Boston Celtics: Player grades for C’s Christmas day loss to Brooklyn

Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

For the Boston Celtics, this game felt out of reach both physically and mentally.

Christmas night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets stung in more ways than just one for the Boston Celtics.

If anything, this game felt like a living embodiment of the Uncle Drew Pepsi advertisement. With every contested Kevin Durant three-point dagger, or nifty Kyrie Irving snake dribble, one could almost hear them yelling something along the lines of “don’t reach young blood.”

Durant and Irving combined on more looks from three than the entire C’s team.

While this game had many teachable moments for the sixth youngest squad in the league, it’s tough to teach height — as the Celtics gave up the right shots, Brooklyn just made them.

Let us dive into the Houdini’s Christmas edition of our player grades.

Jaylen Brown: B+

Through two regular and preseason games I am not sure which aspect of Jaylen Brown‘s game I enjoy more: his ability to initiate off the live dribble, or his sheer aggressiveness on paint attacks.

The cadence he plays with appears more strategic, and his first step off the catch feels quicker and more poignant.

Brown made one-armed cross-court passes, snake dribbled his way into open midrange looks, and proceeded headfirst into the teeth of the defense. I like this new and aggressively-enhanced version of Jaylen Brown, as he finished the night with a team-high 27 points on 44 percent shooting.

Outside of failing to convert from beyond the arc and struggling at the free-throw line, Brown also struggled with his defense at times, as he committed five fouls on the night. Overall, however, based on this four-game sample size, Cs fans should be excited for what’s to come with Jaylen Brown.

Jayson Tatum: C+ 

After an electric, game-winning, “I called bank” shot, Jayson Tatum had a come back to earth moment during yesterday’s loss.

It’s hard to fault a player for both converting and taking tough shots, but the degree of difficulty that comes with Tatum’s attempts would be classified as, well, very difficult. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Tatum followed up with a 12 point second quarter on efficient shooting.

Unfortunately, however, he struggled to regain any momentum during the second half.

Again, his makes are fantastic, but his misses look tough, as he played a team-high 36 minutes yet failed to get to the free-throw line once.

With Kemba Walker set to return sometime in mid-to-late January, the Boston Celtics need more primary initiation.

This team would greatly benefit from a reversion to “Bubble Tatum”, a player wjo racked up six-plus assists a game while operating as the initiator in the pick-and-roll setting.

On defense, he came up with seven boards, a block, a steal, and some solid moments guarding Kyrie Irving as a point of attack defender, but overall this wasn’t Tatum’s best outing.

Still, as we move forward with a Kemba-less Boston Celtics team, I hope to see more Brown-Tatum/Tatum-Brown pick-and-roll action.

This was, again, something that emerged out of the bubble and had its flashes of brilliance.

Marcus Smart: B-

After a Milwaukee game where he drew the same number of charges as he had points (not a bad thing), Marcus Smart came out of the gates with much more offensive vigor and intent, converting on two early corner triples off Jaylen Brown assists.

Smart’s shooting cooled off as he only converted on two more shots after the first quarter. He caught Jaylen Brown on a heady backdoor look and finished the night with a team-high six assists, only turning the ball over once during 32 minutes of play.

Smart only attempted two shots in the painted region and got to the line once. From an offensive standpoint, this was a fairly typical Marcus Smart performance, but the Boston Celtics need more output in Kemba Walker’s absence.

On defense, Smart was his typical self but, perhaps, a bit too aggressive when mucking up the passing lanes.

His three third-quarter fouls did not help Boston’s comeback case either, as he ended up on the wrong side of the whistle… and Jarett Allen’s elbow.

Tristan Thompson: C

The Boston Celtics did their version of “going-big” as they handed Tristan Thompson the difficult task of guarding Kevin Durant.

Perhaps a puzzling decision from the get-go, he really struggled to contain the former scoring champ, but then again, it is Kevin Durant. While Thompson came out of the gates with four quick offensive rebounds and one explosive putback, he struggled early on with his fouling, as he committed three fouls within the first eight minutes.

While it was concerning to see Thompson on the bench for a prolonged period of time, early foul trouble may be an anomaly.

Before the start of the season, I previewed Thompson’s impact on the Celtics in an effort to find the differentiator between him and Daniel Theis.

The main aspect that separated the two came with Thompson’s ability to not foul and stay on the floor.

Again, I wouldn’t worry too much about this early foul trouble issue.

He finished with eight points and eight rebounds on the night, and while he was fairly productive, I thought Thompson also struggled to contain the lob threat as the Cs size deficiencies were very apparent throughout this game.

Daniel Theis: C-

From a numbers standpoint, Daniel Theis felt very much out of the picture.

While the start of the Milwaukee game, where Theis operated off the ball, felt promising, he was simply underutilized alongside Thompson in the starting lineup.

The pairing of the two undersized big men may cause issues of redundancy moving forward, as the Boston Celtics lack both footspeed and shot creation when the two are on the floor together.

But let’s address the elephant in the room or, perhaps, the seal in the room; If I ask you what makes Daniel Theis Daniel Theis, only one word should pop into your head.

That word should be seal.

From the torch of the legendary center Marcin Gortat, a torch passed onto the German big man, folks, the era of the seal may now be in jeopardy.

Yes, the patented and legal Daniel Theis screen assist seal was called back for a foul, not once, but twice throughout this game.

Former NBA referee Steve Javie was on the line throughout this game as I would have liked the ESPN broadcasting crew to “get Steve on the line” for his explanation of these two calls.

Brad Stevens even got a rare technical foul, likely arguing the validity of this call as the Boston Celtics may need to consult with the league offices about these two whistles.

A sizable portion of their offense last season revolved around this action, and if the NBA clamps down on this, the Celtics may have ensuing issues. Let’s cross our fingers and pray to the seal gods that Daniel Theis, the world’s second-best screener outside of Rudy Gobert, gets his seal back.

Jeff Teague: D+

As the Celtics’ first player off the bench, Teague came out aggressive but struggled to put the ball in the basket.

He finished the night with an empty stat line in 21 minutes as he shot 0-5 from the floor and turned the ball over twice. While he had a nice steal, he missed the following dunk, as he struggled with Brooklyn’s size at the rim.

Teague got stuck on ball screens, and while at times he played some nice on-ball defense, he struggled against Caris LeVert when iso’ed.

Sometimes looking at the assist column is fools gold. Teague had several high-quality dishes that didn’t result in made buckets — one to an open corner Semi Ojeleye three-pointer, another on an Ojeleye back-cut, two passes that had a high likelihood of being assisted on.

Overall, Teague’s opening night performance set a high bar, and while he struggled in every aspect during this game, I’d expect him to come back into a truer form.

Semi Ojeleye: B+

Through two games, Semi Ojeleye looks much more aggressive and willing to use his strength to attack the rim. He put the ball on the floor, got fouled twice in 20 seconds, and even attempted a daring one handed yam on Jarret Allen.

Missing a dunk against one of the best rim protectors in the league is no problem, however, as Ojeleye followed it back up with an authoritative retaliation slam.

Converting on a patented corner three, he did a bit of everything during his 14 minutes on the floor.

On one possession, he played an impressive defense on Kyrie Irving, which forced a steal. He swooped in to collect an offensive rebound on another play that led to a Payton Pritchard floater.

Consider Ojeleye a possible candidate to earn more minutes with his aggressive and impressive play through these first two games.

Grant Williams: B+ 

As the second player off the bench, Grant Williams did the little things that earn a second-year player extended minutes in this league.

Williams had a tremendous high post find to a cutting Tatum. He forced an early clock duck-in foul on Joe Harris, swallowed up Jeff Green on a drive to the basket, and tied his career assist numbers with four dimes on the night.

Jared Weiss of The Athletic astutely pointed out how Grant Williams channels certain Borris Diaw-type vibes with the ball in his hands. I’d expect the former Volunteer to be on the radar for Zach Lowe’s Luke Walton All-Stars team, an award given to under-appreciated players.

Grant Williams still struggles in the fouling department, as he also got blown by on another Caris LeVert drive. With that in mind, Williams is another player who the Boston Celtics could configure into their starting lineup as he gives more versatility on both ends.

Payton Pritchard: C+

Payton Pritchard channels the spirit animal of legendary scrapper Kirk Hinrich.

The four-year combo guard from Oregon connected on his first three-pointer, made a late clock floater and came up with two steals during 25 minutes of play.

It wasn’t all smiles for Pritchard, though, as he committed three turnovers, two of which came from identical stepping on the line mistakes, and struggled on defense at times when fully isolated.

Again, he was going up against Irving and LeVert, two elite isolation sorcerers, so it’s somewhat understandable.

While Pritchard is an older rookie, playing 25 minutes in your second NBA game is an accomplishment in and of itself. Brad Stevens certainly trusts the 6-2 lead guard and I’ve been very impressed with Pritchard’s cadence and decision making in the half-court, as rarely have we seen him make an errant or overly ambitious pass.

Next. Pros and cons of trading for James Harden. dark