SACRAMENTO — The Celtics turned what appeared to be a promising road trip 24 hours ago into a potentially bumpy one with another uneven and frustrating performance.
The Celtics had their chances Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings, building an 11-point lead in the third quarter and a 5-point lead with seven minutes left, but fell into their habit of committing silly fouls and then failed to get defensive stops in a 116-111 loss at Golden 1 Center.
The Celtics have split the first two games of this trip, with the three most difficult games upcoming — vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz. They could have used a win against the surging Kings, but they looked tired in stretches, resulting in fouls and missed opportunities.
Jayson Tatum led Boston with 27 points, but he missed a tying 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left and missed 8 of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. Jaylen Brown added 21, but he missed 11 of his 18 shots. And the point guard duo of Tremont Waters and Jeff Teague were 2 for 14 shooting for 10 points.
“I thought we had a lot of guys who came in and gave us what they had,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I’ve been around a lot of losses and wins, and I hope I’m consistent in calling it how I see it regardless of results. I thought our guys gave good effort.”
De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento with 26 points, including a pair of key buckets in the final 1:32. The Celtics had no one to contain his quickness, and it appeared they weren’t prepared for rookie Tyrese Haliburton, who sparkled with 21 points, including five 3-pointers, tying a career high.
Haliburton’s pair of threes got the Kings back into the game after Boston had taken a 74-63 lead. Harrison Barnes was the main beneficiary of the Celtics’ propensity to foul, making nine of his 10 attempts, including two that put the Kings up, 112-108, with 1:11 left.
Celtics forward Tristan Thompson said the club got beat on the hustle plays.
“Those 50/50 plays, that determines the outcome of the game, so if we can take away those 50/50 plays and have them be on our side, we win the ballgame,” he said. “Little plays like that, especially on the road, on a West Coast trip, you have to capitalize. We have to make sure we limit those mistakes so they don’t come back and bite us in the ass in the fourth quarter.”
Other observations from the game:
▪ Stevens opted for Teague to start with Kemba Walker (rest) and Marcus Smart (calf) out. The assignment was difficult because Fox is an emerging star and one of the fastest players in the league. Teague, 32, was once a speedy player but has perhaps lost a step. Fox started slow but scored 13 of his 26 points in the final period, using his speed to get to the rim easily.
It also appeared the Celtics didn’t scout Haliburton very well. He has an unusual release on his jump shot, which might offer a hint that he’s not a good shooter. But he shoots 41 percent from the 3-point line.
Haliburton was left open several times early, got confidence, and changed the game with those two third-quarter threes. He also took advantage of a sleepy Tatum to end the first half by catching a missed three from Buddy Hield and laying the ball in at the buzzer.
“Haliburton makes plays in every game I’ve watched in critical moments,” Stevens said. “And he continued to make them. He’s an excellent young player.”
▪ Waters, a second-year guard on a two-way contract, was the Celtics’ only backup point guard. His performance was pretty consistent with how he’s played over the past two years. He can run a team but has a habit of launching 3-pointers early in the shot clock and wasting possessions.
He finished 1 for 8 shooting with five assists and zero turnovers. He is now 6 for 25 from the field this season and is 7 for 35 career from the 3-point line.
▪ Thompson has been stellar offensively in the past few games. He followed his 13-point performance (hitting all five field goals) with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in just 22 minutes. He had scored in double figures in just one of his previous 12 games. He also grabbed the key rebound that set up Tatum for the potential winning shot in the final seconds.
“I think things are starting to click for me,” Thompson said. “Whenever you get to a new situation, a new team, I was just trying to fit in and it took me away from being who I am. I just looked in the mirror and said just get back to being who I’ve been the last few years in Cleveland. Just being who I am, and it showed the last couple of games.”
▪ With issues at point guard, Tatum played more point forward and finished with 10 assists along with nine rebounds. Stevens said he would use Tatum in the role of playmaker more as the Celtics search for consistency in that area.
▪ Robert Williams continues to earn himself minutes with an impactful game. He finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists in 19 minutes. He is making a bid for more minutes.
▪ A key play occurred with the Celtics up, 96-93, with 5:24 left. Brown was fouled on a finger roll attempt that was swatted away by Richaun Holmes, but it appeared to be an obvious goaltend. Instead of a potential 3-point play, Brown received just two free throws and missed one. Stevens and Brown wanted a review of the play but didn’t get it.
“They said they missed it,” Brown said. “It’s over with now. I don’t have no comment on it. I think they know they missed it.