Suffice to say this probably wasn’t how the Boston Celtics wanted to go into the NBA All-Star break.
Following a 129-119 loss Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Celtics will enter the break having lost not just three straight games, but also nine of their last 15.
The Celtics began the season hot, but since returning from an overseas game in London, things have not been the same. Part of that is to be expected, youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are experiencing some simultaneous regression that is bound to happen throughout the season. And given both players are starters and their minutes reflect that, their teammates’ jobs on the floor have become far more difficult.
Meanwhile, Marcus Smart continues to be sidelined far longer than expected because of a juvenile decision to punch a picture frame, and the defense has visibly suffered because of it.
There have been plenty of issues, and no one is free of blame, but in the last 15 games the Celtics are tied for 17th in the league in win percentage, and while they still have the seventh-best defensive rating in that stretch, they have scored the 10th-fewest points in the NBA.
This should come as no surprise since it happens to every team over the course of an 82-game season. The problem is, the Celtics aren’t playing close to .500 basketball, and the teams that they need to be mindful enter the break playing far above that marker.
The Toronto Raptors are 12-3 in their last 15 games, while the Philadelphia 76ers are 10-5 and the John Wall-less Washington Wizards are 9-6. Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers are 8-7, two of those wins have come in their last two games with a revamped roster, and it’s tough to expect them doing anything other than continuing to trend upward.
The extraordinary start to the season for the Celtics, which featured a 16-game winning streak, now seems like a distant memory. And for head coach Brad Stevens — who adamantly asserted during the streak that they would not play like that all season — it is just a matter of getting outplayed regularly.
“I think teams have outplayed us,” Stevens said in his press conference following the game, via MassLive. “I’ve said all along that I don’t think we’re all that we were cracked up to be during our 16-game winning streak, and it’s probably hit us more in the last month than it hit us before. And teams have outplayed us — good teams have outplayed us — and that was the case again tonight, could’t get a stop at any point in time during the game … we’ve just been outplayed.”
The Celtics won’t play again until Feb. 23 against the Detroit Pistons. Time can heal, and the Celtics need it to, because with the way the rest of the top Eastern Conference teams are trending, things could continue to go south in a big way if Boston doesn’t iron out some issues.
Here are some more notes from Celtics-Clippers:
— Kyrie Irving recorded his 16th game this season with at least 30 points.
— Terry Rozier has scored in double figures in eight consecutive contests.
— Stevens indicated prior to the game that Smart should be able to go full-speed Wednesday when the C’s hold their first practice following the All-Star break.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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