FINAL: Portland: 97 Boston: 92
The Celtics took another L last night and it led them to their 4 straight loss as they go 0-4 in their first few games after the break. While they did take a loss, I really didn’t have any issue with how they played. They played stout defense, moved the ball, got great looks, but the shots just weren’t falling. Kyrie Irving led the way with 31/5/3 while Tatum, Horford, Smart, and Brown all scored in double figures as well.
Damian Lillard led the way in the scoring column for Portland as he poured in 33 points while Moe Harkless had 17 on 8-13 shooting. On a night where C.J. McCollum had nothing going (6-19 from the floor), Harkless picked up the slack and ultimately was a factor in the win.
Size was ultimately what did the Celtics in as the Blazers had a clear advantage on the glass. For the game the Blazers out rebounded the Celtics by a mark of 56-50 and held a 13-8 advantage in offensive boards. It clearly made a difference and late in the game as the Celtics tried to stage a comeback the Blazers were able to nullify second chances and even came up with a couple of offensive boards to seal it. Jusuf Nurkic is a monster and other than Al Horford (even he had issues) the Celtics don’t really have anybody who can matchup with him down low. He regularly pushed the Celtics around (especially down the stretch) and made some big plays late under the basket.
As I mentioned earlier the shots were not falling for the Celtics (or either team for that matter) as their offense continues to struggle. They went 40-86 (46.5%) from the floor and an abysmal 5-28 (17.9%) from downtown in what was a gross offensive showing. Since the break they rank 28th in field goal percentage (42.9%) and are 27th in 3-point percentage (27.6%). I don’t know about you but I have one word to describe these splits…they’re yucky….really yucky. They just haven’t been able to knock down shots and it’s been their downfall since coming back from the break.
The reason why I’m not outraged about last night’s game is because they came out and they fought. They didn’t fold, they weren’t lackadaisical, and they played hard all night long. Especially on defense where they pressured the Blazers into a lot of tough shots and ended up holding them to 38-90 (42.2%) from the floor and 6-33 (18.2%) from deep. It was a rock fight and it was the type of game I think this team needed to get back on track. What was lacking in the previous three games was heart, a willingness to defend, and poor rotations. They have so many talented guys offensively so in an instance where the shots just weren’t falling, I don’t put much stock into it. What concerns me is the defense because that’s where they’ve taken shortcuts and have looked inept lately. Keeping an intensity on defense and digging in on that end is what is important because no matter how much talent they have, everything starts with their defense.
With all of that being said, moral victories aren’t what we’re looking for and they have to start to get it together. I get that they think they can just waltz into the playoffs and have as good a shot as anybody (I think this too, they’re too talented and the East is too wide open to call them dead) but at some point they have to get some wins and play Celtic basketball. Brooklyn is now only suddenly 5.5 back and Philly has a 2.5 game lead for the 4 seed. There’s going to be a time where they can’t just keep saying “It’ll be fine in the playoffs” and seeding will actually matter. The last time a 5-8 seed made the NBA Finals was the 8th seeded Knicks all the way back in 1999. Going on the road for 3 straight series is a death trap and the Celtics will want to get out of that slot and up into 4th.
They have an opportunity to make up some ground in their next game tomorrow night against the Washington Wizards.