The Celtics wrapped up their stay on the west coast with a disappointing loss to the Phoenix Suns, only coming away with one win in five tries on their road trip. Even with the Suns missing Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, the issue isn't that Boston came up short, but how the Celtics lost this game with familiar problems once again not getting cleaned up.
Here's what stood out from the game, including a broader takeaway that got reinforced in the Celtics' latest loss.
Suns Went to a Level the Celtics Couldn't
At the end of the first quarter, neither team had scored over 25 points, and it was a one-point game. But in the second frame, the Suns amplified their defensive intensity, and the Celtics wilted.
In the face of tighter on-ball pressure, most members of the green and white stopped trying to challenge defenders to get in the paint and attack the rim. To make matters worse, the activity off the ball was also lacking, as was the amount Boston was moving the ball from side to side. These are problems all too familiar to this team and this fan base. Fixing it requires a multifaceted approach; one of the solutions is discussed later in this article.
With the Suns' suffocating the Celtics defensively, they got more transition opportunities and operated more frequently against a defense scrambling to set itself. That combination led to Phoenix ripping off a 25-3 run in the second quarter, going into the break with an 18-point lead, and in firm control of the game.
Lack of Resistance
In four of the last five Celtics games, their opponents have scored at least 50 points in the paint. It's a stat directly connected to a transition defense struggling to overcome too many turnovers and too many bad shots. However, even in the half-court, Boston didn't provide enough resistance.
Beyond points in the paint, Chris Paul abused Robert Williams in the pick-and-roll, and the Suns drove and kicked their way to shooting 14/32 (43.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
Have a night, JaVale!
Starting in place of Deandre Ayton, JaVale Mcgee delivered one of the best performances of his career. Mcgee's combination of boundless energy and pterodactyl wingspan led to him dominating Robert Williams. McGee finished with a team-high 21 points, a game-high 15 rebounds, two blocks, and a plus-minus rating of +18.
Brad Stevens Needs to Reconfigure the Roster
Yes, the Celtics are often playing without key members of their rotation. That included Jaylen Brown being inactive for the entire west coast trip. However, this team was 13-13 through 26 games each of the last two seasons.
Frustrating losses, stagnant offense, not responding well when shots aren't going down, and inconsistent effort are all problems that have plagued the Celtics in recent years. Too often, it's one step forward and at least one step back.
After taking advantage of a Portland Trail Blazers team missing Damian Lilliard, Boston got run out of the gym by the Los Angeles Lakers. The next night, the Celtics got down by 21 points against a Los Angeles Clippers team without its two best players. And on Friday, they found themselves on the wrong end of a 25-3 run by a Phoenix Suns team that didn't have Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
As much as this team would benefit from getting and staying healthy, something the Celtics can't count on, there's overwhelming evidence their roster needs reconfiguring. Their rotation's filled with roughly league-average shooters, they need someone who can facilitate better scoring opportunities for his teammates, and they don't attack the basket enough. On Dec 15, most of the players who signed new contracts this summer will be trade-eligible, growing the percentage of players who fall into that category to 84 percent. Brad Stevens would be wise to address some of this team's glaring weaknesses as soon as possible.
After going 1-4 on their west coast trip, the Celtics return home for a matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night. Tip-off is at 7:30 EST.