Udoka: Celtics “need to learn to play together”

The Boston Celtics got outscored 30-14 in the first quarter, climbed all the way back to take a seven-point lead, and then failed to score a point in the final 3:21 of the game. It was a puzzling contest, to say the least.

While forward Grant Williams stated after the game that “you don’t deserve to win a game when you come out like that,” it’s still perplexing to see a team fall so flat. They have shown the ability to be a competent offensive team, but are completely unable to do so on a consistent basis.

Head coach Ime Udoka underlined the team’s first-quarter struggles as the main reason behind their loss, rather than the final 3:21 in the fourth.

“Just can’t dig ourselves that hole… It’s habits that we need to break. Not trying to go isolation. We got Marcus, Jaylen, Jayson, and Dennis starting. They need to learn to play together, not try to just get baskets for themselves.”

So far this season, the Celtics rank second in the league in isolation frequency (10.8 percent) are tied for first in shots attempted out of isolation per game (9.8). Unfortunately, they sit at 22nd in the league in field goal percentage on those looks (37.4 percent). This adds up to them scoring on only 39.1 percent of their isolation shots (20th in the NBA).

Of all the players Udoka listed, Tatum is the biggest culprit. He sits at fourth in the NBA in isolation frequency (22.0 percent), attempting 5.0 shots per game. However, among the 18 players who attempt at least three isolation shots per game, he ranks second-to-last in efficiency (32.0 percent).

Udoka alluded to the fact that “everybody’s worried about their game and getting themselves going instead of what’s best for the team and playing together.” Playing isolation basketball is clearly not in his game plan. There is definitely a time and a place for Tatum to be taking stepback jumpers, but the first quarter is certainly not it.

Boston’s leading scorer was not afraid to take his lumps postgame, though. He argued that the team never gave up after that initial first-quarter slump. Tatum felt as though the team didn’t take their foot off the gas. He did however acknowledge that they have been going through a rough patch lately.

“We’re going through a little bit of adversity right now… I’m fine with being, I guess, the reason, the blame guy… I understand it’s a long season, but we’re going to figure it out. I’m certain of it.”

Tatum scored 24 points against San Antonio, but he did so on inefficient shooting splits. He shot 9-23 from the field (39.1 percent) and 2-7 from three-point range (28.6 percent). The fifth-year forward’s numbers are down across the board this year. Tatum is shooting career-lows from the field, from deep, and from the free-throw line.

One of the only highlights from the game was Williams, who brought some great energy as the C’s were mounting their 24-point comeback. He chipped in seven points, five rebounds, and three blocks. Despite this, the young forward was more concerned with the team’s issues after the game.

“It’s a collective. We have to hold each other to that standard. That highest accountability standard… Nothing on the court is personal. We’re here to be the best team we can be. Best team. And that takes all of us. It’s not one person. And it’s never going to be one person. It’s going to be the collective, and we’re going to do this together, and that’s the step we have to take moving forward.”

Robert Williams, who wasn’t available in San Antonio with a non-COVID illness, said “Grant is the best communicator on our team. It’s always a bonus being on the floor with him.” His comments after Boston’s loss to the Spurs show that he’s ready to take on a leadership role off the court as well.

The Celtics have reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last five seasons. Fans are hungry for more success. Boston is not a city that takes losing lightly. Williams had something to say to those fans, too.

“We have all the capable guys, we have the team that we need… we have to challenge ourselves… It has to be now. Not anytime three years from now, not next year. This is the time.”

After a promising stretch, they seem to have regressed back into their early-season form. With how competitive the East is this season, that’s just not going to cut it. The time to put up or shut up is rapidly approaching, and the Celtics need to figure out which category they are going to fall in.

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