BOSTON -- The fact that Boston has lost three of its last four games isn’t reason enough to hit the panic button.
But considering the Celtics fell behind by at least 26 points in each of the losses is indeed reason for concern as the Celtics near the All-Star break, the unofficial halfway point of the season.
With Paul Pierce being honored Sunday with a retirement ceremony in which his jersey number 34 was raised to the rafters, it led to folks glossing over -- to some degree -- the carnage that the Cavaliers and their new-look lineup left in the wake of their 121-99 whipping of the C's.
While there was plenty of material to muse over in explaining how decisive this latest beating was for Boston, the Celtics’ lack of pace seems to be a common theme in the last three losses.
“Offensively we need to have more pace to what we do,” said Al Horford.
This season, Boston’s PACE (number of possessions per game) is 98.17, which ranks 22nd in the NBA. The last four games has seen Boston’s PACE (98.19, 22nd in the league) remain virtually the same.
Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 121-99 loss to Cleveland.
Teams have raised their physicality against the Celtics, and the center of that focus has been Kyrie Irving. He is still producing at a fairly efficient clip, but the Cavaliers did a good job of limiting the volume of shot attempts by either keeping the ball out of his hands or sending help defending him early and often. He had 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting which is good for most players. But for what this team needs on a nightly basis, that’s just not good enough.
STEADY AGGRESSION LACKING
Boston began the game with a heightened and undeniable edge, showcasing an aggressive brand of basketball we normally don’t see from the Celtics unless they're down by double digits. And when that didn’t put the Cavs on their heels early on, Boston began getting away from what kept the game close in the first quarter and, thus, led to Cleveland taking control of the game in the second quarter and never letting up.
LACK OF GAME-CHANGING DEPTH
One of the reasons Boston has been able to weather the storms of huge deficits and still manage to win games is that someone invariably delivers a game-altering performance that sparked the team. It’s not a coincidence that Boston has struggled finding players to fill that void lately. Two of the best Celtics at doing that this season has been Marcus Smart (above) and Shane Larkin, but both are out with injuries and won't be back until sometime after the All-Star break.
When it comes to scoring, one of the more telling factors in whether the Celtics win or lose can be found in Tatum’s point total. In Sunday’s loss to Cleveland, Tatum had nine points. This season, the Celtics are 31-9 when Tatum scores in double figures, and just 9-9 when he doesn’t.
CLEVELAND’S NEW (AND IMPROVED) LOOK
Sunday was our first look at the new-look Cavaliers. No matter how you may feel about LeBron James and the Cavs, the moves they made at the trade deadline will make them a much better regular-season team. But with so many of the new guys dealing with expectations for success for the first time, there are still questions as to how this new group will fare when it comes to what matters most -- getting back to the NBA Finals. The Celtics have several new faces as well, and they too will have to prove their worth in the postseason. But the big difference is Boston’s new guys have had an 82-game schedule to get familiar with one another. The Cavs have two months to figure things out. But give them credit. They made an impressive debut, for sure.
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