The Boston Celtics got owned by Luka Doncic last night, very decisively and in a very short period of time. For almost the entirety of Boston’s 107-110 loss to Dallas, the two teams were evenly matched, with star players from both squads doing their part to keep things exciting. Doncic was outnumbered, trying to beat back 20-point nights from Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. And then all of a sudden he very much wasn’t.
First there was Doncic, after dribbling and dribbling and dribbling in search of some space to get a shot away, hitting a go-ahead three-pointer with 15 seconds left:
After the Celtics tied the game on the next possession, Doncic took a much less laborious route to his game-winner:
It was a fitting way for the Mavericks to win a nationally televised game, given that their season so far has, aside from Doncic’s continued mastery of the sport, been something of a disappointment. Doncic remains as spectacular as he’s been every day since he stepped on the court as a 19-year-old basketball savant—he’s scoring 28 points per game this season to go along with nine assists and eight rebounds—but the team itself has thus far failed to cohere into the the Western Conference superpower they showed flashes of becoming last season. Josh Richardson hasn’t contributed much to the roster, Kristaps Porzingis mostly plays like crud when he’s not injured, and the team is an objectively mediocre 15-15. That’s no great shame, I suppose, particularly in a season where every team besides the Jazz seems to be playing through fits.
But it could be worse. The Celtics, for their part, are now 15-16 and under .500 for the second time in a season they started 8-3. Last night’s loss earned them the dubious honor of being the only sub-.500 team to be sending two players (Brown and Tatum) to the All-Star Game. A meaningless distinction, sure, but one that suits this particular era of Celtics basketball, which has been overstuffed with star players, hoarded assets, regular finishes at the top of the conference, and repeated failures to reach the Finals.
Brown and Tatum are probably too good to let this team slide any further into mediocrity, and they are both young enough that various bright futures for the franchise are still easy to imagine. But that’s what Celtics fans have been doing for more than six seasons now—there’s always another golden asset in Danny Ainge’s pocket, or some marquee free agent a year away from the market, or another leap for Tatum and Brown to make. The future can’t remain eternally promising if the present keeps unfolding the same way every year.
And right now the Celtics are just another underachieving team with some good players, and a team that just can’t seem to get everything working in the right direction. That makes them no different than a lot of other teams in the league, but losing a game as they did last night, two days after blowing a huge lead and losing in overtime to the Pelicans, can take a toll.
Tatum’s right, though. All you can do is keep looking forward.