The Celtics are off to a slow start, dropping three of their first five games. And while it’s obviously too early to sound any alarms, Boston’s effort level has been underwhelming, to say the least.
Celtics head coach Ime Udoka even acknowledged after Wednesday night’s 116-107 loss to the Washington Wizards at TD Garden that he noticed a lack of “intensity and focus” in the team’s shootaround, leaving him with a sense the Celtics would “get their (expletive) kicked” that night.
So, how does Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens — Boston’s head coach for eight seasons (2013-21) — feel about the inconsistent energy?
“We don’t have so much talent that we can’t play well,” Stevens said Friday on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich.” “We have to be way more dialed in possession to possession than we have.”
“I’m not going to overreact to a five-game sample, but there are some things that are concerning if we don’t start playing possession to possession,” he added. “That’s the bottom line. You’re good if you play good. It’s not about what your reputation is. It’s not about what people say about you. You’re good if you play good, and that goes for the whole team. That goes for everybody that put the team together, everybody that coaches the team, everybody that plays the game, and you share results and then you improve from there.”
The Celtics in the not-too-distant past had a reputation for overachieving. They weren’t the most-talented team in the NBA, but they reached the Eastern Conference finals in three of four seasons between 2016 and 2020 — with Stevens at the helm — largely because of their compete level. Boston often outworked its opponent.
Now, one could argue the Celtics have become underachievers. Which isn’t to say their 2021-22 season is doomed, or that their issues are entirely rooted in a lack of effort. It’s just the reality Boston finds itself in while trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2020-21 campaign that saw the franchise finish with a .500 regular-season record (36-36) before getting bounced in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
“We had — the year before — we were much better at playing with a task-oriented focus. And so, we just got to get to that,” Stevens said Friday. “Great teams, with the very best players — and the great, great teams — can get away with playing in spurts. If you are where we are — which we have a lot of really good players, but so do the other teams.
” … There’s good players all around the league so that if you take four possessions and you’re not really dialed in, that’s going to be a 10-point run.”
Which raises the question: Are Boston’s problems fixable?
No one can say for sure, obviously, but Stevens sounds hopeful the C’s will improve in certain areas, particularly on the defensive end.
“I think the biggest concern right now for us is that we have some things we can clean up technique wise. It’s not just about the effort,” Stevens said. “There are techniques. There are systems. There are coverages. There’s communication. And if you want to be a reasonable defense, then you can give great effort and be average in those things. If you want to be a great defense, then you give great effort and you’re great in those things. We do have enough guys here to be a really good defense. But right now, our transition and defensive rebounding isn’t as good as it needs to be.
” … Sometimes, that’s effort. Sometimes, that’s miscommunication. Sometimes, that’s two guys running to one guy in transition. Sometimes, it’s two guys are playing with max effort blocking out and the third guy misses his block-out. It’s not one entity on every possession, right? It could be totally different possession to possession. Bottom line is it has not been good enough.”
The Celtics’ next opportunity to right the ship comes Saturday night when they face the Wizards in the nation’s capital.