Celtics’ blowout loss to Wizards likely means No. 2 seed: 5 takeaways
They could enter Thursday’s showdown with the Bucks three games down.
The Celtics suffered a bad loss to the Wizards on Tuesday, losing 130-111 to a Wizards side without Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Daniel Gafford.
Here are the takeaways.
1. There are games over the course of a season which are overlooked but disproportionately affect the standings, and Tuesday’s loss – which joins a surprisingly long list of defeats that could reasonably be called ’embarrassing’ – has the potential to be one of those games.
The Wizards don’t matter much at this point in the season – a little too bad to sniff play-in play, a little too good to be a favorite in the draw for Victor Wembanyama. But the Celtics continue to pay lip service to the No. 1 seed, and Tuesday’s loss essentially knocked them out for it.
Of course, the Celtics still have their showdown with the Bucks on Thursday, which could earn them the tiebreaker of the season. But the Bucks have a chance to go up three games with a win over the Pacers on Wednesday. If they win that one, the Celtics would still need two independent losses from the Bucks in addition to a win on Thursday.
It’s not impossible with games against the 76ers and Grizzlies still on the Milwaukee schedule. But even if the Bucks do the Celtics a favor and start losing (which they showed no interest in doing even after their 16-game winning streak ended), the Celtics should win as well. Does anyone trust the Celtics to win at this point, especially after watching a shorthanded Wizards team blast them for 3.5 quarters? Isn’t it easy to imagine the Celtics retaking the 1 seed only to shoot 7-for-41 from 3-point range and lose to the Raptors in the second-to-last game of the season?
Make no mistake: The Celtics would be better off with the 1 seed no matter who they face in the second round – getting home court advantage every time they face the Bucks would be better than any game-based change . But on Tuesday, the path to the No. 1 seed became more or less impassable.
2. Often when the Celtics struggle, 3-pointers are a major culprit, which was the case on Tuesday. They finished just 11 for 44 (25%) from behind the arc (the Wizards, by comparison, were a good but unremarkable 13 for 37). Al Horford was particularly bad (2-for-10 overall, 1-for-7 of three), but he had plenty of company (2-for-7 for Tatum, 0-for-4 for Brown and Grant Williams, 1-for-4 from Malcolm Brogdon) .
A closer look at the attempts suggests that the shots were actually quite good. After a few perhaps a bit overambitious first shots, the Celtics generally moved the ball around and touched the paint often before hauling in the 3-pointer. One of Grant Williams’ failures may have been the result of Marcus Smart trying to be a bit too selfless, letting a layup slip by to find an open Williams in the corner.
The biggest problem seemed to be that the Celtics missed a couple of early open 3-pointers and could never find a rhythm. This issue has plagued the Celtics throughout the season, which isn’t exactly encouraging with the playoffs looming. A poorly timed cold game could be the difference between winning and losing a playoff series.
3. Kristaps Porzingis burned the Celtics multiple times, finishing with a game-high 32 points on 14 shooting for 21. The Celtics often came up against him early on, and Porzingis simply shot Smart, Brown and Derrick White when he found himself with them. Once he was comfortable, the Celtics didn’t have many answers for him.
Corey Kispert also hurt the Celtics from three, shooting 3-for-6, but the bigger problem was all inside the arc – the Wizards were 41-62 on 2-point attempts (66.1 %).
4. The Celtics put an all-bench lineup in the game after a timeout with 9:21 remaining. This group – consisting of Mike Muscala, Luke Kornet, Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser and Grant Williams – gave their best, and Pritchard’s 3-pointer with 6:40 remaining cut the lead to 109-97. But Deni Avdija buried his own 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, and he converted a layup on the next possession – a personal 5-0 run. The bench cut the lead to 13, but Porzingis scored five in a row and Monte Morris extended the lead to 20.
The Celtics didn’t really play well enough at any time to really make Tuesday’s game competitive, but the bench did create a brief flurry of activity. Additionally, Pritchard’s return from a heel injury meant the Celtics were fully healthy save for Danilo Gallinari.
Presumably, if you’re a Celtics fan, that actually makes it worse.
5. If you look at the scoreboard, there’s a new team to watch: the Cavaliers, who are slowly closing in on the 76ers. It would be great for the Celtics if they stayed in the second seed, as an Eastern Conference final would no longer go through Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The bad news? The Cavaliers missed their own winnable game Tuesday, losing 120-118 to the Hawks. They now trail the Sixers by two games.
The Celtics and Bucks will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
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