BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ first foray out West didn’t go quite as well as they would have hoped, as they return with a 2-3 record for the trip.
But those three losses came in games that were decided on the final possession or the final minute of play, a reminder of just how close the Celtics came to sweeping all five games.
But we’re not talking about a game of horseshoes where proximity to the ultimate prize is a victory in itself.
There won’t be an asterisk next to any of Boston’s losses or wins for that matter, on this road trip.
But there is no mistaking that, regardless of the outcome of the last five games, there are a slew of positives that the Celtics can taking going forward that will be of great benefit in their quest to be one of the last teams standing in the NBA this season.
We saw a number of players emerge on this trip that we had not been talking a ton about before. There were those who validated some of the praise that has been tossed their way, while others didn’t quite deliver.
Here’s a look at the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s five-game, west coast trip:
Jaylen Brown: The West coast trip on many levels reinforced Jaylen Brown’s value to this team. His defense is showing signs of growth. But what Brown did during the West coast trip and for that matter most of this season, is show that he can do more than just defend. During the five-game trip, Brown saw more action than any other Celtic with his 35.0 minutes per game average. Offensively he averaged 17.0 points while shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range in addition to leading the team in rebounds with 8.2 per game.
Jayson Tatum: His numbers for the trip - 22.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.2 steals - were solid, but what will be most remembered was how Tatum handled dealing with the Clippers’ 1-2 punch of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They are the standard that wing players such as Tatum measure themselves against. And when the two teams met, Tatum gave them all they could handle before finishing with 30 points and six rebounds in the overtime loss. “He’s a special man, he’s a special talent,” George told reporters after the Clippers’ win over Boston. “He’s good … it’s one of the reasons the Celtics are off to the hot start they are.”
Brad Wanamaker: Kemba Walker’s injury (concussion-like symptoms) will likely result in a bump in minutes for Wanamaker who has emerged as the team’s first guard off the bench. During the five-game road trip, Wanamaker averaged 11 points on 51.5 percent (17-for-33) shooting from the field and 50 percent (6-for-12) from 3-point range, to go with 4.2 assists. They are solid numbers for a backup point guard for sure. But the Celtics may need him to be even more productive depending on how long the team will be without Walker. It remains to be seen how he will handle being a more prominent focus of a team’s scouting report. But the Celtics have to be encouraged by how he has managed added responsibility in recent weeks.
Daniel Theis: The talent gap that most of the Celtics’ big men are trying to close on a night-in, night-out basis is undeniable. But as we saw out West, Daniel Theis continues to make a strong case for why he remains Boston’s best option in the middle. Like most of the Celtics, he had his share of ups and downs out West. But more times than not, Theis was exactly what the Celtics needed. A starter in all five games, Theis led the Celtics with 9.0 rebounds per game along with scoring 7.2 points per game. But what they need more than anything else from Theis when he’s on the floor, is solid play defensively. The 26-year-old Theis did just that, evident by a defensive rating of 91.3 which ranked third among Celtics during the trip. For Theis, consistent defense will keep him on the floor going forward.
Marcus Smart: The shooting of Marcus Smart took a little hit during the trip out West, but his defensive versatility continues to amaze. He’s not just defending at a high level. He’s defending players one (point guards) through five (centers) at an incredibly impactful level.
“Think about it. How many guards doing what I do, guarding one through five?” Smart said in an interview with NBC Sports’ Kyle Draper. “How many bigs are guarding ones the way I'm guarding fives? Like I said, I'm on another level right now and my play speaks for itself.”
Offense: Certainly you have to give some credit to their opponents during the West coast trip, some of whom rank among the NBA’s best defensively. But Boston’s offense during the West coast trip failed at what matters most - scoring points. In the last five games, the Celtics shot a league-worst 40.7 percent from the field with many of those misses being of the wide open variety. All those missed shots eventually snowballed into missed opportunities to score. For the season, Boston’s offense averages 110.7 points per game which ranks 15th in the NBA. In the last five games, Boston has averaged 99.8 points which ranks 29th in the league. And they will be even more challenged offensively with leading scorer Kemba Walker likely to miss some games due to concussion-like symptoms following a head injury suffered in Boston’s 96-92 loss at Denver on Friday night.
Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.