Jeff Green said after Friday’s loss that it’s on him to make the Celtics play better down the stretch. He can only do that if he is on the court.
Green did not get off the bench in the fourth quarter on Sunday night as the Celtics came back from a 15-point deficit to take a brief two-point advantage. With Kelly Olynyk posting one of his finest games in his young pro career, Celtics coach Brad Stevens opted to keep his supposed go-to guy sidelined for the most crucial stretch of the game.
Whether Green’s presence would have changed the outcome of the Celtics’ 87-77 loss is debatable. (Vitor Faverani, who started and scored six of his eight points in the first quarter, was also held out of the final quarter.) Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass and Gerald Wallace were solid defensively, and the loss had very little to do with the frontcourt’s play down the stretch. As much as the Pistons dominated inside for most of the game, it was the failure of Boston’s backcourt to take care of the ball that cost the Celtics a chance to win.
Two days after taking four shots in crunch time of a loss to the Bucks, Bass seemed to go out of his way not to seek his own offense on Sunday. He took just eight shots in the game and turned down multiple looks from his 15-foot sweet spot.
While Wallace was critical of his teammates’ “stat-padding” in the last game, Bass cannot get too passive, especially when his midrange jumper is one of the Celtics’ most reliable offensive weapons. In the fourth quarter, he lined up from about 17 feet and … turned and handed the ball to Avery Bradley.
Bass ended the game with six points on 2-for-8 shooting and eight rebounds, although he came up with what would have been the defensive play of the game when he knocked away an alley-oop attempt to Andre Drummond. Then the Celtics went on a turnover spree, though, and Bass’ play became less critical.
Olynyk did have 15 points and eight boards in 25 minutes, so the frontcourt was not a total offensive sink for Boston.
The Celtics had clawed back. There were less than two minutes remaining, they trailed by two points and had the ball. Their first win of the season was within reach — theoretically, anyway.
And then they literally threw it away.
Courtney Lee tossed a poor cross-court pass that was picked off by Brandon Jennings, leading to a run-out and two free throws for Rodney Stuckey. The next time up the floor, Bradley threw the ball out of bounds. There was a moment of hope when Jennings missed a makeable layup, but then Bradley came down the floor and sort of throw-handed the ball back to Stuckey.
Essentially, that was the game.
The Celtics were turnover prone all game. They fumbled it away 23 times, but that did not have to be fatal; Detroit committed 21 turnovers of its own. But the miscues when it counted were back-breakers. If Bradley cannot take better care of the ball — he now has 14 turnovers in three games — Stevens has to consider using Phil Pressey.
The other alternative is entrusting more of the point guard duties to Jordan Crawford. Gulp.
Sunday’s game began a stretch of five games in seven days, including two separate sets of back-to-backs, for the Celtics. Energy should not be a problem for such a young team, but the mental challenge of coming back from tough losses like Sunday’s less than 24 hours later may be a problem.
The Celtics are in Memphis on Monday and host Utah on Wednesday in the only home contest this week. They then head to the Sunshine State for matchups with the Magic, who beat the Jason Kidd-led Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, and the defending champion Miami Heat.
Here goes nothing, Celtics.