Though it’s clearly not something they’re used to in this meat-grinder of a season, the Celtics will have a practice Wednesday.
There’s the chance Evan Fournier, freed from COVID protocol, will finally get some court time. Jabari Parker, thrown into the deep end these last two games, can get acclimated. And with Phoenix due in on Thursday night, the Celtics can actually block out preparation time for one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA.
But after riding high for six straight games, the regulars may need some refreshing.
The NBA’s longest active win streak ended, a bit weirdly, in a whimper Monday night with the Celtics’ 102-96 loss to Chicago, dropping them into a tie with New York for fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The loss snapped their six-game winning streak, and one game after scoring 44 points in a stirring win over Golden State, Jayson Tatum was unable to overcome a flat night with a 14-point, 3-for-17 performance, though the Celtics star did finish with his first career triple double, also including 10 assists and 13 rebounds. Jaylen Brown, after a 13-point first quarter, only had 10 points the rest of the way.
“I wasn’t scoring like I normally do, so I was just trying to impact the game as much as I could in other ways to try to help us get a win tonight,” said Tatum. “Had too many turnovers, obviously didn’t shoot well. Just a tough night. One of the nights you wish you could have back.
“I just know I got to do a little bit more, a little bit more,” he said. “I know I’m expected to do a little bit of everything on any given night and I think it’s just emphasized a little bit more when those guys are out. Everybody has got to step up more, including myself when we’re missing Kemba (Walker), (Marcus) Smart and Fournier.”
So yes, a rare practice might be good for all involved, though as of Monday night Brown and Tristan Thompson were getting treated for something new — bum shoulders.
“It’s such a balance, because our guys could really probably use two straight days, right?” said Brad Stevens. “I think you’ve got such a balance with these last five weeks being what they’ve been. But we’ll practice Wednesday. It’ll be just to the point on what we need, what we think we need to get better at, and we’ll go from there. Knock on wood, hopefully we have a few of these guys back. That’ll make practice better and hopefully we’ll be a little bit better.”
Smart, a late scratch, and Walker both missed the game due to non-COVID-related illnesses, and the Bulls had to make do without Zach LaVine due to the health and safety protocol.
But the Bulls ultimately got more out of their stripped-down lineup, with Nikola Vucevic’s 29-point performance too much for the Celtics to handle. Vucevic was often paired with a familiar face — Daniel Theis — and Chicago’s double-big look may have given the Celtics more than the anticipated amount of trouble.
The Celtics also dearly missed Smart and Walker in this one. Romeo Langford tried his hand running the offense in the first half, and in a necessary move that almost worked, Stevens turned to the little-used Tremont Waters in the fourth quarter.
Alas, with Tatum the prime culprit with four turnovers, including three in the fourth against blitzing coverage, the Celtics lapsed into their turnover-prone ways — this time with 15.
Though the Celtics tied the game with 3:24 left (90-90) on a Brown 3-pointer, immediately following one a minute earlier from Payton Pritchard, Vucevic responded with a turnaround over Thompson. The former Magic star thus triggered a 6-0 Chicago run, with the Celtics unable to pull even again, let alone take the lead.
“It was pretty consistent, the turnovers,” said Stevens. “I go back to their length, their physicality. I thought we tried to draw some fouls in there, and to their credit, they just played physical, strong and solid and got their hands on some balls. They did a really good job. (Patrick) Williams is a tough guy to attack. Theis and Vuc with that length there, you have to be able to exploit that and shoot them away from the basket and get them away from the basket or have threats at the rim, and we did occasionally, but not a ton. They certainly deserve credit. As much as we turned it over and we drove into traffic, they loaded up to Jayson all night, they loaded up to Jaylen all night, they made it really tough on those two guys.”
It’s always something: By the end of the game Brown and Thompson were both getting shoulders examined by the training staff.
“I don’t know what happened with Tristan’s. Jaylen just told me he felt his, so he’ll get his looked at right now,” said Stevens. “I don’t know what happened. But it was a physical game, a tough game. Give those guys a lot of credit. Temple, Williams, Theis, Vucevic, they were really physical and made it very difficult for us on our drives and rim attacks. And even our cuts, they did a good job of getting to our body and played really well.”
Romeo the playmaker: This may fall into the break glass only in an emergency category, but Langford played some emergency point guard against the Bulls.
“May be a part of his future,” said Stevens. “We’re going to avoid it as much as we can right now obviously, because he’s not used to it, hasn’t played enough games to orchestrate and organize a group. He’s just out there still kind of swimming because he hasn’t played a lot. He had some moments today, but you could also see moments where he’s not as fluid yet. We will eventually go to Evan Turner mode, I guess. If a guy is gonna play around guys like Payton (Pritchard) and guys off the bench like Aaron (Nesmith), we need him to be a handler because he has shooting around him. I think that’s a good spot for him as he continues to grow, but he’s not quite there yet. You won’t see it much in the last 14 games or beyond.”