After the Boston Celtics’ third loss in a row to the Chicago Bulls, a game where at one point they led by over 17, veteran guard Marcus Smart had an interesting comment about the team’s poor performance to start the year. Smart placed the blame on stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, saying, “Everybody’s scouting report is make [Jayson and Jaylen] pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball and that’s something they’re going to learn.”
However, Smart’s remarks are wrong and simply an excuse for the team’s 2-6 record to start the 2021 NBA season. Smart only leads Tatum by a mere 0.3 assists and Brown by 1.5 assists while averaging 36.4 minutes per game. Even in the team’s recent matchup against Chicago, both Tatum and Brown could be seen moving the ball around heavily to get players like Smart involved in the fourth quarter.
Celtics players not named Tatum or Brown did not hit a single shot during the fourth quarter. Celtics players simply are not making their shots when open, especially evident during their previous matchup against Chicago. That is a huge problem for a team like Boston that seeks to battle with the top-tier teams in a competitive Eastern Conference.
While Tatum could be scoring more efficiently, especially from the three-point line, he is still putting up 25.7 points per game to go along with 8.4 rebounds. Brown has been more efficient than Tatum and is Boston’s leading scorer. Smart is shooting 25% on the year and if he wants to receive his due credit, he will have to start hitting his shots. There’s a reason that Smart and other role players are depended on so heavily to score in tight situations: players like Tatum and Brown are smothered by opposing defenders.
I will say that Tatum and Brown need to improve their playmaking if they want to see increased success. Both players averaging below four assists per game will not cut it, and head coach Ime Udoka will need to focus on this, along with what I believe is the team’s primary concern: defense.
Boston’s late-game collapse against Chicago only tells part of the story for a team that ranks No. 27 in the entire league for defensive rating. Even teams like the 1-6 New Orleans Pelicans, have a higher defensive rating. Smart, known for providing stellar defense throughout his career, let Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan light him up for an impressive 37 points on a ridiculous 75% shooting.
It’s troubling to see this Celtics team struggle so mightily on defense. Unless Udoka makes significant improvements, this can easily be a pattern that leads to Boston potentially missing the playoffs, a drastic result for a team expected to compete year in and year out. The NBA has already seen teams like the Miami Heat focus heavily on defense and win against squads like the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, who possess powerhouse offensive players like James Harden, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The offense is not the primary problem for this Celtics lineup. I believe the team’s offensive formula will improve as the season progresses, with Brown and Tatum continuing to improve and role players adjusting to the team. However, I am not convinced about the team’s defensive plan, and it will be especially difficult to bring in possible free agents next year if they don’t improve their current team chemistry.
Current Brooklyn Nets big man, Blake Griffin, was told not to come to Boston by an unnamed Celtics player due to the team’s dysfunction and poor team chemistry. This sends a poor message to other players who may be interested in coming to Boston and improving their current roster.
Without significant changes to the defense and more, the team is in trouble, plain and simple. Regardless of the scoring output of their stars or an improved playmaking offense, this team is going nowhere if they don’t fix their defense. Boston, it’s time to get to work and make some improvements, or you’ll regret it big time.