Well if Danny Ainge wasn’t unnerved by what he saw Friday against the six-win Detroit Pistons, then maybe the Celtics deserve to be just another average team.
The Celtics need help, desperately, evidence by their 108-102 loss in which the Pistons brought back their Bad Boy days for a night and beat up on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Brown walked away with a bloody nose and floor burns for how many times he had been knocked down. And it reached a point where Brown and Tatum were the entire Boston offense and that’s happening far too often.
Tatum and Brown combined for 60 of points and 20 of the team’s 36 field goals. They got little help. Daniel Theis scored 11 points on 12 shots. Rookie Payton Pritchard, making his first NBA start, followed his 20-point game Thursday with 2 points Friday.
Grant Williams scored 1 point in 25 minutes and didn’t attempt a shot.
It’s a luxury to have two of the league’s top 20 players, especially when they are 24 (Brown) and 22 years old (Tatum) respectively, but they are going to exhaust at this rate. The games keep coming and the support just isn’t there. Kemba Walker has been in a slump since he rejoined the lineup and the supporting cast is just far too inconsistent.
When asked if he’s going to have to watch his fatigue level and endurance, Brown said: “I don’t even have a comment for that one. I think we’ve got to do the best we can to help our team win. No excuses.”
In other words, Brown is saying, “Get us some help Danny!” The Celtics can wait another six weeks to use their $28.5 million trade exception but by that time Tatum and Brown might need workman’s compensation. The Celtics have become a two-man team, because Walker can’t score like he used to and the others are just far too erratic.
Theis, who has improved as a 3-point shooter, tried tying the game late with a 3-point attempt that was open — for a reason. He had missed his previous three. On the next play, Detroit rookie Saddiq Bey splashed his seventh 3-pointer, becoming the first rookie in league history to hit at least seven 3-pointers in a game without a miss.
It’s even more infuriating because Bey was taken five picks after Aaron Nesmith in the draft. Nesmith has contributed little so far. Bey is the shooting wing the Celtics would relish having right now. And while that is short-term thinking — Nesmith might become a capable player and major contributor — for this year’s Celtics, it’s significant.
The Celtics needed production from both rookies and although Pritchard has exceeded expectations, Nesmith is still a development player. With the lack of support, either Tatum or Brown — or both — are going to start breaking down.
It’s no shock Brown has been dealing with knee tendonitis that caused him to miss two games on the recent road trip. Tatum played 41 minutes on the second game of a back-to-back, and the Celtics play again Sunday afternoon.
Brown looked as if he had been in a UFC match with Jon Jones after the game, his mask covering his swollen nose just as much as protecting him from the virus.
“I don’t know how many times I hit the floor but I might as well have mopped the floor, man,” Brown said. “Detroit was a physical team. I think at this point it’s a little ridiculous. I don’t want to comment too much on it because I’m not getting fined but I got hit in the face pretty hard, and nothing.”
The physical toll is already apparent, and if Ainge wants to save his guys for the playoffs and beyond, the Celtics need to acquire a third scorer. The Celtics, besides Tatum and Brown, were 16-for-39 shooting, 4-for-16 from the 3-point line for 42 points.
It’s unfair to depend on Pritchard to be a third scorer with Walker missing out to rest his knee. Semi Ojeleye scored 9 points before leaving with knee issues. Brown and Tatum will gladly take a majority of the shots — they love to shoot and score — but defenses are going to flatly disrespect the others if they can’t hit or create open shots.
Ainge needs to work the phones even more to seek a player who can impact this team as soon as possible. Waiting patiently hasn’t gotten the Celtics far over the years. They waited for a deal that never happened to unload those “treasure chest” of draft picks and eventually had to use most of them.
The result is an inconsistent team that wins in LA against the Clippers, beat the Raptors twice as well as the Bucks and Heat, but lose to a team with one of the worst records in the NBA on a night the Pistons were riddled with injuries in the frontcourt.
“There’s a lot of unknown because we’re inconsistent,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “If we were more consistent as a team, we’d be a lot more known. I think we’re capable but there’s a big difference between being consistent and capable in this league. Consistent wins out at the end of the day and has a chance to play for things, and we’re not there yet.”
The clock is ticking for this team. The Celtics need to get Tatum and Brown some help, or these guys are going to wear down trying to carry the team on their backs.