Here are the catches as the Celtics blew a 19-point second-half lead to the Cavaliers and fell 91-89.
1. We are tired of writing it. You are (supposedly) tired of reading it. The Celts must be tired of saying that.
And yet: “We relaxed all the way,” Robert Williams said after the game. “It’s something we’ve been doing a lot lately and we really need to fix it. That’s all I can say. We are too relaxed. ”
So what do the Celts need to do? Ime Udoka’s response was one of his most concise throughout the season.
“Strengthen, learn, grow, move on,” he said.
2. The Celtics started to slip late in the third quarter when they brought in a strange lineup with Aaron Nesmith, Jabari Parker, Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams and Romeo Langford. That group played nearly three minutes to finish the third (as the lead shrank from the game-high 19 to 12) and mostly stayed in the game for the start of the fourth. By the time Parker – the last member of that unit – checked in at the 9:23 mark, the Celtics led by just three and Cavaliers fans were in the game.
Udoka noted that members of that group played well in the second quarter and he wanted to give them a chance to continue.
The big support? The Celtics could have used Josh Richardson for a more stable hand and (especially) Jaylen Brown, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury.
3. At some point soon, it might be fair to start taking care of Jayson Tatum a little more fervently. The Celtics are now 13 games into their season, and Tatum is shooting a disastrous 39 percent on 22.4 field goal attempts per game. He was 8-for-22 on Saturday (1-for-8 from 3) and scored 21 points.
“I got frustrated, played a little bit in the crowd, had a few expenses there late, a few reckless ones,” Udoka said. “He needs to be able to influence the game when he’s not winning as much as he’s done in the past, which he can do.”
To Udoka’s point: Three of Tatum’s six turnovers came in the fourth quarter, and all were costly as the Celtics tried to regain the lead they had wasted.
For most of the offseason, the mantra here for the Celtics was that they would go until Tatum and Brown took them, which still feels accurate. While Tatum is struggling, the Celtics are 6-7. Correlation is not a cause, but maybe sometimes it is.
4. A point of light after an otherwise dark game: The Celtics’ defense was stifling – first in the NBA in their last six games, and up to fifth overall after a slow start.
5. One thing for frustrated Celtics fans to consider: The 9-5 Knights are just fine. They have rotation pieces in Ricky Rubio and Cedi Osman. They have real young talent in Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen. And most importantly, they have a possible superstar in Evan Mobley.
“He’s tall as hell,” Robert Williams, who is not short, noted after the game before praising Mobley in a different way as well. Mobley, 7-foot, has a handsome jumper, and he’s incredibly mobile. He’s a deterrent at the edge for drivers (one of Tatum’s problems on Saturday seemed to be his reluctance to attack Mobley and Allen), and he can blow up some really absurd games like his transition block against Tatum.
The Celtics should certainly have won a game they led by 19. But they didn’t just blow up the lead. The Knights also took that victory.
6. Dennis Schröder had another nice game with 28 points on a 10-for-19 shooting and once again looked like he might need to be a mainstay in the starting lineup, one way or the other.
7. After the game, Schröder was asked if the Celtics are frustrated.
“There’s no frustration,” he said. “We lost. It happens. We can lose sometimes. Sometimes, you blow up a lead and you lose a game, it happens. I came back from minus-26 before. It’s happening. ”
He is right, though the Celts seem particularly prone to these kinds of losses. The truth is that the Celtics have looked great on defense in recent weeks, and they have won four of their last five games before Saturday’s collapse. If anything, Saturday felt like a case of a good young team that took advantage of a bad lineup (Parker didn’t like himself to Celtics fans during his stint). The Knights grabbed an impulse heater that never left.
That won’t improve Celtics fans on Saturday, which is fair. But a win on Monday could pretty much allay the very legitimate concerns.
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