So it was not a great weekend for the Boston Celtics, once upon a time and now not at all the presumptive class of the Eastern Conference. In fact it was a very bad one!
On Saturday night in Charlotte, the Celtics took an 18-point lead on a tough, lovely Jaylen Brown floater banked high off the glass with 8:21 left to play. They looked to be cruising to a win, and a fairly easy and badly needed one, after consecutive losses to the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers. Then Kemba Walker’s eyes rolled over white and he started splashing in three-pointers from outer space, and, well...
That’s an insane closing run during which the Hornets outscored the Celtics 30 to freaking five and wound up not even having to play defense on the game’s final possession.
Reader, I will level with you. The purpose of this blog is to exult in the sight of the vile Celtics puking their brains onto their balls twice in one weekend and going into what seems like it’s at least the ninth discrete tailspin of this one season. With that in mind, here is my favorite moment from Saturday’s NBA action:
Friends, I invite you to ponder the question of exactly how Marcus Morris wound up hanging out down on the baseline with Chunky Lad Guerschon Yabusele and Charlotte’s Miles Bridges at the beginning of this sequence. Who was he defending? And why? Who can know? The human heart is a deep ocean of secrets.
(I also love the part, after the ball ricochets back to Marvin Williams, when Jayson Tatum closes out hot ... on Charlotte’s Dwayne Bacon, who extremely doesn’t have the ball. That is galaxy-brain defense. Back on Friday, ESPN’s Zach Lowe, an extremely good basketblogger but also an accursed Celtics homer, stretched to credit a similarly bonkers closeout-to-nowhere by Boston’s Marcus Smart with being “enough to freak [Vince] Carter into hesitating before bricking [a wide-open] corner three.” I dunno, man! Sometimes dudes just miss open shots, even without Celtics players launching themselves in random other directions! Personally, I recommend contesting the shot, rather than charging the ghost standing 12 feet away from the shooter, but what the hell do I know.)
Let’s also spare a moment, though, to gawk at some extremely cool Kemba Walker shit:
As you can see, this isn’t the score that gave the Hornets the lead, or even tied it, but what a savage and ballsy bucket. That’s a We’re leading by 25 shot, in a desperate situation for a desperate team with its faint playoff hopes at stake. It came immediately after a tough Kyrie Irving basket in traffic that seemed, for a moment, like it might blunt Charlotte’s crazy momentum, and felt like the counterpunch that laid the Celtics out. They didn’t score again. I urge you to click on the video up there and watch it with sound. Kemba outscored the Celtics 18-5 over the game’s final eight minutes, and is the absolute most fun.
Less than 24 hours after that meltdown, the Celtics were back in Boston, hosting the San Antonio Spurs. Al Horford and bench big dude Robert Williams missed the game with injuries; available large doofus Aron Baynes played under a minutes restriction as he recovers from his own injury troubles; available backup large doofus Daniel Theis isn’t very good; San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, by contrast, is. No points for guessing how this went.
Aldridge feasted on Boston’s tired and depleted frontcourt, pouring in 48 points on 64-percent shooting. The above video features Aldridge’s entire arsenal of exquisite, vaguely hilarious low-elevation back-to-the-basket scoring moves, if that’s your thing: step-back jumpers from the elbow, smooth baseline turnarounds on the left block, flip shots muscled up through contact in the middle of the lane, and so on. Whichever way any given Celtic played him, he had a deadly one-pivot counter for it, to the left or to the right, with either hand or both. He’s a genius. But my favorite of his 20 freaking baskets in Sunday’s game wasn’t a crafty post move at all. It was this extremely fuckin’ Dad-ass “alley-oop”:
I really can’t get enough of Aldridge shuffling his feet like a feeble nonagenarian preparing to descend a flight of stairs during the three hours this pass spends traveling toward him. Or all five Celtics just kinda standing there, watching it arc over their heads like a high-altitude commercial flight to some faraway place. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about this play design, which has been kicking around the NBA for years; that’s a nice little back-screen by Bryn Forbes to prevent Baynes from trailing Aldridge to the basket, but it still leaves multiple Celtics in position to break up the lob—if they hadn’t been stunned into incoherence by the idea of anybody throwing a lob to LaMarcus Aldridge in 2019. That’s the tactical insight in operation, here. And in Aldridge’s hands, at the peak of his minus-five-inch vertical, it still winds up being yet another jump shot. I love this bucket so much. The Spurs won Aldridge’s 37 minutes of playing time by 23 points, and the game by 19.
Irving, as is his custom, got off some self-exonerating cheesebutt takes in the aftermath of each loss. After the first, to the Hornets, he questioned the choice (presumably by ever-more-embattled-seeming coach Brad Stevens) not to trap Walker and force the ball out of his hands down the stretch, and, for the 7,133rd time this season, made patronizing reference to “young guys, down the stretch, figuring things out” in attempting to explain the team’s collapse. After the second—after Irving left the court before the game ended, and after an ominous 40-minute delay in opening the locker room to media—he tried to strike a somewhat more positive tone, keeping the now-four-game losing streak in perspective and telling reporters that “I’m never worried about trying to go back and respond with these guys, you know, they’re a resilient group, we’ve proven that.” But he still couldn’t resist an opportunity to pose himself as The Battle-Tested Championship Knower Amid All These Clowns:
I’m used to gearing up for something bigger than myself around this time, and what it takes, and I have to do a better job of communicating that to my teammates...
The rest of that quote is “...and being a better listener and kind of figuring out how to best communicate with those guys that point.” Which, broadly, can read as the kind of Antawn Jamison-y shit that sports columnists generally will applaud as leadership and responsibility-taking, even if the thing Irving is blaming himself for is his teammates having failed to learn, from Kyrie, how to be as good as Kyrie. I will continue to get a lot of sour enjoyment out of Kyrie leveraging his experience as a button on LeBron James’s coattails to condescend to teammates who carried themselves to the seventh game of the conference final literally last season without him, and then lost to the team that received essentially nothing for trading him away the summer before that.
Anyway the point here is that, while everybody was distracted by the NCAA tournament, the Celtics turned right back into a plastic grocery bag filled with poopy diapers, and I find it delightful. Now they’ll win eight straight games and three playoff series and shock the wobbly, disengaged Warriors in the Finals and it’ll all be my fault for having laughed at them when I could, but at least we’ll have had this happy moment together in the hell timeline. This blog is over.