Celtics

5 takeaways as Celtics are ‘carved up’ in embarrassing loss to depleted Timberwolves

"One of the poorest losses of the year."

Celtics Timberwolves takeaways
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Josh Okogie blocks the shot of Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown. AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics dropped perhaps their worst loss of the season to date 108-103 against a very depleted Timberwolves team.

1. We can’t call that loss “shocking” or “inexplicable” because it was neither. We could try “inexcusable,” but that just sounds patronizing.

“One of the poorest losses of the year,” Ime Udoka said after the game, which sums it up acceptably.

Losing to the Timberwolves — who were missing their entire starting lineup, including Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards — wasn’t shocking, because this type of bizarre performance keeps happening. It’s not even the Celtics’ worst loss of the calendar year: That distinction belongs to the 2020-21 squad’s collapse against the Thunder in April. Several of the players were different, as was the head coach, but the result was reminiscent in a way that raises eyebrows. The more things change, the more they give up 20 points to Nathan Knight.

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“Every game seems like it’s a new day with us,” Udoka said. “And that can’t be the case. It can’t be three good quarters here and then one undisciplined quarter, same thing with Milwaukee in the third quarter. …

“It can’t be a reset every game. You have to have some continuity, some consistency.”

The loss also isn’t inexplicable. An optimistic observation is that Jayson Tatum was out in COVID protocols — his first absence of the year — and the Celtics didn’t play well in their best player’s first absence.

A more pessimistic observation is that the Celtics lost on a night when Knight, Jaylen Nowell, and Greg Monroe were the Timberwolves’ best players, and the Timberwolves were a better team than the Celtics because they shot and defended better.

“Minnesota played great. I don’t want to take away from them,” Jaylen Brown said. “They came out and played hard. Some of those guys got going and made plays etc., but we still could be a lot better than we were tonight, and we weren’t.”

The Celtics shot just 31.8 percent in the fourth quarter and were 2-for-14 from deep despite generating a lot of very reasonable shots by driving into the teeth of the Timberwolves’ zone and kicking out. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, got a combined 60 points on 38 shots for the game from Knight, Monroe and Nowell.

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Frankly, the loss was pretty easy to explain.

2. Speaking of Nowell, he dunked on the Celtics pretty hard.

Then later, Monroe also indirectly dunked on the Celtics pretty hard, using Nowell.

3. After the game, a reporter asked Al Horford who is responsible for turning a team around in a situation like this (i.e. a star player, a coach, a veteran etc.). Horford noted that it was an interesting question and said each player and coach bears some responsibility individually to the team.

“At the end of the day, you have to hold us accountable,” Horford said. “All of us are out there. We have to be held accountable and we need to be better.

“I know we keep saying that. To answer your question, I think individually, we have to look in the mirror and it’s not a numbers statement. It’s different things within the game that we have to face in order to be better.”

4. Horford hit on an important point: The Celtics needed more from nearly everyone. Particularly with Tatum out, they needed a better All-Star performance by Jaylen Brown, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds but struggled to break down the Timberwolves’ zone and needed 24 shots and six turnovers to get there.

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“We didn’t play well today. I didn’t play well today,” Brown said. “I let my team down for sure. …

“My team needed me to make plays and step up and I turned the ball over too much, I missed easy shots, easy reads, and we lost.”

Brown was hardly alone, however. The Celtics needed more from Payton Pritchard, who took a career-high 14 3-pointers in an expanded role and made just five of them. They needed more from Romeo Langford, who had a career-high four steals by halftime but shot just 2-for-9 and was a -32. They needed more from Robert Williams, who got into foul trouble with undisciplined defense and shuttled to and from the bench as a result.

“The majority of [the fouls] were leaving his feet on — quite frankly — a guy that we want to shoot jump shots,” Udoka said, referencing Timberwolves big man Knight. “And so he left the floor a few times and got early fouls there, and when you have four fouls you can’t reach in and get your fifth that early in the game. … He kind of took himself out of the game.”

In their returns from COVID protocols, Horford and Grant Williams combined to score 31 points on 19 shots (4-for-8 and 3-for-5 from 3-point range respectively), but they were outliers offensively.

5. What the Celtics do from here is a complete mystery. Good players aren’t easy to acquire, and a major shake up would cost the Celtics good players.

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On the other hand, the area where this team truly is confounding is in its construction. There are quite a few good players on the Celtics roster. We know this because we’ve seen them play really well for extended periods. Why aren’t they jelling? Why can’t good players who seem to get along well off the court build any chemistry on it?

“Right now, this is who we are,” Horford said.

Nobody will be — or should be — particularly excited about that.

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