After 2 straight losses the Celtics got back in the win column on Friday squeaking by the lottery bound Pacers 128-123. A win is a win is a win but there have been some concerning trends evident for Boston lately.
The Celtics have lost 2 of 3 since resting most of their starters in Toronto. Part of that can be attributed to the loss of center Robert Williams III who underwent surgery this week for a torn meniscus.
Add those two losses to an inconsistent effort against Indiana and there are some alarm bells going off on Causeway street. With 4 games remaining until the playoffs begin head coach Ime Udoka thinks now is not the time for the Celtics to lose their focus.
“Since they came back from the game they missed in Toronto, we haven’t been on point in the last two games,” Ime Udoka said after Friday’s win. “We’re going to have to definitely get that together. Washington’s a good team coming up, and obviously big road trip. Four games to tighten up in a lot of areas that we were really good at. We’ll check out some film and tighten up in those areas, because obviously, it’s going to be crucial going forward in the playoffs.”
In terms of defense, Al Horford and Daniel Theis had to step up but no way did they fill in the shoes of Williams in terms of switchability or rim protection. Many of the Pacer’s points came from the back door cuts that led to easy baskets in the paint. Head coach Ime Udoka cited poor communication as the main culprit.
“Communication-wise, that’s three games in a row that we haven’t been as sharp as we need to be,” Udoka said. “We need to get back to our physicality, our communication has been poor the last few games and we need to get back to defending at a higher level going into the playoffs.”
Jayson Tatum echoed his coach’s concerns.
“Communication, that’s on us. Just one of those nights you know? We know we’re a really good defensive team and there are a lot of areas tonight where we could’ve been better. Do we miss Rob [Williams]? Of course. Some of the mistakes tonight weren’t because we didn’t have Rob.”
Rolling without Rob
Of course it’s hard not to address the elephant in the room or rather the 6’8″ human eraser no longer lurking to cover up for ay defensive lapses. While the Celtics are doing their best not to pin their recent dip in defensive efficiency entirely on the absence if Williams they acknowledge that they’re not quite used to it yet.
“We did get a little caught up with the fact that Rob was back there and he cleaned up a lot of mistakes for us,” Marcus Smart said. “With him out, we’ve got to change just a little bit. Everybody else has to give a little bit more from what they were because of that and it’s just part of the game. We still have everybody else defensively that’s been doing great on defense and will continue to do that with or without Rob. But obviously while he’s doing his recovery we’ve got to hold it down for him.”
Williams is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. A 4-week return would get him back just in time for the second round of the playoffs. Of course, first the Celtics have to get there. Something that is far from a guarantee if they play like the have the past couple games.
“It’s something that’s been going on, but it’s also new in the sense that we cleaned it up in the second half of the season,” Smart added. “We’re getting down to the last couple of games. That team we played didn’t have anything to lose nor gain, so they had so much freedom. Things happen. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to happen again in the playoffs. Our next game we’ve just got to figure out ways when it happens to combat it and move on and fix it.”