Following their late-game collapse against the Chicago Bulls earlier this week, the Boston Celtics convened for a players only meeting, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The meeting, led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart, was reportedly emotional and not wholly productive.
On Monday night, the Celtics led the Bulls by as many as 19 points in the second half, but were outscored 39-11 in the fourth quarter en route to an embarrassing defeat. Their third straight loss dropped them to 2-5 on the season, just one game ahead of last place in the Eastern Conference.
After the game, Smart voiced his frustration in the media, making a number of notable comments about Brown and Tatum. In particular, he criticized the team’s late game offense and the lack of ball movement from the two young stars.
“There’s only so much I can do without the ball in my hands, I just stand in the corner,” Smart said. “When we’re running plays for your best players, every team knows that and they do a good job of shutting that down. We can’t allow that, when they shut that down we can’t keep trying to go to those guys, we gotta abort that and find them another way to get them the ball in spots that they need the ball. And like I said for me, I can only do so much standing in the corner, or when I come up and give the ball away.”
“Every team knows we’re going to Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown], and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen,” Smart continued. “I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try and pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball and that’s something that they’re going to learn. They’re still learning and we’re proud of the progress they are making, but they are going to have to make another step and find ways to not only create for themselves but create for others on this team.”
There’s certainly some validity to Smart’s comments. The Celtics have had five games reach crunch time — within five points in the last five minutes — and are 1-4 in those contests. And late in games their assist rate is 51.9 percent, down from 58.1 percent overall.
In addition, they are one of the most isolation-heavy offenses in the league despite being one of the least efficient teams in those situations. Through six games, 10 percent of their possessions have come in isolation, which is the fifth-most in the league. But they’re scoring just 0.76 points per possession in isolation, which is 27th in the league.
That formula not only leads to bad offense, but dissatisfaction among players who aren’t getting the ball — as Smart’s comments made clear. But while Smart’s comments weren’t particularly wrong, it might not have been wise to make them publicly. Especially when you’re shooting 29.3 percent from the field this season, and have been known for erratic decision making.
In any case, it’s clear that despite their talent, something is not quite clicking for this Celtics group. While it certainly doesn’t help that Brown and Tatum have both been hit hard by COVID-19 in recent months, this is now the second straight season where the team has not been able to find any consistency.
The good news is that for all the recent drama, they still have one of the best young wing duos in the league in Brown and Tatum, and have plenty of time to turn things around. Whether they’ll be able to get on the same page, however, remains to be seen.