It was going to happen eventually.
In the midst of the Boston Celtics’ dazzling 16-game win streak, there still was the knowledge that eventually the streak would end, and the Celtics would hit a rut.
We may be seeing the beginning of said rut.
The Celtics have been outplayed in two of their last three games by a pair of teams who are under .500 — the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz — and each loss stemmed from a number of shortcomings, be it shooting, rebounding or defense.
“Bottom line is you have to be locked in, you have to play well, you have to do what you do best,” head coach Brad Stevens said following Friday’s 107-95 loss to the Jazz, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “We had a lot of guys that really didn’t play well, we got out-coached, we got out-played. And we haven’t been in that situation very often from an effort standpoint, but I think twice this week we have, so that’s concerning.”
In some senses, the writing has been on the wall for the Celtics to fade at some point. One contributor is the number of youngsters the Celtics are leaning on. While there’s no argument that 19-year-old Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown both are incredible talents and bring plenty to the table, occasionally they will go silent, and both of them did Friday.
Another factor — which every team goes through — is injuries.
The Celtics will be without Marcus Morris until at least Christmas with his nagging knee injury, while Daniel Theis was knocked out of Friday’s game moments after stepping onto the floor, suffering a facial injury. For a team already short on big bodies, the absence of Morris and Theis was noticeable as the Celtics got outworked by the Jazz on the boards 46-29.
And while Kyrie Irving is a great asset, it is beginning to feel like the Celtics may be getting a little too reliant on him to take over a game, much like they did last season with Isaiah Thomas. As the Celtics played catchup throughout Friday’s loss, they seemed to be waiting for Irving to take over. Sure, his 20 second-half points were a big offensive contribution, but no other player really stepped up in a time of need to help push the C’s further along. He was left on an island and was unable to bring Boston back on his own.
This certainly isn’t an indication that things are a lost cause, however, as every team goes through these stretches. But instead, it’s an opportunity for the Celtics to do a little soul-searching, battle past these performances and grow as a unit. They’ll have a chance to do that soon when they visit the 8-20 Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night.
And who knows, on the other side of this, battling past these losses could very well prove more beneficial in the long run than winning 16-straight games.
Here are more notes from Celtics-Jazz:
— Theis took an elbow to the face in the first quarter, resulting in a bloody nose. He left the game and did not return due to what was described as a facial injury.
— Al Horford shot at a 64.3 percent clip from the field, going 9-for-14 for 21 points.
— In his return to the Garden, Jonas Jerebko tortured the Celtics, scoring 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting with seven rebounds.
— Gordon Hayward spoke to the media prior to Friday’s game and indicated his “mind is open” to returning this season.