Celtics

Team USA loss shouldn't define Team Shamrock's FIBA World Cup experience

Team USA loss shouldn't define Team Shamrock's FIBA World Cup experience

The four members of the Celtics who signed up for Team USA duty this summer knew the potential pitfalls and the chief peril came to fruition Wednesday when the Americans got upset by France in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup in China.

For the first time in 13 years, Team USA lost a game during international competition. Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart will be linked to a team that disappointingly saw a 58-game winning streak snapped — at least for a few summers while Team USA attempts to rebuild its reputation as the dominant force in international hoops.

But to suggest that Team USA’s loss in any way takes away from what these players experienced this summer is shortsighted. Four members of the Celtics got a jump start on chemistry-building, they got a rare chance to learn under the tutelage of championship coaches like Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, and they got a hoops experience that's positives will so greatly outweigh the negatives of a non-medal finish.

When Paul Pierce’s name is invoked in these parts, is the first recollection the disastrous 2002 world championships experience in which Team USA finished a head-slapping sixth on home soil? That year, the Americans saw another 58-game winning streak snapped against Argentina.

There was palpable and understandable disappointment among Celtics players after Team USA lost Wednesday. When Jaylen Brown was asked by reporters what the mood in the Americans’ locker room was like, he responded, "I don’t even know how to answer that. Everybody knows what we wanted to do, and we didn’t do it. I guess you can imagine how we feel, right?”

We can. But once the disappointment wears off, and the FIBA championships are sooner forgotten with the start of the NBA season, the experiences that Team Shamrock endured will benefit them far more than any medal might have.

Where else this summer would the 6-foot-7 Brown be tasked with not only playing a good majority of his minutes at the unfamiliar power forward position, but also be tasked, in critical game situations, with helping to defend 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert? When the Americans desperately needed to slow Gobert, it was Brown and Smart who got the call from Popovich as the best non-big options to joust with the Jazz center.

Brown put together another solid outing Wednesday, maximizing his opportunity ever since Tatum injured his ankle against Turkey. Smart practically willed the USA back from a double-digit deficit early in the second half with his defensive tenacity.

Yes, Walker had his biggest dud of the tournament. He struggled early against France’s ball pressure and his shot defied him throughout the game. It was the worst possible timing for Walker to go cold in a tournament where he had otherwise shined. Team USA will wonder if things might have been a bit different if Tatum had been healthy enough to suit up.

Team USA fell short of impossibly high expectations, particularly considering how much the talent gap has narrowed in international hoops. When American superstars bailed on this year’s FIBA tournament, it put those that elected to suit up in a tough spot, all while tasked with building chemistry on the fly. Credit Popovich and Co. for not using it as the go-to excuse for why Team USA bowed so early.

The experiences of the past two months will soon benefit Team Shamrock. Maybe it happens when Tatum is at the free-throw line in the closing seconds of an opening-night tilt in Philadelphia and he can step up more confidently knowing the clutch freebies he made against Turkey to force overtime. Maybe it happens a week later if Smart is deployed to defend Giannis Antetokounmpo when the Bucks visit TD Garden on Oct. 30, and Smart can reflect back on his efforts in Team USA’s win over Greece.

Maybe it happens when Brad Stevens deploys Brown at the 4 in small-ball lineups, cocksure in the assignment because of what Brown showed in this tournament. Or maybe it happens whenever Walker looks across the court and sees the like of Gobert or Evan Fournier, and the disappointment of his quarterfinal shooting woes inspire him in an NBA rematch.

If nothing else, Boston’s quartet of Team USA participants should be ready to hit the ground running when camp opens on Oct. 1. They sacrificed their summer with hopes of FIBA gold, but there are much bigger goals for all four of those players in a more familiar work environment.

Wednesday’s loss shouldn’t define Team Shamrock. What happens in the next six months will be a much better gauge of their summer adventures.

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Here's what the Celtics have to do to start a new win streak

Here's what the Celtics have to do to start a new win streak

The Boston Celtics, player by player, weren’t trying to fool anyone Sunday afternoon following their one-point loss to Sacramento. 

Marcus Smart’s last-second runner that hung on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before rolling out of the cylinder as time expired, would have salvaged a game that they had given away time and time again earlier.

They didn’t deserve to win that game; Sacramento did.

The Kings played harder, smarter and they were the more efficient and effective team for longer stretches than the Celtics.

With the season still relatively young, it’s a good reminder of what happens when you ease into games like the Celtics have seemingly done for a good chunk of this season.

And for Boston, there just isn’t much time for reflection or to take a deeper dive into what specifically led to Sunday’s loss, which snapped a 10-game Celtics winning streak.

Up next they play the Phoenix Suns (7-4), one of the hottest teams in the NBA. 

And while there’s plenty of room for improvement, here are three must-fix areas that require immediate attention if the Celtics are to begin a new winning streak tonight against the Suns.

FIRST-HALF OFFENSE

By the time the final stats are tallied, the Celtics come out looking pretty good offensively. But that’s in large part because of how ridiculously well they play after halftime. The Celtics have become too reliant on a strong finish propelling them to victory. Simply put, they need to begin games better than what we’ve seen this season. While players point to the not-so-great start in the last couple of games as being an issue, the truth is their early game woes run much deeper.

This season, nba.com/stats shows that Boston’s offensive rating in the first half of games is 103.4, which ranks 22nd in the NBA. And yet for the season, the Celtics have the second-best offensive rating (112.0) in the league. The Phoenix Suns have a similar first-half issue with their offensive rating in the first half of games (105.9) being ranked 16th in the league. But overall, their offensive rating (111.6) ranks fifth.

Celtics players are well aware of the need to have better starts in order to have better finishes.

“We’ve started off bad the last few games,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown told reporters following Sunday’s loss. “It’s a long season. We lost the game; it happens. We just have to continue to keep moving forward. It’s not the end of the world.  We lost a game; try and win (tonight).”

REBOUND PERCENTAGE

While some pay close attention to the total number of rebounds snatched per game, a more telling indicator as to how good or bad a team is on the boards, is their rebounding percentage. And while the Celtics are middle-of-the-pack in total rebounds, they get too small a chunk of available boards, that — as we saw on Sunday — will catch up to you eventually.

Against the Kings, the Celtics finished with a respectable rebounding percentage of .518, which is actually better than their season average (.484), which ranks 26th in the league.

However, Boston’s board work was underwhelming to say the least in the fourth quarter.

That's when the Celtics were out-rebounded 14-9 and were outscored 13-4 on second-chance points.

And their rebounding percentage in the fourth quarter Sunday was just .393.

Their opponent tonight has had their share of rebounding struggles as well, with the Suns’ rebounding percentage (.492) ranked 20th in the league.

PULL-UP JUMPERS

We give the Celtics props for looking to attack more going to the rim, than we’ve seen in past years. But with the kind of offensive firepower this team possesses, pull-up jumpers have to be a part of a successful offensive attack. 

It has been that way most of this season, with the Celtics averaging 26.8 points per game on pull-up jumpers, which ranks second in the NBA. But on Sunday, Second Spectrum Data shows that the Celtics generated just 13 points from pull-up jumpers.

Tonight they face a Phoenix team that, while ranking among the league’s highest-scoring clubs, doesn’t generate a ton of offense from pull-up jumpers. For the season, they average 16.1 points from pull-up jumpers, which ranks just 26th in the NBA. 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Celtics Report Card: Sobering marks as 10-game winning streak ends

Celtics Report Card: Sobering marks as 10-game winning streak ends

The Celtics were inches away from becoming the first team in NBA history to rattle off an 11-game win streak after an opening night loss.

But Marcus Smart's floater at the buzzer didn't fall, and now the C's sit at 10-2. 

Call it an overreaction and maybe this week's grades would be a bit cheerier if Smart’s layup dropped for another undefeated week, but it wasn’t a particularly inspiring seven days for the Celtics. 

Despite their 3-1 record, Boston let the lowly Wizards put up 133 points on the parquet and fell behind by 15 points to a Warriors club with the worst record in the NBA.

Now the C's have to bounce back from their second loss of the season as their road trip continues against the Suns, Clippers, and Nuggets, who own a combined record of 24-12.

But before we look ahead, let's take a look back.

Click here for the Celtics Report Card from Week 4.>>>>>

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.