Five takeaways from Celtics' loss to Rockets: A lot to rebound from

Five takeaways from Celtics' loss to Rockets: A lot to rebound from

HOUSTON - There’s no such thing as a good loss; talk to any athlete competing at a high level and they’ll confirm this. 

But in defeat, there are teachable moments that can be of great benefit down the road. 

Here are five takeaways from the Celtics' 127-113 loss at Houston. 

The Celtics have been all over the map when it comes to rebounding this season. When they’re good, they can beat anybody. When they struggle, they become an easy mark. The latter was indeed what we saw against Houston, which crushed Boston on the boards, 54-38. They were particularly impressive on the offensive boards with a decisive 16-7 advantage, which allowed them to enjoy an 18-8 advantage in second-chance points. It’s easy to point to the dominant showing by Clint Capela (24 points, 18 rebounds). But it was Houston’s perimeter players who were able to grab timely offensive boards that really hurt the Celtics. That will be among the many areas Boston will look to shore up heading into Saturday night in Memphis.

Kyrie Irving is in a really good place now with his game, perfectly content at getting his teammates involved early and often. It’s a great quality to have in a leader, particularly one with as many tricks in the offensive arsenal as Irving has. But there are some games where he needs to lean more on his scoring than getting others involved. Thursday was one of those games. Houston was being carried by James Harden, who found a rhythm in the second half before finishing with a game-high 45 points, which was the eighth consecutive game he has had at least 30 points. Irving had a double-double - 23 points and 10 assists -while taking just 13 shots. Harden had more shot attempts by halftime. Now, am I suggesting that he become a Harden-like shot-chucker? Of course not. But 13 shots for a player as offensively talented as Irving is too few.

This was another night in which Brown delivered a few highlight-worthy plays. And when you look Brown finishing with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, a good night for him right?

Not exactly. 

While you have to love the fact that he had a strong scoring night, half of his points came in the fourth quarter when Houston’s control of the game was never really challenged. 

You knew the Celtics would miss Aron Baynes (left ring finger fracture), but it's becoming more apparent on some nights more than others. There’s no way of knowing if having him would have been enough to knock off the Rockets. Still, there’s no question his presence would have been a plus in trying to keep Clint Capela (24 points, 18 rebounds) from going off the way he did.

Harden’s dribble-drive game is exceptional, although on Thursday he did most of his damage from 3-point range, where he connected on 9 of 18 3's, the most 3-point makes and attempts against the Celtics all-time.

But more than rebounding, Baynes’ presence would have been a huge help in defending the rest of Houston’s players who attacked the defense off the dribble and had very little resistance once they got into the lane. 

The loss dropped Boston’s road record to 9-9. With the next two games at Memphis and San Antonio, there’s a good chance that Boston will slip below .500 on the road, which is something they aren’t all that familiar with in recent years.  At this point last season, they were 13-5 away from the TD Garden. And the year before that, the Celtics got off to an 11-7 start on the road. Injuries and illnesses have been factors, for sure. Still, the bigger challenge has been unlike past years when the Celtics were among the league’s hunters, they came into this season as one of the favorites and thus, teams get up for them a little more than usual. And the Celtics readily admit that they have not handled that challenge as well as they should. Strides have been made in recent weeks, for sure. Still, it remains a concern, particularly when you see their upcoming road schedule.

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Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Jayson Tatum was in his basketball bag, giving LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle. 

He was scoring in an efficient manner (24 points on 9-for-17 shooting), rebounding the ball (seven rebounds) and making big shots.

And he was doing this on one of the biggest stages of them all: Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

A 3-pointer by Tatum put the Celtics ahead 72-71 with six minutes to play, a shot that capped off a Tatum surge in which he had scored seven of Boston’s last nine points. 

And then … nothing. 

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He took only one shot after that and missed it, going scoreless for the rest of the game.

The Celtics that year were a team that leaned on whoever had the hot hand. 

But on this particular night, they needed help figuring out who that was in the closing minutes — and in hindsight, head coach Brad Stevens should have stepped in and done more to implore his team to get the ball to Tatum in a better position to score. 

However Stevens stuck to what had worked so well for so long with this group: letting this young band of ballers figure out on their own who to lean on when it mattered most, as contributions seemed to come from a new player on a nightly basis.

But on this stage with all that was at stake, they absolutely needed Stevens to implore them to go to Tatum … a lot. 

And now, two years later, the domino effect of that game’s outcome is still felt. 

Brad Stevens has been at the helm for seven years here in Boston and ranks among the franchise’s winningest coaches ever. 

But in that Game 7 in 2018, the Celtics were less than six minutes away from getting to the NBA Finals, which is as close as this franchise has come to winning a title during Stevens' reign. 

When you look at the overall body of work since Stevens arrived in Boston in 2013, there are very few instances in which a decision or non-decision on his part stands out in a bad way. 

But this was one of those times. 

Yes, the Celtics were playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who were both sidelined with injuries. 

And yes, there are undeniable benefits in having so many young players step their game up despite being without a pair of All-Stars in Irving and Hayward. 

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But as we’ve seen here in Boston and throughout the NBA, getting to the NBA Finals is not guaranteed for any team regardless of how much promise they show going forward.

And to be as close as they were at that time, there’s no way to completely move on from that sting of missing out — other than to take that next step and actually reach the Finals. 

You can go through all the missed shots and free throws and blown assignments defensively and find factors that led to Boston coming up short in that game.

But none looms larger than the Celtics' inability to put Tatum in a better position to score the ball in the final minutes. 

While the pain from that loss has in many ways helped Boston’s young core grow, the gains for the Celtics and the Tatum-Brown tandem would have been even greater had that group as they were constructed advanced to the Finals. 

When it comes to players making plays when it counts, of course it’s ultimately on them to deliver. 

But efforts must be made to best position players to come through in the clutch, the one thing in hindsight the Celtics could have done a better job in what was — and still is — the toughest loss for this franchise in the Stevens era.

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

The NBA season may be at a standstill, but that won’t slow NBA teams down from preparing for the upcoming draft that’s currently slated for June 25. 

While this draft is short on star power like this year’s NBA rookie class, which includes Zion Williamson of New Orleans, Ja Morant in Memphis and New York’s R.J. Barrett, all of whom turned in strong first seasons in the NBA, there’s still plenty of talent to pick over in the coming weeks. 

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And the Celtics will get their shot — make that shots, plural — with three first-round picks this year. 

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ possible draft plans as well as those of the rest of the NBA in the latest NBC Sports Boston NBA Mock Draft. 

Click here for the gallery.