Four consecutive losses in the last week of February devastated the Boston Celtics. From one of the hottest favorites to win the NBA title at the start of the season, the Celtics has slumped to the fifth seed with less than 15 games remaining.
After a huge blowout win against the Warriors, the Celtics still can’t convince me. Are they getting better? Or are they falling apart. You can’t lose to the Bulls and the Lakers on one hand and tell me they’re ready for a championship run. A team that is near dysfunctional cannot by any means compete for the title, and the lack of unity has found its way onto tabloids and the media are quick to jump on any opportunity for a scoop.
“The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team. What it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the Finals?” Irving, calling out on his teammates.
Despite Gordon Hayward missing the whole of last season, the Celtics took down the Bucks and the 76ers en route the the conference finals where they fell to the Cavaliers.
“I mean, we had nothing to lose last year,” Irving said. “We had nothing to lose, and everybody could play free and do whatever they wanted and nobody had any expectations. We were supposed to be at a certain point, we surpassed that. Young guys were supposed to be at a certain point, they surpassed that.”
The talent on the team is undeniable. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, these are young players with a high skill capacity. They are energetic, young and at the same time, impatient and immature. Irving’s unhappiness with the team’s contribution and effort found its way from the locker room to the court, and it transpired into a string of losses.
“For me, it’s not really about loss. It’s about the attitudes that we’re playing with,” said forward Marcus Morris. “Guys are hanging their heads. It’s just not fun. It’s not fun.”
“Even though we’re winning, it’s 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 doing all of this other stuff that looks like they’re enjoying their teammates’ success, they’re enjoying everything, and they’re playing together and they’re playing to win.”
“And when I look at us, I just see a bunch of individuals.”
Coach Brad Stevens concluded that it’s not Kyrie’s responsibility to give the rest of the team energy, everyone on the team has to come out and play with the same level of intensity and winning mentality in order for them to get out of the slump.
“I think everybody has that opportunity everyday. We all go into a room everyday, and we decide whether to raise it, keep it the same, or lower it. And ultimately, it’s all of our jobs to raise it.” Stevens commented on the morale.
“Every team has to find a togetherness in competing. Some teams, it takes 60 games. Some teams, it takes 20 games. And bad teams never get there. We hope that it took us 60 games, but we’ll see. We haven’t proven ourselves to be great at that yet for a long stretch of time.”
Analysts criticized Stevens for his rotation of the players on the court, noting that Boston’s defense has been a major issue. Against the Clippers, they allowed 140 points, the most in regulation for over 20 years.
“I think I need to look at myself first and figure out what I can do to help that not happen,” Stevens admitted. “If that means we need to play different rotations, call different things, start differently in quarters than we are, whatever the case may be there’s an answer out there and we just have to find it.”
Marcus Smart contributes significantly to defense, although his play-making abilities and scoring efficiency is questionable albeit brilliant recently. He has been streaky from the perimeter but his hustle plays and tenacity makes him a valuable leader in the second unit. His recent run on the starting line-up forces the second unit to give up points, which is led by Rozier. The under-usage of Semi Ojeleye, a 6’7 athletic forward who can shoot and grab rebounds is a concern. Daniel Theis, a former German League best defender, never seemed to find his stride in the NBA.
On the other hand, Stevens could potentially start a death line-up featuring Irving, Tatum, Brown, Hayward and Horford which could give the Warriors a run for high scoring offense.
“My initial thought is there’s something bigger than all of this,” Stevens said. “And at the same time, if we can find a peace and contentment in our role within a team, then we can have a special team, no matter who’s on the team. You might not be able to win a championship but you’ll be able to maximize your group. And so, who knows how long that takes. We haven’t been able to do that yet, but we’re getting closer. I hope.”
If Boston continues to struggle with team chemistry and rotational issues, their playoff run might end earlier than we expect.
Projected to match up against the Indiana Pacers or the Philadelphia 76ers who are both competing for the fourth seed, the Celtics have to prepare a daunting uphill battle. The Pacers, even without star player Victor Oladipo, has been one of the most consistent performers, boasting a 26-9 record at home.
The 76ers on the other hand, has been fairly unstable despite having a roster of four All-Stars. Regardless, the team has strung together moments of brilliance in the past two months, taking down Golden State and Houston in convincing wins.
It is now or never for the Celtics, and the roster is too talented to let this go to waste.
Kyrie Irving: “With my attitude and with my effort, being able to give confidence to these guys is just as important as me being who I’m supposed to be. So as long as my teammates are feeling good then we’re in a good (place).”
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) March 6, 2019
We shall see in April.Leave a comment