Kyrie Irving's dissection of his younger teammates during a stumble in mid-January captured the early nature of the Celtics' 2018-19 season, a campaign marked by languid stretches of .500 balls punctuated briefly by explosions of excellence. But the Celtics had recovered from that three-game slip to win 10 of their next 11, with their only loss by four points in a heavyweight battle with the Warriors, and the combat opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions during that period. Whether fueled by the power of reconciliation, fueled by the defiant rejection of the idea that his future depends on anyone's choices, except his own, or simply locked in a special furrow, Irving incinerated defenses. Once more healthy, Al Horford resumed its role as the rising tide that lifts all Boston ships. Jaylen Brown was in the stream, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier were shooting like Splash Brothers, Aron Baynes was connecting defensive points: it seemed things had finally settled in Boston.
So, naturally, we open this week with a renewed consideration of The Celtics In Crisis.
What some observers found a mild path in the calendar, became a suspense, as the Celtics lost two extremely impressive home games that can be won. First, they lost a meeting after the deadline with a team of the Lakers fresh from disappointment of not landing Anthony Davis, thanks to a beater with a knife from the former Celtic hero Rajon Rondo. Then, on Saturday, they fell to the Clippers, who started an alignment they had never played together after rearranging their list by the deadline, and who roared to beat the C after Irving left the game late. with a crooked right knee which, fortunately, is not considered serious.
The Celtics had an 18-point lead in the first half against the Lakers, and a 28-point lead in the first half over the Clips. But they were attacked in the third quarter of both games, allowed a frame of 42 points in both games and ended up losing both games. Boston leaves the weekend in fifth place in the East, as close to the classification of the Brooklyn Nets as those of the Milwaukee Bucks. And that's not the worst.
After Saturday's loss, Celtics coach Brad Stevens praised the Los Angeles coach (and his predecessor in Boston) Doc Rivers for instilling the "team spirit and resolve" that the Clippers have shown throughout the season, all of which was shown in the surge of the second half that snatched victory. The jaws of defeat. "You do not come back from a 20 point deficit if you do not like you and you really support each other, and I think those guys show it, night after night," Stevens told reporters.
Understanding that he had just left another obvious, unvoiced and obvious half to that equation floating in the ether, Stevens used a follow-up question to clarify that he believes his players also I liked each other: "I do not want that to be out of context." However, Marcus Morris cast doubt on that idea in the losers' locker room, and recognized the Clippers as a harder and more aggressive team before saying again that they were "Much harder, more aggressive, and I emphasize the word" # 39;team.'"
In a rather austere and grim media session, Morris suggested that the .625 winning percentage of the Celtics and the third best net rating are disguising a fundamental absence. From the outside, they look like maserati. Pop the hood, though, and maybe there's no engine.
"For me, it's not really about the loss, it's about the attitudes we play with," Morris said. "You know, the guys are hanging their heads, it just does not do it, it's not fun, it's not fun, we're not competing at a high level, even though we're winning, it's still not fun, I do not see the joy in the game .
"I see all these other teams around the league, and the guys are up on the bench, they're jumping on the court, they're doing all the other things that seem to be enjoying the success of their teammates. together and they play to win, and when we look at each other, I see a lot of individuals. "
That is a pretty damning statement. Morris did not give names, but repeatedly emphasized the value of the sacrifice: "It's not about shooting, it's not about blocking minutes, it's not about that, it's about trying to win the game, man", and the importance of starting from the position that the most important thing is collective success.
That makes you think that, over several weeks of strong play, the Celtics might be suffering the same problems now that when Smart repelled his teammates in November for not consistently playing hard, or when Irving insisted after last month. . Loss in Orlando. Throughout the season, there seems to be a split between Boston's established veterans, who might see this collection of talent as their best or last chance to be in a title race, and the young Celtics players, that helped push the last push of the season to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals will only be asked to assume smaller roles … and that maybe he could not help but hear all that talk about how the loss of Magic Johnson on Thursday's trade deadline could end up being Danny Ainge's win. summer.
However, before the tender of AD or Kyrie free agency, comes the issue of playing the rest of this season. The Celtics can not afford to look beyond what promises to be an absolutely brutal road through the Eastern playoffs, with its three main competitors for the conference crown making significant additions on the trade deadline.
The Bucks have been the class of the conference practically the entire season. The Raptors began their life with Marc Gasol by removing him from the bench in a victory that offered reasons for optimism about how he could fit. The 76ers have been absolutely phenomenal since they toppled Tobias Harris. (And as quiet as it has been, the Pacers have recovered from four straight losses following Victor Oladipo's injury that ended the season with five consecutive wins to return to third place – discard them at your own risk.)
The Celtics have what it takes to come face to face with the rest of the Eastern beasts and get ahead, going 5-2 so far this season against Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Toronto combined. And maybe all that Boston needs is a great victory to solve his troubled stomach; knocking down the renewed Sixers on Tuesday might be just what the doctor prescribed. But the longer these persistent problems continue, the chances of the Celtics are more tenuous than those of putting everything together in time.
To be fair, it is not impossible to make a deep playoff in the midst of internal turmoil. The Bulls finished their second trio despite the disputes between squads of Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause. The first Lakers won three consecutive titles despite the tension between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. After sweeping the Cavaliers, David West insisted that the Warriors last season went through "some things internally [that would make us] trip. "You do not have to like your co-workers to do a good job, although it sure does not hurt.
Stevens seems ready to go back to the drawing board, to take a look at anything that could make Boston writhe in the bowels of the game. "I think I should first look at myself and find out what I can do to help that does not happen," he told reporters after Saturday's loss. "If that means we need to play different rotations, call different things, start differently in the quarter … whatever the case, there's an answer out there and we need to find it."
Maybe it's another change in alignment, an altered substitution pattern or some new actions. Maybe, however, it needs to be something less of the left brain, and a little more elementary. "You're competing for a championship, and that's how we have to approach these games, win, lose or draw, man," Morris said Saturday. "We're going to lose games, but if we do not have any attitude, we do not have any resistance, we're not having fun … you know, it's going to be a long season."
Or, more to the point: it will not. When his reporter was asked about the loss if all the peaks and valleys have become Boston's identity, and if that's what the Celtics are this season, Stevens offered a short answer: "Well, if it is, we will not last long. " So at least you know, right?
With two months before the playoffs, that's all we know. At this time, there is no joy in Boston. An opportunity to win a championship and to block the core of a perpetual contender could make Stevens find him.