Celtics

9 takeaways as Celtics’ effort lags once again in loss to Wizards

"You can’t just pick and choose and think you’re going to beat people."

Takeaways Celtics Wizards
Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka talks with guard Jaylen Brown during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics were once again confoundingly mediocre in a 116-107 loss to the Wizards on Wednesday.

1. Al Horford was very obviously disappointed in his post-game press conference. He spoke quietly, paused for several seconds after answers and admitted he was as confused by the Celtics’ lackadaisical start as anyone else.

“I’m trying to figure it out myself,” he said. “We should never be questioning energy and effort.”

As several Celtics noted, it has only been five games. Still, if you consider the eerie similarities to last year’s team, it has been 77 games of inconsistent play and answers that don’t come easily. The Celtics aren’t always bad, but in two of their first five games, their performance — as Horford noted — raised questions about “effort.” For a team that boasted often of skirmishes during training-camp contests and talked incessantly about “guys getting after it,” these issues are less than ideal.

Advertisement:

2. Udoka said he yelled at his players during shoot around for a lack of focus, and he saw that carry over into the game.

“I told them that you’re going to get your ass kicked tonight if you come with that focus in the game, and for three quarters we played the same way,” Udoka said. “Waited to get down 15 and started to play with the effort that we played in the other four games.

“It’s disappointing. We’ll have a chance at it again on Saturday. If we feel we bring the right intensity, we’ll be okay, but you’ve got to show up every night. You can’t just pick and choose and think you’re going to beat people.”

One can’t help but wonder if Brad Stevens is nodding vigorously somewhere. Presumably, this isn’t the first time the Celtics heard that message after a game.

3. For the second game in a row, Schröder was excellent offensively. His 22 points and six assists helped keep the Celtics alive, and he knocked down four of his six 3-point attempts.

On the other end, Spencer Dinwiddie bullied Schröder en route to 22 points of his own (“It was terrible on my part,” Schröder said), but the Celtics probably would have survived if Schröder had any offensive help from his star teammates (23 points on 22 shots for Jayson Tatum and a woeful 5-for-16 outing by Jaylen Brown).

Advertisement:

Schröder noted that he wants to see more two-man game between himself and Al Horford.

“When me and Al are out there, we just know each other and we create open shots not just for me, not just for Al, but for the whole team,” Schröder said. “So I think we’ve got to play off each other a little bit more and we’ll be fine.”

Lineups with Schröder and Horford have outscored opponents by nearly 30 points per 100 possessions so far. The sample size is minuscule (56 possessions), so this is less “analysis” and more “something to keep an eye on.”

4. Tatum picked up another technical complaining to an official, and he might not have had much of a case — he went up for a layup but wasn’t hit hard.

After the game, Tatum said he feels like he’s doing everything necessary to draw fouls.

“I feel like I’m drawing contact, I’m getting to the paint,” Tatum said. “But I don’t know, it’s tough because you feel like you have the ball a lot, you’re drawing a lot of attention and going to the cup. It’s frustrating at times. And getting a tech isn’t always the best way, but sometimes the emotion gets the best of you.”

Advertisement:

To Tatum’s point, he averaged 12.3 drives per game in his first five contests, so he is going to the hoop. Tatum, no doubt, understands the importance of getting to the free-throw line — he averaged 31.3 points per game when he took eight or more free throws last season.

Still, much more contact seems to be allowed this season. That’s great for the game, but less than ideal for Tatum. He might be understandably frustrated by his bad timing, but the techs aren’t helping anyone.

5. For the second time coming off a big performance in an overtime game, Jaylen Brown had a tough night. He finished with just 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting, and a 10-point fourth quarter rescued from an even more ignominious stat line.

Udoka sounded as confused as anyone postgame.

“I’m trying to ramp him up during the game, pump him up to get going but the contrast of some of those previous games — especially Charlotte and the New York game — and the way you see him come out tonight is kind of mind-boggling,” Udoka said. “It can be a number of things.

“It’s something that I can help him with, put him in some positions to get going but when I see that, have to jump on it early and help him get going.”

6. Horford sat for most of the fourth quarter before returning with 4:44 remaining. He played just 26 points, in which he tallied 16 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, and was one of the Celtics’ best defenders alongside Marcus Smart.

Advertisement:

One would assume Horford was on a minute’s restriction. He said he wasn’t.

“I’m not sure. I feel fine,” he said. “I just think [Udoka] probably saw the way that the game was going, he wanted a certain lineup out there.”

7. Josh Richardson played 15 nearly invisible minutes — no points, no field-goal attempts, and just one rebound, steal, assist and foul to prove he was out there. Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, meanwhile, were DNP-CDs.

8. Marcus Smart’s offense was once again a slog — 1-for-7 from the field and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. He is now shooting an icy 25.5 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from deep.

Still, the Celtics wouldn’t have been close without his defense. His minutes present a real conundrum for a team that often lacks intensity and focus — especially on the defensive end — but that also lacks floor spacing. Even getting back to last year’s below-league-average 33 percent from deep would make a big difference.

9. The Celtics all believe they will be fine.

“I mean, it’s five games in,” Schröder said. “We’ll try to find our way.”

Schröder’s right. There are 77 games remaining — more than enough time to find a rhythm.

In January, at the start of a delayed 2020-21 season, the Celtics took on the Pistons in a semi-meaningless regular-season game in Detroit. They came out flat and fell to 3-3 with an ugly 96-93 loss to a team that would later be bad enough to win the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft.

Advertisement:

“[We] wasn’t ready,” Smart said that night. “Plain and simple. We came out lackadaisical.”

“It’s about being consistent,” Brown added. “Continuing to make the effort and adjust will be key for us, but I think we’ll be fine down the line.”

Again: This is a new team with some new faces, but the similarities to last year are a little eerie.

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com