Well, the anticipation is over.
The Boston Celtics “core four” players took the court together for the first time all season Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs. The 110-106 loss at AT&T Center wasn’t a great first showing, especially considering the second-quarter collapse.
The defense continued to be suspect, even with Jaylen Brown’s and Marcus Smart’s offensive burdens being lifted a bit with both Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum available.
But how much credence can be put into Boston’s performance in San Antonio?
“First day playing together, Kemba is still on minutes restriction, my second game back after being out 16, 17 days… The more time we get to be on the court together the better things will look,” Tatum said in his postgame media availability with reporters.
“I got great chemistry with Kemba on and off the court. I love playing with him, obviously he?s a great player. I think people right now kind of forget he?s All-NBA and has been to the All-Star game five or six times and averaged 25-plus points so he?s just got to find his rhythm. I know he?s going to.”
Tatum echoed Brad Stevens’ pregame sentiments. Even with the starting rotation completely in tact, the other lineups are experimental until Walker’s minutes restriction finally is lifted.
“He?s one of the best players in this league,” Tatum said of Walker. “But when he gets back right, we gon? be good.”
In the meantime, Brown believes the Celtics must do a better job of finding each other?s spots while getting a better gauge on spacing, timing and flow with the trio of him, Tatum and Walker.
?This was our first game of the season with us three on the floor together and it showed, I felt like,” Brown said in his postgame media availability.
“It?s our first one. Don?t want to overreact or anything. We could for sure have been better and we for sure should have won that game. But we didn?t.”
Here are some other takeaways from the Celtics’ loss to San Antonio:
— Speaking of why Boston didn’t win the game, the consistency of the defense has been tumultuous all season. Boston surely would have liked to see that improve with the players available as well as some better movement.
?Maybe those two things played together, but those are the two areas that I?ll take form this game that we really have to improve upon,” Stevens said after a horrendous second-quarter collapse that Boston couldn’t make up for down the stretch.
“There?s a lot of things that we have to clean up but (defense) has to be your DNA, it has to be part of your makeup. It is so important to winning that we just have to make it even more on every possession.”
Tatum acknowledged, as players in the organization often do, that Boston’s identity usually “hangs its hat defense”.
That’s not what Stevens saw from his group, evidently.
“I think the number one thing in my eyes is we?re not holding down the fort,” Stevens said. “We?re not guarding the lane. We?re not protecting the rim. We?re not at the basket. And I?m not talking about our bigs — I?m talking about everybody.
“Everybody needs to protect the rim better. We?re just letting guys lay it in and these guys are too good to beat if you lay it in? They just had their way at the rim — 27 of 33 in the paint, that means it?s too open. That means it?s too easy. We just need to get better at that. The zone helped us, it got us back into the game, but we were going to zone out of necessity tonight because we couldn?t stop a nosebleed.”
— Brown’s playing really well. Stop us if you’ve heard this before.
In turm, when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols called into the Celtics postgame Zoom conference, she asked about his growth over the small offseason.
Brown answered with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, not seeming to love that he hasn’t always been considered a great shooter.
“I?m not sure how to answer that question. I always feel like I could shoot the ball,” Brown said in response to Nichols — respectfully, of course.
?I don?t know what the big surprise is.?
The 24-year-old wing came into the league a pretty raw athlete with exceptional defensive upside. Whatever he tells himself about getting a bad rep as a shooter in the pre-draft process is fine, but clearly Brown has put a ton of work into becoming more of a complete player.
It’s working, even if that growth wasn’t built exclusively this offseason and is instead just being revealed by more opportunity.
“There was no offseason, I didn?t do anything,” Brown said about his offseason training.
“I probably rested for another month before I even touched a ball so I guess people are attributing growth to the offseason this year — there wasn?t an offseason. I?m just glad I got the opportunity to be in the position I am now but I feel like I?ve always had game and it?s now just being able to get displayed.”
— It’s a tight race in the Eastern Conference this season. With the loss against the Spurs on Wednesday, the Celtics fall from second place to fifth. Boston now trails the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets.
— Up next, the Celtics have the LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers coming to town Saturday night. Tip off is at 8:30 p.m. ET.
— Thinking ahead, the NBA apparently has rescheduled one of the games the Celtics missed earlier this season as COVID-19 ravished the league.
“I’ve heard about one. I don’t think I’m supposed to say because I won’t,” Stevens said about makeup games before the game. “My preference is that they consider our travel appropriately. So that’s the only thing I have to say.”
It’s a valid concern. Especially looking at their next brutal stretch away from home after the Lakers.
Boston’s next road trip includes the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, L.A. Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz.
“We obviously know in this condensed schedule anyways that we were going to be non-stop, and I think our schedule has turned out that we played a bunch of our road games first and I said before the season started, our first 36 or 38 or whatever were probably as tough as anybody’s,” Stevens said. “It seems like it’s non-stop, but also the level of competition we’re playing every night. So we’re just going to try to do our best to be ready for the next night wherever that might be.”
We’ll see how it all plays out.