“When do we start worrying about the Celtics?”
I’ve been asked that question each month since the Celtics got off to a disappointing start this season. I’ve answered the same way every time — “Let’s give them until at least after the All-Star break.”
Well, they almost made it there, but it’s time to start expressing some valid concerns.
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It looked like the C’s had finally hit their stride. After some locker room issues, most notably between Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown, Boston entered Thursday’s home game against the Lakers as winners of 10 of their last 11 games, with the one loss coming at the hands of the Warriors.
Then the Celtics blew an 18-point lead to the Lakers, with none other than Rajon Rondo knocking down a game-winning buzzer-beater on a broken play. It was arguably the worst loss of the season … until just two days later.
The Clippers came to town on Saturday night, and the Celts came out ready to avenge Thursday’s loss. They built up a 28-point lead but lost Irving for the rest of the game due to a sprained knee, which has left him as day-to-day. The Celtics went on to not only blow the 28-point lead to a team that sold off its best player at the trade deadline, but the Clippers managed a comfortable 11-point victory.
The loss to the Clippers was undoubtedly the worst loss of the season for Boston, and then Marcus Morris went on to give us possibly the most eye-opening quote of the season.
“For me, it’s not really about the loss, it’s about the attitude that we’re playing with,” Morris told reporters following the game. “Guys are hanging their heads. It’s not fun. We’re not competing at a high level. Even though we’re winning, it’s still not fun. I don’t see the joy in the game. I watch all these other teams around the league, and guys are up on the bench. They’re jumping on the court, they’re enjoying their teammates’ success, they’re enjoying everything, they’re playing together and they’re playing to win. And when I look at us, I just see a bunch of individuals.”
While it’s not news to us that the Celtics have been butting heads in the locker room, Morris may have helped us understand just how distant the players are from each other. While Brad Stevens may be the best strategic coach in the NBA when it comes to play-calling and on-court adjustments, this is a new aspect of coaching for him. He’s never had to deal with these types of personalities, as current Clippers’ and former Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers was so great at doing in the past, and it’s showing.
These last two games leading into the All-Star break will be telling. Boston plays a back-to-back that begins Tuesday in Philadelphia and wraps up when it hosts Detroit on Wednesday. Can the Celtics overcome these issues, rally as a team, and enter a week-long break on a high note? Or will they let the noise get to them and allow the issues to get worse? We’ve seen both from the team this season, which is part of the reason they’ve been so wildly inconsistent.
The All-Star break may come at the perfect time for this team, but things won’t get easier when they return. Boston’s schedule gets very difficult, including a three-game road trip out of the break that features games in Milwaukee and Toronto. Those games, along with Tuesday night in Philly, are crucial benchmark games to measure where the Celtics are in the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference.
All three teams made moves at the trade deadline to improve their roster — Philadelphia added Tobias Harris, Toronto added Marc Gasol, and Milwaukee added Nikola Mirotic. Meanwhile, Boston stood pat.
Something hasn’t looked right about the Celtics since the season began, but you could make the argument it could be ignored because the team has so much talent. That argument has lost all traction after the two home losses to the Lakers and Clippers.
Time to hit the panic button. Show us something, Celtics.