A six-game win streak has come to an end. The Boston Celtics dropped a game to the Charlotte Hornets in disheartening fashion on Monday night. Al Horford and Derrick White both missed the game. Jaylen Brown was in foul trouble. And the Hornets clearly didn’t read the script.
Still, as the song says: “Nothing lasts forever in the cold November rain.”
#1 Fatigue has to be taken into account
This was a bad loss. Not because it was against the Charlotte Hornets. Well, maybe, kind of because it was against the Hornets. But moreso because it came via a 9-point collapse in the final two minutes of the fourth, and the Celtics couldn’t get it done in overtime.
Still, we need to keep things in context.
This game was on the second night of a back-to-back, the third game in four days, and the fourth in six. Eventually, that type of schedule will catch up to you, especially when you factor in the travel associated with such a close stretch of games.
I’m by no means making excuses here. You have to execute to win in this league. Still, fatigue/schedule should be a qualifying factor when levying criticism at the performance level we witnessed on Monday.
#2 The controversy
Ok, now onto the game. There’s no better place to start than the place where everything pretty much ended.
Tatum misses his free throw, a scramble ensues, a foul occurs, but the clock continues running. At the time, you’re thinking, “Oh, they will add that time back in a moment,” yet the ball gets inbounded, and there’s still nothing added to the clock.
Would the Celtics have won the game with a few extra seconds on the clock? We will never know. Yet, it would have been nice for the opportunity to find out. The league’s L2M report will likely have an explanation for the error. However, that’s not going to change the outcome of the game.
Of course, the whole situation could have been avoided if Tatum had hit the final free throw. You make some, you miss some, and just hurt that specific shot was one of the latter.
#3 Hornets had a plan for Porzingis’ rim-protection
Kristaps Porzingis’ rim-protection has been impressive to begin the season. His size and length around the rim is a genuine detterance on the defensive end. It was only on Sunday that he recorded 6 blocks against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Hornets came into the game with what looks like a clear plan. They wanted to engage Porzingis off the dribble before finding secondary cutters for easier looks around the basket. That way, Porzingis has to try and guard the rim in rotation, reducing his ability to be effective.
Charlotte did this by “Nashing” their dribble. That is dribbling from one side of the court, directly under the rim, and onto the other side of the floor — or simply keeping the dribble alive when going under the basket. We saw it consistently throughout the game, and for the most part, it yielded good results.
Above is a clip of how “Nashing” the dribble can create opportunities for a cutter from the wing, in this instance, Gordon Hayward.
Here is another example. This time, the initial entry is a “Nash” dribble before the second drive engages Porzingis, who looks to cut off the baseline; as such, he steps out of the paint, and Mark Williams makes a quick dive to the rim for the pocket pass and dunk.
Steve Clifford’s plan was smart process. It put Porzingis in difficult spots and helped limit his effectiveness around the rim. Of course, there were also possessions where the Celtics defended it well.
On this play, it’s Luke Kornet’s rim protection the Hornets are trying to circumvent. The key to defending the action in this instance is that Kornet didn’t allow himself to become engaged on the dribble-drive. He stayed within the restricted area and called for the switch.
Nevertheless, the Celtics must be wary of this tactic moving forward.
#4 Jayson Tatum loves playing in Charlotte, apparently
Jayson Tatum ended the game against the Hornets with 45 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks.
For his career, he’s averaging 30 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists when playing in Charlotte. His last trip to the Spectrum Center saw him drop a 50-piece on the Hornets’ heads, too.
Every player has certain teams they love to face on the road, Charlotte is clearly one of Tatum’s.
Nothing special about the shot in the clip above. Just a nice depiction of Tatum’s confidence level.
#5 Tatum had some tough spells, too, though
Don’t let the box score fool you, though. This wasn’t a flawless game from Tatum — or anybody else on the roster. There were moments when he fell to sleep on the defensive end. Two of those lapses ended up in Gordon Hayward back cuts.
Tatum also went a combined 2-of-6 during the fourth quarter and overtime, as his hot shooting began evading him in the game’s closing portion. It’s all well and good dropping 40 or 50 points on a team, but you need to show up down the stretch — part of that’s on the Celtics for not feeding him more (11 shots in the second half + OT), and the other part is on not sticking to the process that’s been working: getting into the post, finding your spots, etc.
#6 Gettin’ nerdy with it: Second unit split actions
I did not expect the Celtics to go to second-unit split actions mid-way through the fourth quarter. We’ve not seen that from this team to begin the season. However, here we are, and to be honest, I kind of liked what I saw.
A split action works like this: You get the ball into a post-up player (Kornet in this instance,) the passer sets a screen for a shooter (Hauser for Pritchard), and both players split off after the screen. The Golden State Warriors are famous for this action.
Boston tried to initiate the above play on the elbow, but Kornet was pushed higher up the court. However, it ended up having a beneficial effect on the Celtics. Hauser flares to the weakside slot. Pritchard receives a pass and screen from Kornet. Play ends in a great read to find Svi Mykhailiuk on the weakside wing.
The Celtics also went back to the action on the next possession.
Same action again. Pritchard slips on the drive. Still, seeing that there are some designed actions for when some of the bench players are in the game is a fun and encouraging sign. It stood out to me when I watched, so I wanted to share.
#7 Payton Pritchard steps up
Pritchard has endured his fair share of criticism to begin the season. Rightly so. So, after a good game, we should, as the kids say, “Give him his flowers.” He ended the game with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
Prtichard’s three-ball was falling, and he looked to be in great rhythm. Yet, it was the below finish around the rim that I found most enjoyable.
Pritchard dislodged Brandon Miller on this drive. He dropped his shoulder, reached his spot, and dislodged the bigger defender before nailing the bunny. When his three isn’t falling, we need to see more of this from him because, as we’ve seen with his offensive rebounding, Pritchard is more capable of playing bigger than his role.
#8 A look at Jaylen Brown’s role
Brown had a tough game. Foul trouble limited his ability to be aggressive at times, and his shot wasn’t falling at all, going 5-of-17 from the field. At times, it feels like Brown can be “sticky” because he hyperfocuses on getting his shot off.
Personally, I don’t think Brown is being selfish or that he’s calling his own number. Looking at some of the statistics, it’s becoming evident that he’s being tasked to play the role of a scorer, which I’ve advocated for on multiple occasions.
Some indicators that Brown is being used in more of a score-first role this season:
1st on the C’s in points per touch
2nd in usage rate
6th in passes made per game
3rd in passes received
2nd in pull-up jumpers
1st in drives
C’s are asking less of him in terms of creation and… pic.twitter.com/I6azGLsg8r
— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) November 21, 2023
This potential role change has stuck out over the past two games and felt like it was staring me in the face against the Hornets.
Are there times when Brown forces the issue instead of making the right read? Yes. But can’t we say that for every star player in the NBA? Doesn’t Tatum have moments when he looks for his shot outside the offensive structure?
Brown has had some tough nights to begin the season; there’s no doubt about it. Yet, he’s the player who is undergoing the biggest role change on the roster. There will be moments when it looks great and when it’s a rough watch. Over time, he will become accustomed to when he’s expected to spearhead things and when his gravity is supposed to be a decoy.
I’m not concerned in the slightest. Still, it’s worth noting that the role change appears to be a real thing, and long term, it will probably bring the best out of him.
#9 Gettin’ nerdy with it part 2: Creating out of set actions
Sometimes, a team will run a set action as a decoy. Teams will react to what’s unfolding on the floor, while the offensive players have something totally different in mind. I like to see this as creating offense out of the action rather than creating with it.
Above, the Celtics run a floppy action with Mykhailiuk. The action creates some spacing for Jrue Holiday in the paint and generates an easy entry pass for the post-up (a pass into a post-up is known as “punch.”) Charlotte now has two defenders higher up the floor on the weak side, limiting the amount of help defense the Hornets can send at Holiday.
The veteran guard is reliable when playing bigger than his role and gets the bucket over Miller.
The Floppy action didn’t create too much confusion, but it did remove some of the help defense, and that was an important part of the play.
#10 The collapse
A nine-point lead in the final two minutes of play, and somehow, you find a way to lose the game. We’ve seen this before. It’s been the script to countless tough losses in recent years. Boston’s final two went like this:
- 1:59 – Mark Williams tips in a bucket
- 1:41 – Brown misses a jumper
- 1:32 – Ball hits a three
- 1:09 – Brown misses a 3-point jumper
- 00:56 – Tatum misses a layup
- 00:34 – Williams hits a layup
- 00:11 – Holiday smokes two free-throws
- 00:07 – Ball hits a layup to tie the game
- 00:00 – Hauser misses the game-winner
Bad defense. Poor offensive execution. And smoking your “gimmies” at the charity stripe. There’s your recipe for blowing a nine-point lead with two minutes remaining in the game. Again, we have to factor in fatigue. Yet, no matter how you slice it, collapsing in the clutch is a bad look, especially when you can’t fix the errors in overtime.
Hopefully, this type of implosion won’t become a trend moving forward. I doubt it does.
The Celtics are back in action tomorrow when they face the Milwaukee Bucks in a clash of the Eastern Conference titans. A home game with potentially a full-strength roster will give the team a chance to redeem themselves in their biggest game of the season thus far.
Milwaukee will be a great litmus test for this Celtics team, and I’m here for it.