A players-only meeting. A breaking of bread. A gathering.
Pick whatever description you like best. The bottom line is the Boston Celtics huddled Tuesday after landing in Orlando to discuss a growing list of concerns just seven games into the 2021-22 season.
The team responded with a win over the Magic, which is better than losing. We’ll find out a lot more about these Celtics and their ability to change their ways on Thursday night when they visit the East-leading Miami Heat on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Celtics put together a dominant third quarter against Orlando and that was enough to rally back from an underwhelming first half. Al Horford continues to be sensational (12 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks, one steal) despite a poor shooting night, while Jaylen Brown put up an efficient 28 points (10 of 17 shooting) on a night the rest of the Celtics shot 37 percent overall.
Marcus Smart had a solid night after pushing the team’s panic level to DEFCON 3 by airing some grievances following the team’s embarrassing collapse against the Bulls on Monday night.
Now the bad news: Jayson Tatum’s season-long shooting funk continues. He missed 12 of 16 shots, including five of six 3-pointers, against the Magic. He even missed a trio of free throws.
Tatum is now shooting 38.3 percent from the floor, 26.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc, and a confounding 75 percent at the free-throw line. Tatum has missed a league-high 116 shots overall. He’s shooting 43.6 percent inside of five feet (24 of 55), where his attempts have been on a steady decline throughout his five seasons in the league.
Tatum is no stranger to the occasional slump and typically emerges in loud fashion. But the 41-point, eight-assist Tatum that looked like a legitimate MVP candidate against Charlotte hasn’t been seen otherwise. Tatum’s points-per-shot attempt was at a career-low 97.3 entering Wednesday’s game, down from 116 last season, per Cleaning the Glass data.
Tatum accelerating to the mean might be enough to cure at least some of what ails these Celtics. While we cringe a bit hearing Boston brass suggest the team’s record could be much better with just a few more bounces (or, more likely, defensive stops), we’ll relent that typical Tatum efficiency could have indeed tipped a couple games out of the gates here.
Boston’s defense is a far bigger issue than Tatum’s offensive funk, however. Yes, there is seemingly a correlation between Tatum’s defensive intensity and his shooting efficiency but, in fairness, he didn’t appear to let a frustrating offensive night in Orlando seep into his defensive effort. He kept his emotions in check and didn’t lament any lack of whistles.
Playing a youthful Magic team will decrease the stress level for anyone. And, ultimately, the Celtics weren’t going for style points on Wednesday night.
"Dennis [Schroder] was in there at halftime like, 'Man, we could use a win,'" said Horford. "We just need to get a win … The pressure feels like it mounts up and, as hard as it is, if you’re not playing the right way, if you’re not doing everything you need to do, you’ll get humbled.
"I feel like it’s been hard for us. We’ve shown progress, we’ve shown things, but we’re not where we want to be. And tonight it's just nice at the end of the day to come out and put a good game together and get a win.”
The Celtics got their win. Now they need a vintage Tatum performance to have any chance of hanging with Miami. All eyes will be on Tatum and Luka Doncic when Boston visits Dallas on Saturday night.
The Celtics heaped a bunch of responsibility on Tatum’s plate this summer with the roster changes that thinned the offensive potential around him. This team isn’t built to survive if the Jays struggle.
Tatum can make his own slow start — and that of the Celtics — a distant memory by shifting to a higher gear. Until then, Boston’s margin for error is dangerously thin.
And no amount of team meetings or bread-breakings matter as much as Tatum getting back to being the sort of game-changing talent we saw at the end of last season.