Celtics

Celtics-Pistons Takeaways: No Tatum is a problem for C's in loss to Detroit

Celtics-Pistons Takeaways: No Tatum is a problem for C's in loss to Detroit

BOSTON -- With the third quarter winding down and the Boston Celtics’ deficit going into the fourth secured, no one gave much thought to the desperation, beyond half-court, bank-shot heave by Detroit’s Svi Mykhailiuk just before the horn sounded. 

His shot went in and Detroit’s lead going into the fourth stood at nine, a bizarre ending to what had been a bizarre kind of game in which the Pistons led for most of the night before putting the Celtics away, 116-103.

Gordon Hayward had a game-high 25 points for the Celtics, with Jaylen Brown and Detroit’s Sekou Doumbouya each tallying 24 points. 

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The Celtics (27-12) have been among the better defensive teams all season. 

But for most of Wednesday night, Boston’s defense was defenseless against the non-stop bombardment of shots by the Pistons that more times than not, went in. 

Detroit was shooting better than 60 percent from the field most of the game, before eventually finishing the night connecting on an impressive 60.3 percent. 

And while the Celtics were also shooting the ball at a good clip (49.3 percent) as well, their inability to string together defensive stops when it mattered most, was ultimately their undoing with Boston now having lost four of its past six games. 

Here are a few other takeaways from a disappointing loss to Detroit:

GORDON HAYWARD

It was another big game for Hayward, the kind of performance that far too often elicits a return of the “he’s back” narrative that’s the talk of the night whenever he seemingly plays well. 

Still, it’s to the point where good games for Hayward have little to do with him getting back to where he was before his ankle injury a couple of years ago. 

For Hayward, it’s all about looking and doing what he’s expected to do, only more consistently. 

He led the Celtics with 25 points on 11-for-15 shooting while also making his presence felt on the boards with seven rebounds. 

They needed him to be more of a scorer with Jayson Tatum (right knee tendinitis) out. 

And to Hayward’s credit, he consistently came up with big shots to keep the Celtics within striking distance. 

Tatum will likely be back in the lineup on Thursday night when the Celtics take on the team with the best record in the East, the Bucks (36-6) in Milwaukee. 

But on those nights when he’s not able to go, the Celtics can rest easy knowing that Hayward can step in to help fill the void. 

LITTLE FORCE, PHYSICALITY ON C’S PART

It’s easy to look at what happened Wednesday as Boston’s defense simply having one of those nights. 

And while that does happen a good deal of the time in the NBA, the Celtics problems centered around their inability to play with any semblance of physicality. 

The fact that the Pistons were minus three starters may have created a false sense among the Celtics that they didn’t have to play with the kind of force and intensity that we had seen in the previous two games. 

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Not having Tatum may have contributed to the lackluster performance as well. 

Regardless of the reason, the end result was a given considering how Detroit at no point in the game seemed uncomfortable or forced to do anything it didn’t want to do. 

And when you play that way, losing becomes a given.

NO TATUM

It was a sight we rarely see - Tatum, on the bench in street clothes. 

But there he was, the clearest indicator that we were in for an atypical night for the Celtics. 

And while we’ve seen the Celtics rally behind one another whenever short-handed, things felt different on Wednesday as the Pistons clung to the Celtics for most of the night behind a barrage of jumpers and layups and three-pointers and…pretty much any shot they wanted. 

Tatum’s absence wasn’t the only issue impacting the Celtics, but there’s no getting around the impact he has made as a scorer and defender on this team, this season. 

And remember, this was the first game all season that the Celtics did not have him available to play. 

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As they tried to climb back into things in the fourth quarter, it was clear that they just didn’t have it in them or were missing something - or maybe someone like Tatum who had been a mainstay for every game this season prior to Wednesday night. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Bucks, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.


 

Celtics Talk Podcast: Will load management be Kemba Walker's new normal?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Will load management be Kemba Walker's new normal?

The NBA's four-month hiatus was supposed to be a blessing in disguise for Kemba Walker, who was dealing with a nagging injury before the coronavirus pandemic halted the 2019-20 season.

Instead, the downtime reiterated that Walker's knee may be an issue for quite some time.

The Boston Celtics held the All-Star point guard out of practice Monday and Tuesday in Orlando after he experienced "a little bit of discomfort" in his left knee during individual workouts in Boston, per head coach Brad Stevens.

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Walker already has missed 14 games this season, so it's not a great sign that the knee is still bothering him after four months of rest. While the Celtics are optimistic about Walker being a full go for the playoffs, NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely is more wary of what future seasons will look like for the 30-year-old guard.

"My concern has more to do with the fact that this is year one of a four-year deal," Blakely told co-host Chris Forsberg on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "This is a guy who only missed for games total in the previous four years and he's already missed 14 this year. That makes me very concerned that this may be the beginning of a career of load management for Kemba Walker.

"I just remember at the start of the season, I asked him, 'You're coming up on 30, you've logged a ton of minutes: Any talk of load management?' And he kind of scoffed at me when I brought that up. And now in retrospect I'm thinking, 'Yeah, I might have been onto something there.' "

Celtics Talk Podcast: Load management the new normal for Kemba? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Walker indeed was an iron man for the Hornets, playing at least 73 games in all but two of his eight seasons with Charlotte and at least 80 games in four of those campaigns. A deep team like the Celtics can afford to give Walker some "load management" games, however, so missing 10 to 15 regular-season contests might be Walker's new reality in Boston.

As for the task at hand, Forsberg is confident the C's can get Walker right for the playoffs considering how they've handled previous veteran players with knee issues.

"The Celtics have downshifted guys in the past, whether that was Al Horford or Marcus Morris -- guys with knee issues that they wanted to strengthen so that they were upright in the playoffs," Forsberg said. "Al was playing 35 minutes per game in the playoffs throughout his Celtics career.

"I'm not overly concerned that they can keep Kemba ready. It's just going to be a storyline that lingers and goes on and on: When he plays only 14 minutes in one of these seeding games, it's going to be an issue."

The Celtics have eight "seeding" games to try to move up from the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference before the playoffs begin. Walker might play less in those games considering Boston has locked up a playoff spot, but once the postseason rolls around, Forsberg doesn't expect the four-time All-Star to hold back.

"The other thing we need to remember: He's going to be highly motivated," Forsberg said of Walker. "He hasn't had that chance to really show what he can do on the playoff stage, and I think if anyone's going to be able to battle through a little discomfort, it's going to be Kemba Walker."

Blakely and Forsberg also spoke with ESPN's Eric Woodyard about the Milwaukee Bucks' mindset entering the NBA bubble and how they stack up with the Celtics. 

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast or watch it on YouTube below.

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Raptors?

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Raptors?

Despite their quarter-century existence, the Toronto Raptors have never faced the Boston Celtics in a playoff series. That seems likely to change when the NBA resumes play in Orlando.

The Celtics and Raptors project to land the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the East, putting them on a collision course for a conference semifinal matchup.

Yes, the uncertainties of the bubble environment make that less of a slam dunk than most years — and let’s cross our fingers an unexpected shutdown wouldn’t deprive us of the pairing yet again — but Boston and Toronto clearly slot among the elite in the East.

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Who wins a best-of-seven series between these two Atlantic Division foes? The elimination of home-court advantage removes maybe the biggest advantage one of these teams could own, so much so that Boston has only limited motivation to make a surge for that No. 2 seed during the eight seeding games leading up to the bubble playoffs.

Even without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this season, the Raptors are battle-tested as defending NBA champions. They won’t be fazed by the moment. The Celtics’ young core, though, has also played an awful lot of playoff basketball, while Kemba Walker will have no shortage of motivation despite being a postseason spectator for much of his time in Charlotte.

All of which leaves Celtics-Raptors as seemingly a coin flip. In fact, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, which gives the matchup an astounding 84 percent chance of happening, forecasts Boston with the slightest of edges in the matchup (52 percent to win the series).

Yes, the smallest of advantages could swing this series. Maybe it’s Walker’s health. Maybe it’s whether Jayson Tatum or Pascal Siakam emerges as the more impactful young star. Maybe it comes down to bench play. Maybe it's coaching and whether Brad Stevens or Nick Nurse can push the right buttons in an unprecedented environment.

The Celtics won two of the three head-to-head matchups during the regular season, emerging in Boston’s home opener and a Christmas Day showdown. The Raptors got revenge in late December while spoiling a Kemba Walker 30-point night.

One thing is certain: The Raptors had an elite defense, ranking second in the NBA behind only the Bucks while allowing 104.9 points per 100 possessions before the season paused.

Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol provide a sturdy back line that can fluster Celtics players near the rim and force the Celtics to rely heavily on jump shots. Boston’s offense will have to be particularly crisp and it must avoid playing a half-court game against the Raptors.

PREDICTIONS FOR CELTICS-RAPTORS PLAYOFF SERIES

Chris Forsberg: Maybe the biggest advantage of the restart for the Celtics is not having to play any of the East's top dogs on their home floor in potential playoff matchups. Milwaukee and Toronto could have really benefited from that edge — especially in any seven-game series — but now one of the keys will be how role players, who typically feed off home crowds, perform in the quiet Disney bubble.

The Celtics, if healthy and playing to their potential, have a slight overall talent edge here and should steal the series on a neutral site. But a seven-game tango seems inevitable with these two evenly matched foes.

Prediction: Celtics in 7 games

A. Sherrod Blakely: The Kemba Walker-Kyle Lowry duel will be one of the best we’ll see in the playoffs. In any other year, whoever has home court would be the favorite in this series. But ultimately, Boston has more big guns offensively than the Raptors and that more than anything else will determine the winner of this series.

Prediction: Celtics in 7 games

DJ Bean: I didn't believe in the Raptors when they had Kawhi (smart, DJ), so I'm sure as hell not going to believe in them with just Siakam and Lowry. 

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

Celtics Talk Podcast: Is Kemba's knee already a cause for concern? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube