BOSTON — The last two shots were relatively good looks — Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving curling baseline for a three, and Gordon Hayward spotting up for a potentially game-tying triple which would have made the TD Garden erupt on a Monday in October.
Neither fell, which was appropriate given the night Boston struggled through. Irving got his feet set but missed long. Hayward’s three rattled out. The horn sounded, and the Celtics dropped a head-scratching 103-100 loss to an Orlando Magic team projected by everyone to be near the bottom of the lottery.
“I’m not into prognosticating or politics,” Brad Stevens said after the game, when asked if this was a lesson learned for Boston. “We have a job with scoreboards, and Orlando’s better than Boston right now. We’ll find out if we get any better.”
It would be hard to get worse. The Celtics shot 22.5 percent from behind the arc and 40.7 percent overall. As a team, they shot just nine free throws.
The loss came on the back of two lackluster performances over the weekend — a loss to the Toronto Raptors and a close victory over the New York Knicks. The Raptors looked like contenders. The Knicks looked like a lottery team. The Celtics looked like a group of incredibly talented players still trying to figure out who should be shooting when.
Stevens pointed out how many of the triples were open and said given the looks, he felt Monday’s game was as good as the offense has looked.
“Um,” Al Horford said when asked if he saw the same thing.
He then he paused for 10 solid seconds.
“No,” Horford said, finally breaking the silence to general laughter. “I had to think about it for a second. There were some good looks, and I’m definitely not happy about those not falling. We did get some good looks, they just weren’t falling.”
Which was Stevens’ point to begin with: The Celtics are getting solid looks which simply aren’t going down. That has been a problem since preseason: Boston’s two leaders in 3-point attempts — Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum — are taking 5.5 and 4.8 per game respectively and shooting 18.2 and 26.3 percent from the field.
Clearly, those numbers are going to lead to some losses. They also seem incredibly unlikely to continue.
“It shouldn’t have come down to us being down by three to them,” Irving said. “They played a solid game tonight, but we should have won that game based upon the amount of open looks we got and the amount of runs we could have had if we could’ve slowed the game down with the ball going in the net rather than us playing defense practically the whole game. So there are going to be games like that sometimes, and you’ve just got to weather the storm, and I felt like we did a pretty good job of that. They knocked down some shots, but for us, we kept attacking. We kept trying to do the right things at the offensive end moving the basketball and it just didn’t go our way tonight. Obviously there are some things on the defensive end we can correct, some switching stuff and some communication stuff. But other than that, move onto the next one.”
On paper, the Celtics should be able to score seemingly at will, particularly when Irving and Tatum start shooting a better percentage. Hayward’s shot is coming around (45.5 percent from three). Horford won’t shoot 1-for-7 from deep often. The good bones are still there.
But building a good offense around those good bones may not be as easy as the talent would indicate.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Hayward said. “That’s for sure. Through, how many preseason games did we play, three? We didn’t play well in those either, so we have a lot of work to do. I have no doubt we’ll figure it out, but we definitely have a lot of work to do.”