out of All-Star starters with an extensive voting process that involves fans, players, and media. Teams are even mandated to announce their starters publicly 30 minutes before tip-off (hat tip to Vegas).
Despite all the publicity and discourse that centers around starting, there is an open secret known to anyone with a modicum of basketball IQ: when it comes to impacting winning, starting lineups don’t hold a candle to closing lineups. Imagine if coaches had to announce their closing lineups 30 minutes before tip-off. They would stage a full-fledged mutiny.
It is true that there is often a good deal of overlap between most teams’ starting and closing lineups. After all, it makes sense to have your best players on the floor as much as possible. However, starting and closing lineups don’t always align. Those decisions about who to have on the floor in crunch time are some of the most impactful choices that coaches make. If you want to know who a coach truly trusts, just look at who is on the floor (and who isn’t) down the stretch.
The 2022-23 Boston Celtics strike me as one of the most fascinating contending rosters in a long time when it comes to deciding which five players should close games. Their top-8 players can all make the case that they should be on the floor in the highest-leverage situations when games are decided.
How should Coach Mazzulla deploy his wealth of options? Should he have a consistent closing group regardless of matchup? Or should he be constantly mixing and matching based on opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses, how individual players are performing on that given night, or offensive and defensive strengths of his players?
Before we dive in on the candidates, here is a quick glance at some big picture statistics for offensive context.
Obviously, these two statistics are a small snapshot of a larger picture, but true shooting percentage is a fair approximation of how efficiently players score, and usage percentage gives a sense of how involved each player is in shot creation (for themselves and others). Out of the Ssix core role players around the Jays, Rob, Horford, and Grant are all extremely efficient scorers on low usage. Brogdon is an efficient scorer on higher usage, and White, and especially Smart, are less efficient on middle of the road usage. This data vibes with the eye test when one watches the Celtics.
The Total Locks: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
Coach Mazzulla has plenty to consider when it comes to his closing five, so let’s not overthink the obvious. Pending injury or fouling out, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will always be on the floor at the end of games regardless of situation or matchup. Additionally, offense will likely run through their hands at an even higher usage rate than it does throughout the rest of the game. Therefore, the other three players chosen for the closing five need to complement Tatum and Brown, especially offensively.
The Lock(down) Defender: Marcus Smart
I would consider Smart to be a lock for the closing lineup although I am sure that will generate opposing viewpoints considering his polarizing relationship with Celtics fans. At the end of the day, I would have him out there as a closer, and I expect Coach Mazzulla to follow suit (as Coach Udoka and Coach Stevens have previously).
While Smart’s shooting inadequacies are well-documented, he is not a non-shooter and does not lack confidence, which means opposing defenses have to account for him on the perimeter. Additionally, he has the ability to handle the ball, facilitate, and be a threat to score in the paint or from the free throw line.
Defensively, of course, is where Smart truly shines. We all know the resume, but his defensive versatility and ability to guard any type of player or position is amplified in crunch time when opponents are usually hunting for the weakest defensive link to try and get switched onto their star scorer. Suffice it to say that no NBA team tries to get Smart switched onto their star for a key possession. If Smart were on the floor with Brogdon or White, opponents would target Brogdon or White. That key distinction is enough to push Smart into the lock category out of the available guards.
On the Outside Looking In: Grant Williams
Again, brutally tough decisions are still to come, so I will rule out Grant Williams as a viable option for the vast majority of closing situations. On the one hand, he is a strategic fit for a closing lineup because he is a switchable defender that can space the floor and hit 3’s around the Jays. However, when push comes to shove, the Celtics likely have better options to fill the same role. Horford, in particular, is a similarly sharp-shooting, low usage option who trumps Grant with better size, rim protection, ball-handling, and facilitation. Grant could certainly develop into a closer in years to come, but he is not quite there on this stacked roster.
Four Options for Two Spots: Al Horford, Rob Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, and Derrick White
Here is where it gets legitimately tricky. Let’s explore the options. I will move from what I view as least likely to close major playoff games to most likely to close.
Derrick White: White is an excellent defender (better than Brogdon on balance), but he doesn’t quite have the elite strength to switch onto any matchup like Smart. That is why bigger wings like Giannis, Jimmy Butler, Luka, etc. will often seek him out defensively. And, while White has better shooting percentages than Smart, he is more frequently left unguarded on the perimeter and has a penchant for passing up open looks at times.
Similarly to Grant, White is a viable closer in the NBA, but the Celtics might have slightly better guard options available. However, leaving White out of the closing lineup is far from a slam dunk decision. The lineup of Smart - White - Brown - Tatum - Horford has a net rating of +12.9 in a decent sample size of 277 minutes. Meanwhile, replacing White with Brogdon in the same lineup has a surprising net rating of -17.9 in a much smaller sample size of 66 minutes. Lineup data is often noisy, but it is worth monitoring if Brogdon can play effectively off the Jays with more opportunities.
Malcolm Brogdon: Brogdon is the best pure scorer and shooter out of the four options (and 3rd best scorer on the team). He is the most likely to create a bucket out of nothing, and he is also a dangerous catch and shoot option spacing the floor. Offensively, he would seem to be an ideal fit who can play off the Jays or take pressure off them and create if they see double teams. While he is certainly not a bad defender by any means and has good size at the guard spot, Brogdon is not quite as accomplished defensively as many of his teammates. He would likely be the defender opponents hunt to get switched onto their star.
Rob Williams: Rob is a non-shooter from the outside, but he brings a completely different dynamic from the others as a hyper-efficient (albeit low usage) interior finisher on lobs, drop down passes, and offensive rebounds. Rob is also a dynamic shot-blocker and rim-protector, but he struggles a bit to switch onto smaller, quicker guards in space. Basically, Rob has the most unique strengths of all of the options, but he presents some potential problem areas in the key categories of switchability and floor spacing.
Al Horford: Horford brings size, shooting, experience, and some ability to switch and guard on the perimeter (though his effectiveness in this area is one to track as he continues to age). If Horford loses a step guarding competitively on the perimeter, he will start to get mismatch-hunted with more frequency. His strengths are not as extreme as Rob’s, but he currently does not have many weaknesses for the opposition to target.
Ironically, we may have ended up where we started. Despite their wealth of options, it is quite possible that the Celtics preferred starting lineup of Smart-Brown-Tatum-Horford-Rob should also close. However, I would call it essentially a coin flip at the moment between Rob or Brogdon filling the final spot around the Smart - Brown - Tatum - Horford core 4. What’s more valuable in the final seconds? Rob’s rim protection, lob threat, and offensive rebounding? Or Brogdon’s ball handling, shooting, and general shot creation? Since it is so close, I would lean towards matching closing lineups to opposing personnel. Go with Rob against matchups that have serious interior threats like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. Roll with Brogdon for smaller, more perimeter-oriented teams like Brooklyn and Miami. If Horford loses a step guarding the perimeter, then Brogdon and Rob as a pair could become the desired alternatives.
Keep the conversation going in the comments.
- What is your preferred closing 5 for the Celtics and why?
- Should the Celtics have a closing 5 that they go to essentially every game, or should they mix and match based on the opponent and flow of the game?
With nearly a week off, Williams was all over the floor in Boston’s blowout win over Brooklyn.
After a thrilling OT win on Saturday night against Los Angeles, the Boston Celtics searched for their second straight win on Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. Marcus Smart was still out with an ankle sprain, but the Nets were far worse off, with superstar Kevin Durant recovering from an MCL sprain and Ben Simmons sitting with a sore back.
Boston didn’t pull any punches against their shorthanded rivals, and the Celtics jumped out to a scorching hot start in the first quarter by building a 46-16 lead. The team broke the franchise record for first quarter point differential, and were only five points away from tying the all-time record for scoring in a first quarter. That absurd start set the tone for the rest of the game, and the Boston Celtics cruised to a comfortable 139-96 win against Kyrie Irving and company.
“I feel like they’re hungry really,” said Robert Williams on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. “They’re still pissed about last year.”
Boston’s superstar duo each shot a scalding 7-of-12 from three, and made it look effortless in the process. Brown and Tatum have now scored 25 points or more in 27 games so far this season, and set a new all-time record for the most by any duo before the All-Star break.
In their landslide win, Robert Williams made his return after missing Saturday night with an ankle sprain. Against the Nets, Williams had 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 9 rebounds, one block, and was a +22 in just over 19 minutes of floor time. His impact on both sides of the floor was dynamic, and his athleticism continues to look more improved with each game. Boston has been trying to implement Rob more into their offense, and Wednesday’s game was further proof that he’s getting incorporated slowly but surely before the playoffs. Williams’ teammates have been encouraging him to be more aggressive and assertive on offense as he’s worked his way back.
“You know, I think when you have a guy with such great instincts and such great athleticism and he’s so unselfish,” said Malcolm Brogdon of Williams’ ceiling. “I think he has a super high ceiling and Rob’s still young. I think he’s trying to get just 100% and I’m not sure he’s 100%. So, his ceiling is, I’m not sure what his ceiling ceiling will look like.”
It’s undeniable that Rob’s impact on the team is noticeable, and much like last season, he adds a whole different dimension to Boston’s schemes on both sides of the floor. But as he continues to get more comfortable and confident, Williams will have plenty of opportunity to expand and improve on offense besides putbacks and thunderous dunks, and to his credit, he’s aware of his potential, too.
“I feel like the ceiling for me is no ceiling,” said Robert Williams. ”You know what I’m saying? Especially with the teammates that I have. Through my injuries, they really helped me, just standing by me, stand on my side. And going back to the jump hooks or the little jump shots... They encouraged me to be who I am.”
Robert Williams’ defense is well-documented, but it feels like there’s a whole other layer to peel back when it comes to his offensive approach. He’s rarely ever asked for more possessions or been force-fed on the offensive end, but a lot of good things happen for Boston when Williams gets touches.
Boston’s defensive centerpiece is one of the best passing bigs in the league, and if he were to add a consistent midrange jumper, it could elevate his whole game as well as the Celtics. “I feel like we share the ball offensively a lot,” said Williams. “And like I said earlier, I need to just be able to get those little points, whether it’s a 15-foot jumper, you know, when we need it or whether it’s a jump hook or a put back. Those’ll help us.” With the physical tools that Williams possesses, his coaches and teammates have continued to egg him on, encouraging him every step of the way in his recovery.
“Yeah, you know, he’s incredibly talented,” said Brogdon on Williams. “We’re only seeing a piece of him right now. He’s working his way back in off injury, he’s still on minute restriction. There’s a lot of factors that are going into, you know, how he’s performing every night. He’s playing at a really high level, he’s playing really well right now, and he’s just gonna get more and more comfortable and become more and more of a centerpiece in our offense.”
The Celtics and Robert Williams will face another tough matchup with Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns coming to town tonight, 7:30 pm EST tipoff.
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