Familiar problems continue to arise for Celtics in loss to Hawks – Enterprise News


Greg Dudek
 
| The Enterprise

BOSTON – A win over the Denver Nuggets Tuesday lifted the spirits of the Boston Celtics just enough to have it feel like they were on the verge of turning a corner.

But that feeling was fleeting, gone 24 hours later when the Atlanta Hawks strolled into the TD Garden and tore apart a porous Celtics defense to hand Boston a 122-114 loss.

It was the third demoralizing defeat for the Celtics in less than a week. The Celtics already suffered back-to-back losses to two Eastern Conference bottom dwellers in the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards and falling to Atlanta, which came in losers in seven of its last eight games, topped off an uninspiring stretch of play from Boston.

“We just got to find some consistency,” said Jaylen Brown as the Celtics fell back to .500 at 14-14. “I know it’s probably tough to watch. (Expletive), it’s tough to play, but I think there’s a lot to learn and improve on moving toward the future.”

The Celtics defense was absent against the Hawks as a night after Nikola Jokic exploded for 43 points, Trae Young torched Boston’s defense by pouring in 40 points on 14-of-20 shooting. But it wasn’t even Young getting to every spot he wanted to on the floor that was so maddening.

As a whole, Atlanta met little resistance from the Celtics defense, shooting 36-of-53 from inside the arc and tallying 60 points in the paint while finishing 57.1 percent from the field for the game.

“I thought our perimeter defense made it really hard on our paint defense,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “There were a couple of times where our bigs certainly got beat off the bounce and those type of things. I’m not sure we had huge impact on them on the ball. Certainly not the way they impacted us.”

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The Celtics had no solutions defensively that it forced Stevens to turn to a 2-3 zone defense out of necessity to start the second half and even employ a hack-a-Clint Capela strategy with 5:33 left in the fourth quarter.

While the Celtics have usually leaned on their defense during Brad Stevens’ tenure, it has fallen by the wayside this season with Boston failing to exert any pressure, especially with Marcus Smart sidelined, on that side of the ball.

“It’s a team dynamic and this year we’re not as connected as past years,” said Brown of the defense. “This year we’re not as physical as past years, but this is a unique year. We have a unique team, a new team, a young team and we’re trying to put the pieces together.”

Offensively, the Celtics once again were too reliant on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. While Tatum was one of a few bright spots for the Celtics by netting 35 points, Brown struggled despite scoring 22 points. Brown shot just 6-for-20 from the floor, but was saved by going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.

Tatum and Brown dominated the Celtics offense in the third quarter, combining to take 15 of Boston’s 20 shots in the frame. The duo’s take over came with little effectiveness as their other three teammates sharing the court with them watched helplessly.

Tatum and Brown continued to swallow up the ball in the fourth quarter, over dribbling and not executing the ball movement the Celtics need to generate consistent offense. On back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter, Tatum pounded the ball into the parquet until it resulted in two costly turnovers.

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Tatum said he wasn’t trying to match what Young did on the other end as the budding star scored 16 points in the final frame

“You don’t look at it like that, not like you have to score,” Tatum said. “Obviously late game, you want to go make a play. That’s just best for the team. Guys hit shots and you move on. Move to the next play, but you don’t try to get into a battle.”

Not all of Boston’s offensive struggles – the Celtics went 4:20 in-between field goals in the second quarter with Tatum on the bench for the majority of that span – are on Tatum and Brown holding on to the ball too much. The Celtics don’t have a quality third scoring option to turn to when Kemba Walker sits out the second leg of back-to-backs due to left knee injury management.

With Walker, Smart and Daniel Theis (sprained right index finger) missing from the starting unit, the Celtics received solid outings from Tristan Thompson (14 points) and Payton Pritchard (11 points), but it wasn’t enough of a boost.

Another issue for the Celtics is the failure to string together winning performances as Boston has won back-to-back games only once over the past month.

“We want to go on runs like we did early in the season. It’s just growing pains. Fighting adversity,” Tatum said. “I believe it’s going to make us more together and make us tougher in the end. This is part of it. We got good spirit. We got a good group. We care. It’s just tough right now.”

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