Celtics

The Celtics seem to be teetering: 7 takeaways from Celtics vs. Knicks

The Celtics became the second team this season to blow a 25-point lead.

Celtics Knicks
Robert Williams III of the Boston Celtics and Alec Burks of the New York Knicks battle for the ball. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Set aside the final shot (if you can): The Celtics did not deserve to win Thursday’s game against the Knicks.

Not when they let Evan Fournier go off for 41 points — his season-high (for the record, all three of Fournier’s season-highs this year have come against the Celtics). Not when they blew a 25-point first-half lead (becoming just the second team this season to blow a lead that comfortable). Not when they spent another postgame talking about effort and adversity (whether those elements really are the issue is a topic for another a day). Not when the offense bogged down again late, with odd personnel decisions.

The Celtics have now lost consecutive games on consecutive days in hands-on-the-head fashion — Jaylen Brown missed a layup as time expired on Wednesday, setting the stage for Thursday’s meltdown. They keep digging, but they are yet to find rock bottom. They have, however, found the bottom of the Atlantic Division and seem to be teetering on the brink of a lottery season.

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They could use some more shooting, but at this point, what about this team suggests they should be buyers prior to February’s trade deadline?

More takeaways from the Celtics’ second consecutive torturous loss.

2. This will come as cold comfort for Celtics fans, but the Jayson Tatum really could not have defended R.J. Barrett’s shot any better.

Barrett is left-handed, and Tatum remained attached to his left side. He shuffled his feet and came as close to defending the shot as he could safely without committing a foul.

Sometimes there truly is nothing you can do (about the final shot, anyway).

3. The odd thing about Thursday’s game was that there were plenty of bright spots before everything unraveled. A big one was Robert Williams, who erased the Knicks around the rim for much of the game. Williams threatened to amass his second career triple-double — six points, nine rebounds, seven blocked shots — and whenever he left the floor, the Celtics found themselves in hot water. While the Celtics were once again called out by Ime Udoka for their effort and intensity after the game, Williams dove all over the floor and created extra possessions.

“We just have to stay together,” Williams said. “At the end of the day there’s five of us out there. The crowd was so loud that sometimes we couldn’t even hear Coach. So I feel like with the players on the court we have to calm ourselves down, pull ourselves together.”

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Something to keep an eye on: While Williams and Al Horford in the starting lineup still seem to work (the Celtics outscore opponents by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions with their preferred starters), the duo doesn’t produce as well throughout the rest of the game. Two-man lineups with Williams and Horford are outscored by 4.8 points per 100 possessions, even with the big boost from the starters.

4. Much will be made of Marcus Smart taking this shot instead of swinging it to Brown, and to be clear, Smart should have swung the ball to Jaylen Brown.

Still, there’s a second issue: Smart and Dennis Schröder on the floor together leaves the Celtics with three non-shooters. When the ball swings around the perimeter and finds both Schröder and Smart, the offense struggles.

“Across the board I think we haven’t had the best shooting year, so regardless of who we have handling out there, it’s not always gonna be the best shooters on the floor,” Udoka said.

It’s true the Celtics don’t have great shooting, but they did have Grant Williams (43.9 percent) and Josh Richardson (39.1 percent) on the bench in crunch time. They might need to switch some things up late.

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5. Tatum, it should be noted, was excellent: 36 points, 12-for-21 shooting, nine assists and six rebounds. Whatever issues the Celtics ran into, their superstar was not one of them.

After the game, Tatum was introspective about his career and appreciating the good moments.

“I think early on, probably my rookie year, I thought that was just normal,” he said. “Winning all those games, winning games in the playoffs, probably taking it for granted a little bit. But to enjoy those moments, stuff like this happens and I think it makes you appreciate times like that even more, just knowing how hard it is to win in this league.”

6. Evan Fournier tortured his former team on both of their trips to Madison Square Garden this season. On Thursday, he posted 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting — a dominant shooting performance that really took off in the second half. Fournier decimated the Celtics in the pick-and-roll, especially with Enes Freedom in the game. Once Fournier got going, the Celtics had a lot of trouble putting the toothpaste back in the tube.

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7. The Celtics aren’t the only team having issues: Julius Randle imitated former Mets infielder Javy Baez and gave Knicks fans the thumbs down when they exploded cheering for one of his baskets.

After the game, a reporter asked Randle what he meant by the thumbs down.

“Shut the f— up,” Randle answered shortly.

Why?

“You saw that,” Randle said. “You saw what was going on with that.”

Presumably, Randle was referencing the boos the Knicks received when they went down by 20 in the first half. Randle inked a three-year, $62 million deal with the Knicks this past offseason.

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The Celtics face the Knicks again on Saturday.

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