BOSTON (CBS) — Let’s get this out of the way first. Losing Jayson Tatum put the Celtics in a terrible spot for the next 10 or so days.
That being said, the Celtics still should have been able to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, a team whose roster is even more ravaged by COVID-19 than Boston’s. The Celtics were missing Tatum, Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson because of COVID (plus Marcus Smart with a hand injury), but the Wolves had just one of their usual starters on Monday night. They relied heavily on Nathan Knight, who is one a two-way contract, and newcomer Greg Monroe, who signed with the team Monday morning and arrived in Minnesota hours before tipoff. He had no idea who he was sharing the floor with on Monday night.READ MORE: Aaron Rodgers' Playoff Loss Means NFL MVP Curse (Likely) Lives On For Another Year
That did not stop Monroe from absolutely feasting on his former team. Following a 4am wakeup call to inform him that he was joining the Wolves, followed by that scramble to get to ‘Sota, Monroe gave his new team 25 solid minutes where he scored 11 points, pulled down nine rebound and dished out six assists. Knight, who had never scored double digits in his brief NBA career, torched the C’s for 20 points and 11 rebounds over his 29 minutes. And for good measure, Jaylen Nowell, a 22-year-old former second-round pick averaging just over six points per game this season, led everyone with a game-high 29 points in his 35 minutes off the bench.
“I’m not going to lie. Jaylen Nowell played awesome tonight, but I had no idea who that was,” Monroe admitted after the win.
That was who the Celtics lost to Monday night, a squad put together with a used some gum and a paperclip. That was the team that the Celtics blew an 11-point, third quarter lead to, leading to yet another demoralizing and frustrating loss in a season filled with them. At least the Celtics agreed on one thing following the 108-103 defeat.
“One of the worst losses of the year,” said head coach Ime Udoka. “To come out and get carved up like we did tonight was embarrassing.”
“I think that was probably one of the worst losses of the season, for sure,” said Jaylen Brown, who scored a team-high 26 points off a dreadful 8-for-24 shooting.
The fact that the Celtics had Brown — along with Al Horford and Grant Williams returning, plus Robert Williams in the lineup — should have been enough for Boston against a Minnesota team that was scrapped together. But Brown was awful, and it wasn’t just his shooting. He looked like rookie season Jaylen Brown with his haphazard handles, and turned the ball over six times.
“That was probably one of my worst games of the season as well,” Brown, who also missed five of his 13 free throws. “My team needed me to make plays and step up and I turned the ball over too much. I missed easy shots, easy reads, and we lost.”READ MORE: The Rapid Emergence Of Tom Brady Retirement Story Is A Bit Bizarre
Williams was also pretty bad, jumping at nearly every fake and getting himself in foul trouble early. He was a non-factor despite his team-high 11 rebounds, and was a minus-17 over his 22 minutes on the floor. He was massively outplayed by Monroe, who as we mentioned, had been a member of the Timberwolves for only a few short hours.
But the most disheartening part of the loss was that as the Wolves mounted their comeback in the fourth, the Celtics didn’t show any interest in slowing them down. Minnesota hit five of their six threes in the final frame, and those who Boston did defend on the arc weren’t usually shooters, which ended up giving them a clear path to the basket. The Wolves were 12-for-19 overall in the final frame, outscoring the Celtics 34-24. After taking an 11-point lead into halftime, the Celtics were outscored by 16 points in the second half.
Being outplayed in the second half — and especially in the fourth quarter — is nothing new for the Celtics. But that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
Boston now sits at 16-18 on the season, and any hope of a turnaround continues to dissipate. They’ve lost two straight, three of their last four, and eight of their last 12.
“Right now, it’s tough. It’s not good enough,” said Horford. “What we’re doing and the things that we want to accomplish, we can’t do it playing like this. We just can’t.”
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a solution in sight, either in the short-term or in the long-term. Expectations were low heading into the season, with Boston likely finding a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in for the second straight year. But there was hope that maybe they’d overachieve with a fresh new voice on the sideline and Tatum and Brown showing signs that they can take over a team.
But none of that has happened, at least on a consistent basis. The Celtics have now been a disappointing .500 team for a season and a half with two different head coaches at the helm. It will lead to some tough discussions between Brad Stevens, Udoka and ownership as they try to figure out the best course leading up to the trade deadline, and again this offseason.MORE NEWS: Reports: Tom Brady 'Non-Committal' On Future, 'Possible' He Retires After Season
Unfortunately, it feels like things are going to get worse with the Celtics in what will likely end up being a lost 2021-22 season.