While the Celtics slipped by the Nuggets last Friday (and smashed Cleveland in a glorified scrimmage on Monday), they dropped both ends of a back-to-back to the Pacers and 76ers. It's just the second time this season they've lost consecutive games.
While various factors contributed to the two setbacks, the slate of games featured some of the NBA’s top frontcourt talents. Nikola Jokic, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, and Joel Embiid each presented unique challenges for the Celtics
With Robert Williams III dealing with a hip ailment, Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have received the lion’s share of pivot minutes over the past three contests. Going back to the Denver game, here’s a breakdown of how Boston’s big man rotation has fared:
Daniel Theis: 11 points (68 percent shooting), 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks per game, +17 in 21.6 minutes per game.
Take away the Cleveland game (+26), and he's a negative. Theis fouled out in Indiana. On the positive side, he's drained five of his last seven three-point attempts. He remains a matchup-dependent secret weapon for Boston, but some opponents make it difficult to keep him on the court.
Enes Kanter: 9.8 points (67 percent shooting), 5.8 rebounds, one block, +18 in 18.5 minutes per game.
Kanter's offensive emergence has been exciting to those who enjoy old school post play. He can get buckets. The knock will always be on his defense. If Theis or Kanter sustain abuse in the painted area, it's up to Boston's scorers to bail them out.
Luckily, the Green aren't dependent on post scoring. But they'll have difficulty trying to outgun a tough defensive team like Philadelphia, for instance.
Robert Williams played just 12 minutes against Denver and has missed the last three games due to injury. Grant Williams saw just eight minutes per game over that time and collected a DNP Thursday night. Vincent Poirier has been limited to garbage time. And Semi Ojeleye has seen increased run as the big man in small lineups - we'll see if that becomes a consistent thing.
Here are the lines for the opposition:
Jokic: 30 points (13-21 FG), 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks.
Sabonis: 15 points (5-11 FG), 14 rebounds, eight assists, two steals.
Turner: 11 points (4-10 FG), four rebounds, two blocks.
Embiid: 38 points (12-21 FG), 13 rebounds, six assists.
While Embiid dropped a season-high Thursday night, it was encouraging to see both Theis and Kanter take it to him on the other end (combining for 36 points). But Theis was too small and Kanter too slow to contain the All-Star.
The Sixers were also without Al Horford on Thursday - his presence will present an additional complication in future meetings between the teams.
With December 15th the unofficial opening to NBA trade season, one has to wonder how comfortable Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are with their frontcourt.
Setting the Pace
Kemba Walker poured in 44 points in Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers - the first Celtic to hit for 40-plus this season.
Here’s a list of all-time Celtics to score 44 or more in a game: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Isaiah Thomas, Sam Jones, Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, Kyrie Irving, Bob Cousy, Ed Macauley, Danny Ainge, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman. That’s it.
It took Walker slightly more than a quarter of a season to enter the fraternity.
Irving's highest total as a Celtic was 47 against Dallas in November of 2017. He also had 43 points against Toronto last year. Ironically, with all the talk of how his ball dominance was bad for the team, Irving’s five highest scoring games last season were all wins for Boston.
The C’s needed Walker’s big night in the face of injury, foul trouble, and poor shooting for Jayson Tatum (who added another stinker Thursday against the Sixers). It's not often that Walker is called upon to score in bunches, which is a good sign for the Boston offense. But sometimes, it's necessary.
Indiana-Boston could very well be a playoff series this spring. How many points will Walker need to score once the Pacers get back Victor Oladipo?
Coming Up Next
The C’s are in the midst of five, count ‘em, FIVE days off before visiting Dallas Wednesday. The Mavs should be a real challenge: their 17-8 record is good for third in a competitive Western Conference.
Luka Doncic is making a case for MVP. Kristaps Porzingis is still looking for his shooting touch after missing all of last season. Although Tim Hardaway Jr. is the only other Maverick to average double figures, they have a huge supporting cast of competent shooters. Former Celtic Dwight Powell is also finding success as a pick and roll threat.
Denver could be a factor in the trade market. In the meantime, they're a deep bunch led by one of the most dynamic talents we've seen in a long time. This should be fun.