BOSTON – It was a short, two-game road trip for the Celtics and the results – one win, one loss – were akin to how things have been for them lately - seemingly every success has been balanced with some sort of struggle.
And because of that, it’s hard to get a read on how they will bounce back following a 108-89 loss at New Orleans in a game that reinforced one of Boston’s biggest struggles most of this season – scoring points.
Boston averages 104.3 points per game, which ranks 20th in the NBA.
Since the All-Star break, Boston has averaged 110.7 points per game, which ranks 12th in the NBA.
But the team Boston fielded right after the break isn’t the same one we see on the floor now as the Celtics try to make the most of a roster that has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks.
And while there’s plenty of areas in need of improvement, Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows he has to figure something out for an anemic offense that has been a major factor in Boston losing three of its past four.
“We’re going to have moments where we’ll struggle to score with this group right now,” Stevens said. “And we just have to play a more concerted game, a more intentional game.
Stevens added, “this is a hard team for us to match up with, in full. You knew there were going to be some issues otherwise. There were some times where were probably let go of the rope in the second half and it cascaded on us.”
Here are five other takeaways from the loss to New Orleans:
HORFORD NEEDS TO BE BETTER
There’s no getting around the fact that Al Horford has to play better than we saw on Sunday, even with an Anthony Davis on the opposite bench. With a pair of starters (Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown) out as well as a key reserve (Daniel Theis), he’s the lone member of Boston’s current Big Three whose health is not an issue. And while we praise Horford for all the intangibles he brings to the game, Boston needs him to keep doing that and then some, as they try to navigate their way through the end of this regular season and hopefully have a close-to-full complement of players when the postseason arrives.
TATUM IN ATTACK MODE
Sunday was one of Jayson Tatum’s more aggressive performances of late, as he attacked the rim off the dribble, hit the open jumper and maybe most significant, consistently kept an opponent on their heels. He led the Celtics with 23 points, but you had the feeling he could have gone off and had an even more impressive game. With so many core guys out with injuries, Tatum has to look for his shot more often. There are few players so young in the NBA with such a varied skill set that appears to be expanding before our very eyes.
NADER'S FREE THROWS
There were many things that jumped out from the loss, but few stand out like the string of free throws missed by Abdel Nader. With Boston trailing by six points early in the fourth quarter, Nader was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer. And on the same play, the Pelicans were whistled for a technical foul. Nader, a 72 percent free throw shooter going into the game, missed all four free-throw throw and followed that up by missing the first of two free-throw attempts afterward. Fans may be down on Nader, but he still has the confidence of his head coach. “I believe in all these guys,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, Abs has been a very good free throw shooter his whole career. He was going to step up and have three right after (the technical foul free throw), and I thought he could step up and make the first one. So, I told him the next time we’re on the court I’m going to tell him to (shoot the technical free throw) again because I believe in him.”
BAYNES-MONROE BATTLE FOR PLAYING TIME
There’s no question Greg Monroe is becoming a lot more comfortable with the Celtics’ system and the role they need him to play in it. But Aron Baynes’ status as the team’s starting center remains on strong footing. The Celtics have been the top team defensively in the NBA most of this season, and the play of Baynes has been a key to that success. Monroe matching up with backups off the bench, more nights than not, is a favorable advantage for the Celtics.
?And when he has it going a bit which was the case against the Pelicans, those are the nights when he’ll see more time than Baynes which happened on Sunday as Monroe played 25-plus minutes compared to just 14 for Baynes.
We love the “Next Man Up” approach that the Celtics have been about all season. No Celtic has benefited more from this, than Terry Rozier. There is a level of confidence that he plays with that would not be present if it weren’t for the additional opportunities he has been given to become more of a leader with Kyrie Irving missing games from time to time, as well as the extended absences of Marcus Smart. Against the Pelicans, he had 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds while dishing out five assists with just one turnover. He’s had better games, obviously. But those numbers are becoming the kind of numbers he puts up with more consistency which bodes well for Rozier and the Celtics with the playoffs less than a month away.