For the first time in 25 days, the Celtics lost a game. Their brutal loss to the Sacramento Kings put an end to their 10-game win streak and moved them a half game behind the Lakers for the best record in the NBA. As the team boarded the plane to Phoenix last night, I’m sure Brad Stevens, Marcus Smart and the rest of the team were still thinking about what they could have done differently down the stretch. It may be for the best, however, that they don’t have much time to second guess things before they take on the Suns tonight at 9pm.
There were plenty of things to question after last night’s loss. The first series of which come from the Celtics’ second-to-last offensive possession of the game. It’s hard to argue against any shot Kemba Walker takes at the end of a game, but was this the best shot the C’s could have gotten with 8 seconds still remaining on the shot clock? After Marcus Smart grabs the (incredible) offensive rebound with less than 16 seconds left on the game clock and the shot clock reset to 14 seconds, why did he go up with it so quickly instead of holding onto the ball or kicking it out? Should Brad Stevens’ ensuing challenge have resulted in an overturned foul call on Marcus Smart, and thus, a jump ball rather than two free throws for the Kings?
Whatever the answers are to all of those questions, the Celtics still had an opportunity to walk away with a win after Holmes sunk both free throws for Sacramento.
Like the previous possession, this final one also sparked debate, this time regarding whether or not Brad Stevens should have called a timeout. If you’ve watched enough Celtics games during the Brad Stevens era, you probably already knew that he wasn’t going to. Despite being known for his elite ATO plays — and the fact that he had just drawn a beautiful one up a few minutes earlier that resulted in a bucket for Jayson Tatum — Stevens has always had a tendency to let his guys go and trust them to make a play without him interfering with the rhythm of the game. This time, his trust proved not to be misplaced. Even without a timeout, the Celtics were able to get what was objectively a great look at a game winning shot on Marcus Smart’s floater attempt. Because the shot didn’t fall, people will use hindsight to say that Stevens should have called a timeout, but had it gone in we would never even be having the conversation.
As I mentioned previously, it might be a good thing that there isn’t much time for anyone to second guess any of these questionable decisions as their attention quickly turns to the Phoenix Suns. It’s been difficult for any of us to avoid comparing this year’s team to last year’s team, but tonight’s game is going to give us yet another chance to do so. Last year’s team would have almost certainly reacted poorly to last night’s loss. The loss might have instilled anger in certain players that they didn’t get the final shot or doubt in Brad Stevens’ decision not to call a timeout. This year’s team has felt and played nothing like last year’s, and rebounding with a big win on the road against a scrappy Phoenix team would continue to prove just how different the two are.
I don’t expect the C’s to rebound from this loss with a 10 game win streak like they did after opening night, but it will be telling to see how they respond to adversity after such a fun and light mood had surrounded the team for most of the season up to this point. The last time that I wrote about the Celtics having a chance to prove something was against the Hornets when I wanted to see them overcome the emotions of Kemba Walker’s return and handle a bad Charlotte team with ease. They did just that, winning by 21, and went on to prove that they weren’t going to be the type of team that lets less talented teams out-hustle them for wins by pulling out close games against Washington and Golden State the following week.
Now, I’m again looking for this team to prove something. It’s just their second back-to-back of the season, and I want to see them prove that they can overcome the emotional and physical fatigue of a heartbreaking loss on a back-to-back in the midst of a West Coast trip. Additionally, I want to see the main scorers rebound from off-nights shooting the ball. Last night’s game was the first game that no Celtics player scored more than 20 points after a number of nights this year in which 2-3 Celtics have done so in the same game. They’re going to have their hands full with Devin Booker one night after getting torched by Buddy Hield to the tune of 35 points, and if he has his way with the C’s like Hield did, Kemba, Tatum and Brown will need to do a lot more to keep pace with the Suns offensively than they did against the Kings.
As Sam Packard of the Athletic put it, tonight isn’t necessarily a must win game, but it certainly feels like one because of how much it may tell us about this team’s resiliency.
Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli