Assessing the damage after yet another road loss, this time to the Utah Jazz, is becoming a common theme besides the outcome for the Boston Celtics.
While there have been multiple factors that have triggered the team’s recent run of losses (Friday’s loss was their third in four games, with the lone win a come-from-behind victory at lowly Phoenix), most have been forged by at least one player on the opposing team doing more than just score a bunch of points.
They’re doing it in an efficient manner, something a team whose foundation is squarely built upon strong play defensively just shouldn’t allow to happen.
But that is where the Celtics are right now, as they look to close out their five-game road trip on a high note at Portland tonight.
The Blazers present a two-headed scoring monster in the form of All-Star guard Damian Lillard and his high-scoring backcourt mate, C.J. McCollum.
“It’s a real issue,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after Friday’s loss at Utah. “With Lillard and McCollum next, they’re probably licking their chops on us right now.”
Lillard is a top-10 scorer in this league, averaging 26.6 points per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from 3-point range.
McCollum is also a big-time point producer, delivering 21.1 points per game while connecting on 45.5 percent of his shots from the floor and draining 36.5 percent of his 3’s.
They form a lethal 1-2 scoring punch that will face a Celtics defense that has struggled of late when it comes to keeping big-time scorers from having a huge, highly efficient scoring game.
While they certainly lead the way, it’s not like they’re the only ones getting buckets for the Blazers who come into the game averaging 117.2 points per game which ranks 7th in the league.
And those points scored come in a relatively efficient manner, evident by Portland shooting 46.5 percent this season, which ranks 10th in the league. And when they get to the free throw line, there’s no one better than they are as they connect on a league-best 86.1 percent of their free throws.
Tonight’s game is one on so many levels, the best and worst kind of matchup for the Celtics.
Because many of the problems Boston has experienced defensively, Portland has the potential to be even more problematic than the Celtics’ recent foes.
But as we’ve seen time and time again with this team, just when most if not all signs point toward a time of struggle, they emerge with the kind of pushback that often results in a few unexpected victories.
In order for the latter to happen, they’ll need to reverse a disturbing trend of allowing at least one opposing player to have a high-scoring, highly efficient game shooting the ball.
In the month of November, the opposing team’s top scorer averaged 34 points per game while shooting 54.8 percent from the field.
While some might believe the numbers are significantly skewed because of Jamal Murray’s career-high 48 points explosion in the Nuggets’ win over Boston, consider this.
If you take out Murray’s scoring night as well as the lowest, team-high scoring performance of an opponent this month, that scoring average number against Boston takes a slight dip to 32.7 points per game.
In Boston’s 123-115 loss at Utah on Friday, much of the focus going in was how to not allow Jazz star Donovan Mitchell dominate play. But the real killer for Boston was Joe Ingles who had a game-high 27 points which included five 3-pointers.
“It’s tough,” Boston’s Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “We got the scouting report. It wasn’t nothing special that he did. We didn’t do what were supposed to on the defensive end.”
And that has become a trend for many reasons, with lack of communication being near the top of the list.
Communicating what needs to be done defensively is a team-wide responsibility, but it’s often a job that falls on the shoulders of the team’s veterans such as Al Horford who acknowledged after Friday’s loss that he wasn’t as good as he should have been or as good as the team needs him to be, defensively.
“I felt like I wasn’t that presence I needed to be on the defensive end and it was a lot of miscommunications,” he said. “And I take blame for that and I need to be better. Especially going into a game in Portland. Those guys are really good playing at home and we’re going to have to be great in order to win that one.”
And that greatness begins with doing a better job defensively.
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