BOSTON – No Kyrie Irving. The fifth game in eight nights. Chicago getting Nikola Mirotic back.
There’s a long list of reasons one can surmise in trying to make sense of Boston’s 108-85 loss to the woeful Chicago Bulls on Monday.
- Stars, studs and duds: 'Sometimes you get your butt kicked'
- Horford: We needed to have more of a sense of urgency
- Defense doesn't rise to the occasion without Kyrie
“They came out with more energy, more purpose,” Al Horford told reporters after the loss. “We probably needed more sense of urgency.”
At no point in the game did the Celtics play with the kind of desperation needed to be competitive, let alone emerge with a win.
The loss hurts but doesn’t have much of an impact on the team’s record (23-6) or position as the best team record-wise in the East.
Still, it serves as a stark reminder of what can happen when even the best of teams don’t play with some semblance of desperation – they can get crushed.
“Chicago dictated the whole game; they played harder than we did,” Stevens said. “They played with more presence than we did; played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”
Here are five other takeaways from the loss:
The 19-year-old had one of those back-to-earth moments on Monday. He delivered the kind of sub-par performance we have not seen from him this season, which is pretty amazing considering we’re more than a third of the way through the regular season. Tatum had a season-low four points, missing six of his seven shots along with all four of his 3-point attempts.
LACK OF HUSTLE
For most of the game, Chicago simply outworked Boston, which again is something we have not seen much of this season. And this was noticeable at both ends of the floor. Against the Bulls, Boston had a total of seven assists via screens. To put that in perspective, Aron Baynes had eight screen assists by himself in Sunday’s win at Detroit. And with so much length, the Celtics are accustomed to getting their hands on a lot of balls via deflections. Boston’s deflection total against the Bulls? Two. It was that kind of night for the Green Team.
No team wants to blame the schedule for a loss, but there are certain games in which the degree of difficulty to win is increased in part because of timing. Monday night's game was Boston’s fifth in eight days. No matter how talented or deep a team may be, such stretches of play eventually factor into a not-so-great performance. We’ve seen the Celtics have a few of these this season, but often found a way to muster up enough stretches of good play to escape with a win. But on Monday, they just couldn’t string together enough good plays at either end of the floor to swing the game’s momentum in their favor.
We have thought highly of Irving since he’s joined the Celtics, in large part because of what he does to impact winning. His sitting out Monday night to rest a sore quad muscle created a window of opportunity for his teammates. Instead, the game turned into a referendum on why Irving is an MVP candidate. This team without him, on Monday night at least, was horrible. If he does miss any more games, you can count on the Celtics playing much better than what we saw against Chicago. But in the meantime, they would just as soon leave the Irving-less games to hypothetical scenarios rather than being part of their reality.
There have been some who have debated whether Brad Stevens is the real MVP of this Celtics team and will use Monday’s loss as an example to debunk that notion. But here’s what you have to remember. A coaches’ game plan is only as good as the players are at executing it. And just like players will have a stinker game here and there over an 82-game regular season, the same goes for coaches. Stevens couldn’t find a matchup against Chicago that worked. And defensively, the players were a step slow most of the night no matter what Stevens called for them to do. Could Stevens have done a better job? Absolutely. He’ll be the first to tell you that. But this loss was more about the Celtics not playing with enough of a sense of urgency, which is a collaborative effort between Stevens and his players. They fell short of accomplishing that against the Bulls.