In the first game of the 2021-22 campaign, the Boston Celtics dropped a double overtime squeaker to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Jayson Tatum shot 7/30 from the field, but it was an all-around phenomenal performance by the Celtics in head coach Ime Udoka’s debut. In their home opener versus the Toronto Raptors, they got thrashed by 32 points at the TD Garden.
There is an obvious adjustment period with their newly-hired coach along with several acquisitions in their retooling in the offseason. Defense is known to be their calling card, but they have allowed 138 and 115 points, respectively in their first two games. Their offensive schemes are vastly different from former head coach Brad Stevens, along with the lack of proven ball handlers to facilitate the plays. With that, here are four main issues surrounding the atrocious start of the Celtics.
Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder are having difficulty facilitating the offense of Boston
With the departure of Kemba Walker, the Celtics did not add a floor general in free agency like Lonzo Ball or Kyle Lowry. They added Dennis Schroder to their squad, but he is more of a shoot-first point guard, while Smart is known for his tenacious and ferocious on the defensive side of the floor.
In the first two games, there were instances wherein there ball movement was impeccable, but there were many junctures wherein Tatum and Jaylen Brown were forced to manufacture their own shots or create for their teammates. It seemed like the old Celtics with too many anticipated isolation plays, wherein bad misses translate into semi-transition buckets for the opposing team.
Jayson Tatum has been consistently struggling with his shot
After an Olympic stint and bulking up his body once more, a ton of improvements are expected from the repertoire from Tatum. It was an off night for him against the Knicks as he had a boatload of open jump shots, but they were not just swishing through the net. In the Toronto match, he improved on his efficiency, but it did not translate to a victory for his team.
With Tatum’s length and strength, he must be more aggressive and assertive in attacking the paint more often. His free throw shooting prowess is at a high clip, so the mentality of drawing fouls on opponents can create easy points for him and the Celtics. By attacking the rack, this will open up his attempts from behind the arc as well.
Chemistry and communication are glaringly missing
In a franchise that always has championship aspirations, it is a tough sight to see that they just allow opponents to score without any contest. With the number of switches in the defensive strategies of most teams, there must be constant communication among teammates, but that has not been seen with the Celtics over the last two games.
With their new signings, the defensive assignments and principles seem to cause them a ton of trouble. For instance, Scottie Barnes torched them for 25 points and 13 rebounds in just his second NBA game ever. His points were not flashy or highlight-worthy, but he just completed his tasks and outplayed both Brown and Tatum on both sides of the court.
Ime Udoka must improve on rotations and handing the team through adversity
In both games against New York and Toronto, the Celtics built formidable leads at the early juncture of the game, but the problem was sustaining it until the final buzzer. The Knicks and Raptors on runs wherein they would outscore the Celtics by 10-15 points in a short stretch, but Udoka would not call a timeout or calm down his troops. Those spurts may have spelled the difference for Boston by succumbing to their Eastern Conference counterparts.
As these runs were ongoing, the Celtics seemed to run the same plays repeatedly while failing to clamp down on defense. Their double digit advantage over the Knicks was wasted because of the stagnant offensive sets and subpar effort on defense. As a team goes through adversity in a game, the head coach must put his foot forward and implement in-game adjustments to try and still snatch the win from their opponent.
Even with the disappointing start, Udoka still has a few games before they need to start racking up wins in the deep Eastern Conference. Al Horford and Josh Richardson returned for their match against Toronto as they both performed at a high level. As Tatum is expected to rectify his lapses, the hope is for him to galvanize and influence his teammates to unleash their full potential every single game.