The Celtics just didn’t live up to their old principles on Saturday. Take, for instance, the following comments by a key player on the team from the last couple of years.
“[Effort] opens everything up,” he said. “If my cut is strong and aggressive, that can open up the next guy behind me. We’ve got to do this for our teammates and eventually it’ll open up everything else.”
Those aren’t words of wisdom from Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. They were uttered by Jeff Green less than 24 hours before Saturday’s game against the Bucks tipped off, and it took all of 12 minutes of game action for the Celtics to completely forget that lesson. After sprinting out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, the Celtics became listless for most of the second and third quarter, and by the time they turned it on in the fourth quarter, the hole was too deep to dig themselves out of.
The Bucks shot better than 50 percent on 3-pointers for most of the game — they eventually settled in at 47 percent on 8-for-17 beyond the arc — but simply saying the Bucks (3-13) were making shots lets the Celtics (7-12) off the hook. The Celtics lost every hustle category on the stat sheet, including total rebounds, offensive rebounds, free throw attempts and fouls drawn. None of the Bucks’ advantages in those areas was huge, but when a team loses all those categories, even by a slim margin in each, the cumulative difference can be vast.
Purists who hate seeing 6-foot-9 Jared Sullinger tee it up from three will salivate over the Celtics’ 4-for-19 mark from downtown and Sullinger’s 1-for-5 (in)accuracy as evidence to prove their point. But Sullinger did not take too many threes. Rather, he didn’t take enough twos, in that the Celtics failed to keep capitalizing on Sullinger’s obvious advantages in the post.
Sullinger came out blazing, scoring nine points in the first quarter. In the second quarter, when the game unraveled for Boston and the Bucks doubled up the Celtics 28-14, Sullinger did not attempt a three at all. He was 3-for-5 from the field in the frame, but it should have been much more. He then took just seven shots in the second half and 18 in the game. Both of those numbers should have been higher.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens likes to say — often rightfully — that his team doesn’t have one go-to guy who can break down any opponent one-on-one. While that is true, on certain nights there is an obvious matchup advantage, like the one Green had against the Cavs on Friday and Sullinger had against the Bucks. On those nights, it only makes sense to keep feeding the beast. Sullinger was the beast on Saturday.
For one game, Sullinger should have taken 25 shots or more. The fact that he didn’t was a missed opportunity for the Celtics.
There was a clamor on Twitter when little-used reserve Keith Bogans started the second quarter. A few Celtics fans took this as a slight against MarShon Brooks, the Providence product many New Englanders still think is an untapped talent. (Yes, I do listen for what you say on the social meedz, Green Teamers.)
Bogans’ absence due to bouts with a variety of illnesses to begin the season seems to have created the misconception among some Bostonians that Bogans is an end-of-the-bench bum whose presence on the court spoke volumes about how little the Celtics value Brooks. The team’s opinion of Brooks may not be high, but Bogans is not just some scrub. The 11th-year veteran had been on four playoff teams and played important minutes for the Nets last season before joining the Celtics as a salary-matching piece in this summer’s blockbuster trade.
Brooks did manage to see some game action against the Bucks. Surprisingly, it was the fourth quarter, when the game was conceivably within reach for the Celtics. He didn’t do anything to hurt his case for more playing time, scoring four points and grabbing two rebounds in four minutes, but don’t read too much into those statistics or Bogans beating him off the bench.
Is there anything more infuriating than the flagrant 1 call?
Since the NBA split flagrant fouls into two types, the flagrant 1 has been criminally over-diagnosed. Sullinger was hit with a ridiculous one in the third quarter, when he knocked the ball out of the hands of Khris Middleton, who was driving for a would-be fastbreak layup.
Middleton, who weighs a hefty 215 pounds that looks more like 115, went flying on the contact from the 280-pound Sullinger. Nobody got hurt. Nobody assumed a threatening posture or had to be separated. But the officials reviewed the play and issued a flagrant 1 to Sullinger anyway.
Hopefully, there is still a place in the game for good, hard fouls that prevent an and-one chance without putting anyone’s health at risk. The game will be better for it and Sullinger will be more effective. Honestly, though, we wouldn’t count on it.