After a small two game win streak against the Suns and Magic, the Celtics have returned to their losing ways with two heartbreaking defeats against the Spurs and Knicks on back-to-back nights. In the Spurs game, Jaylen Brown missed a game tying layup that would have sent the Celtics into overtime. In New York, RJ Barrett knocked down a contested game-winning three-pointer as time expired. While the way these games ended was incredibly demoralizing and depressing, they were only in those situations because of their lack of efficiency throughout the game, particularly in the second half. The Celtics’ lack of offensive cohesion down the stretch is the most significant reason for their consistent struggles to win games this season.
The approach of two players, who you can probably guess, is primarily responsible for this major problem. We all know Jaylen Brown had a great game against the Spurs, as he scored 30 points and carried the Celtics all game while Tatum struggled in his first game back after his second stint with COVID-19. The next night, Tatum had his best game of the season with 36 points and 9 assists while Brown had a quiet night. First of all, it is concerning that Tatum and Brown seem to only have big games while the other is injured or not playing well, but that is besides my point. With regard to Brown, there are too many games where he has a great 1st quarter, or even first half, and then disappears for the rest of the game. The reasoning for this is quite obvious: The opposing defense makes adjustments deeper into the game while Jaylen doesn’t change his approach. He has to work so hard for every shot in the second half because he neglects his teammates and tries to do everything himself. When teams recognize this (as most do), they adjust and essentially disrupt the Celtics’ entire game plan, which basically consisted of Jaylen Brown isolation in the Spurs game. Jayson Tatum had a similar issue in his great game against the Knicks. You may question this considering Tatum had nine assists, but when you really watch how the game played out, it is clear that Tatum eventually went away from his initial unselfish approach and this is how the Knicks got back into the game and ultimately won.
Instead of moving the ball early in the shot clock and trusting that the ball will come back to them, Tatum and Brown are both guilty of trusting no one but themselves when it matters most. It is a shame that a coach doesn’t explain to them that they will have more individual success when they play unselfish, team basketball. Tatum and Brown need to understand that they are superstars, and their teammates know that. The ball will always end up finding them, even when they commit to an offense focused on ball movement; they will probably have even better statistics as a result of trying to get others involved because defenses won’t be able to put all their focus on them, thus creating open looks for them.
It is sad to see Tatum and Brown wasting prime years of their career because they are unable to fix their offensive mindset. It is simply a depressing vibe within the Celtics’ organization. After the loss against the Knicks, Tatum talked about how he took going to the Eastern Conference Finals for granted in his early years in the league, which speaks volumes about how he views this current team. Who can blame him? There is no reason for him to believe this team can do anything in the playoffs. That being said, I think it’s very possible that Tatum, as well as Brown, don’t recognize that they’re a major part of the team’s problems. It’s incredible how the coaching staff doesn’t seem to be changing anything about the way these two play. If Ime Udoka doesn’t straighten them out soon, it might be time to call out Udoka and begin seriously doubting if he’s the coach of the future in Boston.