Celtics

9 takeaways as Celtics collapse twice in one game, fall to Spurs

The Celtics rallied from 24 down but lost a late lead.

Celtics Spurs takeaways
San Antonio Spurs' Dejounte Murray tangles with Boston Celtics' Dennis Schröder and Marcus Smart. AP Photo/Darren Abate

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics dropped their second game in a row, falling 96-88 to the Spurs on Friday.

1. The Celtics managed the rare feat of collapsing twice in one game.

The first collapse was 15 minutes of free fall to start, when the Spurs jumped out to a 30-14 lead after one quarter and then expanded the advantage to 40-14 with a 10-0 run to start the second quarter. The second collapse happened late, when the Celtics — having battled all the way back to take a seven-point lead — stopped scoring entirely, allowing San Antonio to end the game on a shocking 15-0 run. That stretch turned an 88-81 Celtics lead into the final score.

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We’ve said it before, but Friday’s game hammered the point home once again: Few teams are as capable of giving fans reasons to buy in and give up completely as the Celtics.

2. The late-blown lead was a reminder that the Celtics aren’t good enough to get away with falling behind early against the Spurs, let alone against the competition looming on their schedule (the Sixers at home followed by the Jazz, Lakers, Clippers and Suns on the road).

The Spurs have some nice players (most notably Dejounte Murray, who dominated the last few minutes of the fourth quarter), but they don’t have any real (or potential) superstars. A regression to the mean from the Celtics’ almost-comical start to the game (2-for-18 from the floor, which progressed into 6-for-34) was inevitable, and the regression was always going to hit harder against the Spurs than it would against a team with more talent.

But if the Celtics could have cut out either collapse, the remaining one wouldn’t have done quite as much damage.

3. Ime Udoka was asked about the Celtics’ tendency to struggle in first quarters. As he tends to do when he sees something he doesn’t like, he called out his team.

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“I feel like, at times, we are trying to get ourselves going and not coming ready to play,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to take two or three shots to get us in a rhythm or get us going. Come out and play the way we do in the second, third and fourth quarter from the start. Guys are trying to find their rhythm instead of playing together and that’s what it looks like to me in the first quarter at times.”

Grant Williams agreed.

“That intensity, that passion, that effort that you have to come in every night, and every team, you have to put your foot on their throats,” he said. “At times, you don’t see that. That’s what we need to be better at, from the start of the game, from the start of tip off, we have to come out with more intensity and come out with more of that ‘oomph.'”

4. One positive for the Celtics: Once again, Grant Williams showcased the significant strides he has made on both ends. Defensively, he tends to be in the right spots and he has mastered verticality. He never shies away from contact, and he is quickly refining his offensive game. On Friday, he finished with seven points, five rebounds, and three blocks, and he was +18 in a game the Celtics lost by seven.

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5. The Spurs — who packed the paint well all evening — went to a box-and-one defensive coverage down the stretch which seemed to be what stymied the Celtics’ offense.

“For me, I have to think in those times to be a screener,” Jayson Tatum said. “Box-and-one, they’re not going to leave me. But I think a lot of times when people do go box-and-one it kind of makes you a little hesitant, and I think you simplify the game when they go box-and-one. They shouldn’t be able to. You just have to make plays.”

Tatum in particular appeared stymied, and when he is stymied, the Celtics tend to struggle.

“I’m fine with being the reason or the blame guy,” Tatum said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. Understand it’s a long season, but we’re going to figure it out. I’m certain of it.”

6. The Celtics will need to figure out how to beat teams who pack the paint, especially if Tatum continues to struggle from 3-point range. He is now 4-for-25 in his last three games (16 percent) from deep. The Celtics as a team were 10-for-34 after a 4-for-18 start in the first half.

7. Jaylen Brown still doesn’t quite look like himself, as evidenced by his struggles during the Celtics’ cold snap. He missed a pull-up two (one of his comfortable shots), a euro-step layup in transition (another one of his good looks), a spinning layup attempt in transition and a corner three before he finally got his first attempt in the paint to drop. At one point after falling, he gripped his hamstring briefly before he was helped up, and he finished 6-for-16 from the floor (16 points).

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It’s worth wondering whether getting Brown back to full health — even if that means more rest and rehab — might be worthwhile. The Celtics played well enough in his absence (albeit against inferior competition), and he will be utterly essential if the games matter more late in the season.

8. Enes Kanter has been widely panned among Celtics fans — mostly justifiably — for his unplayable pick-and-roll defense, but he has been significantly better over the last few games. On Saturday, he was +28 and the Celtics looked worse whenever he was taken out of the game even though he was just 1-for-5 from the field.

Kanter wasn’t perfect, but he was (dare we say it?) a net positive on the defensive end.

9. After the game, Tatum was asked if the Celtics took their collective foot off the gas. His answer was the longest we can remember Tatum ever giving — 381 words — and we’ll present most of it here, since it was an interesting critique of the roller-coaster nature of sports coverage and the narratives pushed by fans.

(The too-long-didn’t-read version? Tatum believes the Celtics tried hard and came up short. But his words are more interesting.)

“Take the foot off the gas?” Tatum said. “Honestly, I don’t think so. I feel, s—, we were down 26 and when the guys that started the second half and the guys that came off the bench, we fought. We fought back, we gave it everything we had. Guys was out there competing, I know that for sure. …

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“There’s always people tell you, ‘You should’ve did this, you should’ve did that,’ but tonight, I don’t think that was my impression from being on the floor that we took our foot off the gas. But if that’s how it seems, I guess so be it. That’s not how it felt. Everybody out there gave it their all tonight. If you’re down 27, you come back you’re up seven like, s—, you’ve got to be fighting, you’ve got to be competing. We was trying to figure it out. We’re not perfect. Obviously this is a game that you really want, especially if you give yourself a chance like that. …

“Yeah, this was a tough one, but the reality is it’s over with. We can’t do nothing about it. Can’t hang our head. It’s get on the flight tomorrow, try to get one in Toronto and just try to get the next one. It’s no sense of harping on what happened tonight. Be frustrated, think about it, move on to the next game, and get back at it.”

The Celtics face the Raptors on Sunday at 6 p.m.

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