It?s becoming an unsettling trend.
The Celtics have proven this season that they have more than enough talent to compete with ? and beat ? some of the best the NBA has to offer. But ever since their resounding win over the Brooklyn Nets in the season opener, Brad Stevens? club has proven incapable of putting together a full, 48-minute effort.
If you’ve been following the Boston Celtics on NESN.com this season, that passage might look familiar. It was written Nov. 15, shortly after the Celtics squandered a golden opportunity to take down the Cleveland Cavaliers, eventually losing 122-121.
Seven games and two and a half weeks have passed since that loss, but those words still ring as true as ever.
The Celtics dropped another game in heartbreaking fashion Tuesday night, letting a 42-point first quarter go to waste in a 109-105 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. It was textbook Celtics — early-game dominance matched by equally poor play down the stretch.
Take a look at the Celtics’ last nine games, eight of which have ended in losses. The similarities leap off the page.
Nov. 12: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Celtics 94
The C’s led 18-3 early, but Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow (28 points apiece) outscored the entire Celtics roster by themselves in the second half to lead a Thunder team missing both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Nov. 15: Cleveland Cavaliers 122, Celtics 121
LeBron James went into beast mode (42 points) to erase a 19-point Celtics lead. Boston had just 20 fourth-quarter points after scoring 42 in the third.
Nov. 17: Phoenix Suns 118, Celtics 114
No huge comeback in this one, but the Celtics gave away the game in the final minute with a lazy pass and terrible management of their final possession. Three missed field goals by Rajon Rondo with two seconds remaining didn’t help, either.
Nov. 19: Celtics 101, Philadelphia 76ers 90
A win, but certainly nothing to write home about. The score was tied at halftime, and the Celtics needed a big second half by Jared Sullinger to get past a Sixers team that still has yet to win a game.
Nov. 21: Memphis Grizzlies 117, Celtics 100
One of the few thorough beatdowns the Celtics have received this season. Even a 45-point fourth quarter wouldn’t have helped them against Marc Gasol & Co.
Nov. 23: Portland Trail Blazers 94, Celtics 88
The Celtics smothered the Blazers for the first three quarters and entered the fourth tied at 72 apiece before their offense simply disappeared. The C’s scored 16 in the final frame.
Nov. 28: Chicago Bulls 109, Celtics 102
Another heartbreaker: The Bulls outscored the Celtics 24-11 in the fourth after trailing for most of the night.
Nov. 30: San Antonio Spurs 111, Celtics 89
The Celtics led the defending champs by four at halftime before reality set in. The Spurs outscored them 66-40 in the second half and 33-16 in the fourth, prompting Stevens to empty the bench with four minutes still to play.
See a trend developing?
The Celtics have, for the most part, avoided having their doors blown off, even while playing a schedule that has ranked among the toughest in the NBA. But they consistently self-destruct late in games, something a still-rebuilding franchise simply cannot afford to do.
That’s what makes their 4-11 record so maddening.
This is not a bad basketball team we’re talking about, one that lacks the talent to compete on a nightly basis. And yet, the dreaded “T” word already is being tossed around after just 15 games.
The skill is there. What’s missing in these late-game collapses are the intangibles — physicality, mental toughness, aggressiveness.
“When it comes easy, we’ve been good,” Stevens told reporters in Atlanta. “When it gets tough, we haven’t. It’s a pretty simple formula.”
A simple formula the Celtics still are struggling to solve.
Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images