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NBA

The Celtics Are Crappy And Unhappy

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

“They don’t want to pass the ball.” That’s Marcus Smart, on his teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, after the Boston Celtics lost at home, 128-114, to the Chicago Bulls, and dropped to 2-5 on the season, good for 12th place in the East.

The quote’s maybe not quite as damning as it seems, in context, but it’s still pretty spicy! The fun starts shortly before the 3:00 mark in the below video: A reporter in the postgame presser asks Smart about the Celtics’ bad habit, continued from last season, of reverting to static isolation offense instead of moving and sharing the ball; the question is about what Smart can do, as the team’s point guard, to prevent that.

“There’s only so much I can do without the ball in my hands,” Smart replies, gruff and bitter even through the cloth mask. “I just sit, stand in the corner.” Yikes!

He continues:

“We’re running plays for our best players, every team knows that we, you know, they do a good job of shutting that down. And you know, we can’t allow that, when they shut that down, we can’t keep trying to go to those guys, we gotta, you know, abort that, and find another way to get them the ball in the spots that they need the ball. Like I said, for me it’s, I can only do so much just standing in the corner or when I come up and give the ball away. So, um, you know, I do everything I can on the other end to try to combat that, you know, I try to talk, I try to make plays to get those guys the ball where they need it, where they want it, ah, but yeah.”

It’s not totally clear whether this is a gripe about Tatum and Brown, or about new coach Ime Udoka’s ideas about how to get buckets, or both, or what. The reporter probes a little, asking whether what Smart would like is for the team to stick with the flow of its offense more instead of seeking out isolation matchups. “I mean I would just like to play basketball,” comes the immediate and pointed reply, implying that presently either Smart or the Celtics more generally are not doing that. Again: Yikes!

“Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen. And every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. And I think everybody’s scouting report is to try to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.”

Watch the next bit, if you can, beginning around 4:15 in the video. In transcription it might come off like Smart clearly walking back into a more supportive and conciliatory frame, talking about how Tatum and Brown are “gonna learn, they’re still learning, and we’re proud of the progress they’re making.” Maybe that’s what he’s doing! But there’s an ambiguity to it, possibly because half of his face is covered with a cloth mask and possibly because it seems impossible to me that a 27-year-old, eighth-year NBA veteran could say, without sarcasm or acid condescension, that he is “proud” of his two All-Star teammates for “the progress they’re making” on “learning” literally how to pass the basketball to their teammates.

In any event, before the Celtics could be undone in any key moments against the Bulls by over-reliance on isolation offense or by any Boston players not having learned enough about the concept of conveying the basketball to one’s teammates—before there were any key moments to blow—they had to fart away a 14-point fourth-quarter lead. So way more fun than the video of a grumpy Marcus Smart possibly roasting his teammates after the loss is this video of Chicago ripping off a 39-11 fourth-quarter run in front of an apoplectic Boston home crowd. It’s delightful.