Celtics

Boston Celtics notebook: No All-Star starters, trapping Trae Young, & targeting Payton Pritchard

(Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

The NBA All-Star starters were announced Thursday night on TNT and neither Jaylen Brown nor Jayson Tatum were among them. 

Jayson Tatum finished fourth in Eastern Conference frontcourt voting behind starters Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid. Brown finished fifth amongst East guards behind starters Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving, as well as James Harden and Zach LaVine

Brown was second on media ballots, but fifth in player and fan voting. Tatum was fifth in player and media voting and fourth in fan voting. 

Despite not being All-Star starters, both have a strong chance at making the team, much to the apparent chagrin of Danny Ainge, who told 98.5’s Toucher and Rich yesterday that he’d prefer no players go to the All-Star game. However, he’s powerless to stop them. 

“It's not my decision,” he said. “I can't just say you cannot play in the All-Star games. I can give my recommendation. But I don't have that kind of authority.”

This raises a question about Brown, who has been battling left knee tendinitis, likely because of the hyper-condensed schedule. He, at this moment, is questionable for Friday night's game against the Atlanta Hawks. Considering how Kemba Walker’s knee responded poorly after his All-Star stint, it’s fair to question whether Brown benefits from putting any amount of stress on that knee in this situation.

“I'm not saying that I don't want Jaylen to play in it. I'm not taking that strong of a stance,” Ainge said. “Let's wait and see, so we can see how he feels and and you know, talk it through with Jaylen.”

The All-Star reserves will be announced on Tuesday.

Targeting Payton Pritchard

Payton Pritchard got the full-on rookie treatment on Wednesday night. 

“They were targeting him a little bit,” Stevens said after the game. “So that's a great experience for him because he's getting some of that, so he’s going to have to learn to deal with that.”

It’s a tough spot for Pritchard, who has obviously done well but is still learning a lot about the league. This year is especially tough for rookies who not only didn’t have a training camp, they had extraordinarily long layoffs and were tossed into a relentless schedule. 

Still, Pritchard is up for the lessons, no matter how quickly they come. 

“Every game you kind of get targeted as a rookie, if you’re new in the league,” Pritchard said after today’s morning shoot-around. “For me it’s just trying to find ways not to pick up those early fouls. Hope I do better today.”

Fouls were a huge problem for Pritchard on Wednesday. He picked up 5, and Stevens sat him late even as Young was going off. 

Payton wouldn't have lasted too long with those five fouls if he kept guarding Trae Young,” Stevens said. 

“That's a big thing, he draws a lot of fouls,” Pritchard said. “That’ll probably be the biggest thing is to eliminate fouls, but honestly just making them hit tough shots.”

Trapping Trae?

A lot has been made of Brad Stevens’ decision not to trap Trae Young as he was going off for 16 fourth quarter points to bury the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. 

“I thought that we tried a bunch of different guys on him,” Stevens said after the game.  “We also missed some and he made us pay when we missed… we tried all our guards, our guys off the bench all on him, and he’s just a tough cover.”

True, but he’s easier to cover when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. On the latest Locked On Celtics podcast, Locked on Hawks host Brad Rowland said he was surprised Boston didn’t go to a proven strategy. 

“The Hawks have had a lot of trouble when teams have figured out a way to get the ball out of Trae's hands this year,” Rowland said. “I just would have tried it at some point. But maybe he was holding it back for later… But it felt to me as if they needed to least throw something different at Trae Young, and not just at Trae Young, but the rest of the Hawks because if there's a weakness of this Hawks team so far this year, especially with the De’Andre Hunter out of the lineup is that they have not been able to really beat those really aggressive traps and schemes that get the ball out of Trae’s hands. They don't have a ton of secondary creation.” 

The Celtics and Hawks will play three times in eight nights, with the second coming tonight in Boston and the third on Wednesday in Atlanta. It’s possible Stevens was saving some of his defensive options for future games. It’s also possible he didn’t think the Celtics could pull off the trapping consistently. Let’s face it, nothing the Celtics tried defensively worked Wednesday night. 

To hear the full conversation with me and Brad Rowland, listen to the latest Locked On Celtics podcast. You can also subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Google, the Radio.com app, or wherever you get podcasts. 

A lesson to learn?

Not to belabor the “Trae Young draws fouls” point, but in today’s NBA, being able to sell those fouls and get a reputation from the officials is a great way to turn your 32 point scoring night into a 40 point scoring night. 

“I mean, it's frustrating. It really is, especially when one of those fouls puts you in foul trouble and sends you to the bench,” Jaylen Brown said “It distorts your rhythm and stuff like that is tough. But I guess that's the league we in, so I gotta find a way to get some of those calls, maybe I'm driving to the basket and exaggerating contact. Just try to adjust to how the league is being called. I guess.” 

Stevens said before the game that defending without fouling was going to be difficult because of all the ways guys like Young burn teams off the pick and roll. 

“It's a great challenge to guard all of these great players off of these picks,” he said. “You go under, they burn you with the three. You switch, then they can get into what they do best and keep people off balance. You chase the pick, I think you try your best to get the correct angle so it's hard to jump back into you. Easier said than done.”

Personally, I think a fourth official should be added, and not because I want more fouls called. I think the players have gotten too big, fast, and strong… and too good at acting… for three officials. 

Remember, there used to be two and the league changed that rule in the 1988-89 season. That decision was met with resistance then and now we just see it as normal. There is still some guess work involved, so a fourth ref that hangs further back and changes the angles so everyone can see what’s happening better makes sense. That ref can be responsible for breakaways and, because they’re further back, they get to see the front view of the play versus guessing based on flailing and yelling. 

Just my opinion: think it will result in fewer fouls, not more. 

Bad Basketball

The Celtics are fatigued. It’s OK to say it without it being an out for poor execution. 

“Tough schedule,” Brown said after the loss Wednesday. “I mean, a lot of games on second back to back this week, and just trying to get up every single game and come with the same intensity and tenacity. Tonight, we were a little bit sluggish, I was a little bit sluggish and it kind of carried over. And that's just the challenge of this year, you know, and all of us are trying to embrace that challenge together with the ups and downs and not make excuses because everybody's going through the same thing.”

Explanations come off as excuses, but the Celtics are careful to not casually dismiss their poor play. They do need to play better, and they certainly aren’t alone. 

“I think there are trends across the league that I would say won’t be the same once we get fans back in the arena and we have a little bit more normal schedule,” Stevens said. “I think at times, certainly you’ve seen this with us, the product, the basketball itself, hasn’t been as good... I think all 30 teams are going through it. I just watch across the league, and some teams are playing really good basketball consistently, but not a lot. And I think from our own standpoint, we just have to be a lot better.”

There is a light at the end of this very dark tunnel. They have eight more games left in their first half schedule, starting Friday night, and they will be played over the next 14 nights.

The league has not yet announced the second half schedule yet, so we don’t even know how long the All-Star break will be, much less where and when the next 36 games will be played. We do know the second half will be more home-heavy, which is good news for one of the most road-weary teams in the NBA.