The Boston Celtics traded haymakers with one of the league’s best on a national stage Sunday and nearly stole a win despite playing without their All-Star point guard.
From this vantage point, there was a lot to be encouraged by, not the least of which was 21-year-old Jayson Tatum being the best player on the floor in a game in which LeBron James was on the other sideline.
Yet, when we pulled the drawstrings on the Celtics Mailbag on Sunday night, there was a whole lot of angst. Most of the venom was directed at the officials — more on that in a bit — but poor Brad Wanamaker and his bench brethren found themselves in the crosshairs of angry fans, too. So let’s start this week’s edition there:
THE BENCH!!!! It’s a serious problem and, honestly, what does Stevens see in Wanamaker?!?!? — @ccsilva32
Danny Ainge needs to get these guys a legit bench. … You stood up for Ainge and his hoarding of picks, it's sickening you have to run starters into the ground for wins. — @nocap757
If anything frustrates me about this team, it’s a complete lack of a decent bench. Do they have potential? Sure, but that and $3 will get you a plain coffee. How far does this team go in the playoffs given 95% of their scoring is on the shoulders of the starters? — @cbrown4405
Bench scoring is a bigger weakness than size, IMO. What will the playoff rotation look like to deal with this issue? — @Tron731
Sunday wasn’t a banner day for Boston’s bench. Marcus Smart got elevated to a starting role in Kemba Walker’s absence; Enes Kanter played limited minutes given matchup troubles; Wanamaker had a rough night (0-for-4 shooting, 3 turnovers); and Boston’s five-man reserve unit ultimately went 3-for-11 with 11 points over 58 minutes of floor time.
For those who have clamored for a bench upgrade since the trade deadline, Sunday’s loss was another chance to scream, “See!” And news that the already deep Lakers were adding Markieff Morris off the buyout scrapheap only led to more consternation.
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Maybe the biggest question mark with the Celtics — beyond whether they can stay healthy when it matters — is who exactly is their 8th or 9th man in a playoff rotation? Can the Celtics lean on Wanamaker on a big stage? Can Robert Williams return and bolster the Voltron frontcourt with Daniel Theis and Kanter? Do the Celtics have to think harder about a buyout upgrade, and is there even anyone out there that can fill the team’s need for shooting in what could be a very limited role?
We’re intrigued to see more of rookie Romeo Langford, but he plays a wing position where Boston is already well-stocked. Still, his ability to create his own shot and play strong defense leaves us wondering if there’s enough time to build the trust needed for Stevens to lean on him in playoff minutes. It’s asking a lot for a rookie to contribute in the postseason, which is what’s working against guys like Langford and Grant Williams.
Ultimately, I’m not certain there’s a buyout addition currently available that would alter the trajectory of the Celtics’ season. As the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks swoop up some of the more intriguing names, the Celtics might ultimately have to roll with what they’ve got and cross their fingers on health, all while hoping their rookies don’t shrink on a big stage.
Isaiah Thomas solves a bench problem. Wanamaker is not an answer to any question anyone has. If they are afraid of a circus, it's up to management to manage it. He could have been useful tonight. — @turkued1
With all the usual qualifiers, including that Thomas and the 2016-17 Celtics were the most enjoyable bunch to chronicle in my career, I just don’t see the fit with this team. Celtics fans romanticize the notion of what Thomas was and his ability to thrive on a team centered around his offensive exploits. But that opporutnity isn’t there now, and defense would be a major concern. Thomas still has his moments, but the Celtics don’t have the minutes or touches for him to truly thrive.
DeMarcus Cousins a possibility? Could the Celtics just claim him? — @c0_nun_drum
Even if Cousins gets healthy for the postseason, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect him to be able to contribute — coming off two major injuries — with zero in-season reps with his new team.
What happened to Javonte Green? Seems to have fallen out of favor. — @Tantamount1
When the Celtics are healthy on the wing, it’s simply harder to find minutes. Stevens leaned on Semi Ojeleye initially and Romeo Langford Sunday for those wing minutes and Green is more of a depth option when the Tatum/Brown/Hayward combo is all healthy. It could also leave him vulnerable if the Celtics ultimately elect to seek a buyout upgrade (remember that Vincent Poirier has multiple years on his deal, making it tougher to swallow).
Danny has no plan and has no interest in making this team a championship contender. — @DattilioBilly
Yup, beyond drafting two franchise cornerstones, hooking two All-Stars in free agency, and keeping the draft-pick surplus intact to ensure a long-term run as a contender, he certainly has no interest.
We can tell y’all are angry. Go ahead and vent on the officials:
Wyc should file a grievance — @KembaWalkerCBT
I’m not sure there’s a greater waste of time — and money — than filing a protest of an NBA game. But if Mark Cuban wants to spend $10,000 to make a point, so be it. Grousbeck and Co. should probably save their money.
Three things: 1. Ball out of bounds off AD with every announcer and fan seeing it but not the refs; 2. Jaylen called out of bounds when it wasn’t even that close so ref just made that up; 3. A clear goaltending is called, then reversed, because LBJ complained. That’s 2 points and 2 possessions. — @BobbyDlight14
Counter argument: 1. I didn’t think any of the views were conclusive enough to overturn the call on the court and only the back angle seemed to suggest Davis tipped it out; 2. Referee probably figured if he was out of bounds and Brown was bumping into him, he had to be out, too, but this was a tough whistle; 3. Brown appeared to goaltend defending a layup attempt after a whistle so it might have evened out there.
That last 2 minute report will be interesting. Certainly don’t expect it will make Celtics fans happier. — @rlbyrne29
:: sigh :: Totally forgot we’re going to have to hear all this complaining again Monday if the league admits any of the late-game calls were incorrect.
Let’s see what else people are angry about …
Can Hayward not miss game-clinching layups? Or is it too much to ask from a $30 million per year player? — @stamosd308
Hayward did make a somewhat curious decision to push the ball up the floor in transition with Boston up 2 after a stop with a minute to go. If Kyle Kuzma doesn’t two-handed shove his way through a Daniel Theis seal to contest the layup, Hayward might have locked up the game. To his credit, Hayward admitted Boston would have won if he hadn’t “smoked a couple bunnies.” Let’s remember that Hayward has been maybe the team’s second best player behind Tatum in this stretch where Boston has won 12 of 15.
Why did Stevens sit Tatum for so long to start the fourth? He scored 35 points in the previous two quarters. Ride the Hot Hand. — @ChrisKelleyUSA
Stevens rode the hot hand in the third quarter and tried to buy some extra rest early in the fourth when Boston had the lead. Not sure it mattered all that much. The Celtics didn’t do a great job adjusting to the Lakers blitzing Tatum late and that has to be a focus if teams do it more often.
Now, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, and some readers shared our glass half-full outlook. A few to balance this thing out:
I’ve never felt better about a loss. We just went toe-to-toe with arguably the best team in the West and lost a close game, which we could’ve/should’ve won without our starting point guard. — @WBrown1984
Honestly I’m just psyched for the future of one Jayson Tatum. — @john9668
Beyond the obvious Tatum growth and Jaylen never shying in big moments regardless of outcome, I’m loving the defensive efforts I’m seeing from Langford. — @dangrant75
It’s easy to see why the Celtics were bullish on Langford even as he navigated all those early season injuries. He could be a big-time contributor in future seasons.
Number 0 going up in the rafters in 25 years? — @iss_a_joke
Probably more like 20 years. They don’t wait around these days. But even in 2040, Deuce Tatum will be a fourth-year veteran for the Celtics when his 41-year-old father’s jersey becomes the first since Garnett to go to the rafters.
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