Jaylen Brown left another Celtics’ loss, one in which he scored 42 points, saying he needed to do more. That’s admirable of the rising star to admit, but it’s not the truth.
Brown needs more help, and during this stretch of games without cohort Jayson Tatum, he didn’t get much at all.
Tatum is expected to return from COVID-19 protocol Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers and that will obviously help, but the Celtics’ supporting cast has been a major letdown this season and it was again evident in Friday night’s 122-110 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
Brown against was brilliant but nobody else was even close. Kemba Walker scored 19 points but the Celtics were a minus-21 when he was on the floor. Marcus Smart scored 20 points but it required 17 shots. At a time when the Celtics need their complements to play well, they are failing miserably.
The 76ers shot nearly 56 percent and tattooed the Celtics for 73 second-half points. Brown said he would take it upon himself to singlehandedly improve the defense. It’s an admirable objective but one that shouldn’t be necessary to tackle on his own.
“A lot of that is on me,” Brown said of the defensive effort. “I’m one of the leaders and captains on this team and I got to be a better leader on that side of the ball. I got to lead these guys defensively. We’ve got to get after teams. We have to have that villainous mentality on defense. Just really making people’s nights a living hell. I can do that and be great offensively at the same time; it just takes a level on conditioning.”
Again, that wouldn’t be necessary if more he received more contributions from his teammates.
Tristan Thompson is not finishing at the rim and hasn’t been the defensive presence expected. He’s shooting 47.8 percent from the field — good for a perimeter shooter, not so good for a player who doesn’t shoot outside of 7 feet.
Grant Williams has not progressed in his second season as expected. His offensive numbers are nearly identical to his rookie output but he is averaging a foul more per game and is getting crushed on the boards, especially Friday when he couldn’t keep Dwight Howard off the glass. Howard had 12 rebounds in 17 minutes; Williams collected one rebound in 11 minutes.
Jeff Teague continues to struggle from the field and the reason he’s on the floor is to score. Teague is 16 for 58 from 2-point range, meaning he isn’t finishing at the rim nor hitting his floater. And worse news occurred in the first half when Payton Pritchard left with a right knee sprain that may cost him extended time.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens talked about playing shorthanded, but Tatum was the lone significant contributor who missed Friday’s game. It’s unlikely the Celtics would have gotten much out of Carsen Edwards or Aaron Nesmith.
Javonte Green is a high-energy defender who can make plays but he doesn’t shoot well enough from the field or the free throw line to be anything besides a high-energy defender.
The Celtics lost this game in the third quarter when nine 76ers scored and they shot 54.2 percent in scoring 42 points. Philadelphia got contributions from its complementary players as well as stars Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. Meanwhile, Smart and Brown scored 19 of the Celtics’ 28 points in the third period. No one else scored more than 3.
Boston is already a top-heavy team with Brown, Tatum, and Walker averaging 20-plus points per game, but they need help. The Celtics have to find a way to improve their bench, from the players who are already here or outside sources.
“I’m disappointed in the way that we played in multiple big possessions in the fourth quarter,” Stevens said. “We have to be better. We have to be more detail-oriented. We have to be crisper. Everything has to be tighter; everything has to be done to perfection even more so when the other team is locked in. Too haphazard in my opinion.
“We’re not going to win a game with the group that we have giving up 122 points. Until we’re really committed to that, I just don’t see us being sustainably competitive.”
It’s apparent the Celtics have slipped defensively this season and those players who have slipped defensively aren’t contributing much in other categories either. So that is placing too much pressure on Brown to be heroic and carry Boston to victory. He’s been brilliant offensively but his teammates let him down. Daniel Theis collected two rebounds in nearly 25 minutes.
“I think we can be better for sure; we’ve got some work to do,” Walker said. “We just have to be better as a group, executing, sharing the basketball, making the right plays, being in the right positions. We’re just not doing it consistently and that’s what’s hurting us.
“If we’re going to play the way we’ve been playing, it’s just not going to work. It just hasn’t been good, it just hasn’t. It hasn’t been at the level that we know we can play at. Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes from here on out.”