Blakely: High expectations now make a rare blowout worse

Blakely: High expectations now make a rare blowout worse

BOSTON – As I watched the Celtics melt into a big old puddle of who-knows-what-the-hell-that-was last night at Chicago, I was angry.

This should not be happening.



Sure, it’s just one of 82 games.

But there is no way they should be getting throttled like this to Chicago, the team with the worst record in the NBA (now 6-20) for whom, let’s be honest...losing advances the Bulls' goal this season, which is to be in the best position possible to land one of the top picks in the draft.

The more I thought about it, the loss wasn’t what upset me the most.

I was pissed off mainly because they got beat down by a bad team, which says more about my expectations for this team and the expectations of most Celtics fans, than anything else.

Those expectations are sky high these days, and for good reason.

Boston (23-6) has the best record in the Eastern Conference after owning the league’s best record overall following a historic 16 consecutive wins, which is the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history. 

Kyrie Irving has been a one-man highlight reel all season. Jayson Tatum has been better than anyone predicted. Jaylen Brown is a more rounded offensive player, Aron Baynes has been awesome, Daniel Theis...the list of reasons why optimism for this team is so high is a long one.

That kind of success, with such a young core of players, is rare.

So, to see them get thumped 108-85 by the Bulls was jarring to say the least.

But as I skimmed the calendar to see how many more days could I blow off Christmas shopping before rush delivery wouldn’t get to places in time, I was reminded that the Celtics season is more than a third of the way complete.

And we’re talking about their first blowout loss of the season?

It was disappointing for all involved, for sure.

But the fact that we’re this far down the road in this season before having to overreact to a bad loss, speaks to the growth of this team under Brad Stevens.

Let’s put it this way.

Boston’s first beatdown this season came in Game No. 29 if you’re keeping track at home.

The latest the Celtics’ first loss by 15 or more came under Stevens prior to this season? Game No. 14 in the 2015-16 season.

They got crushed 121-97 in that game by an Atlanta Hawks team led by some dude named Al Horford.

If there’s one characteristic of Stevens teams that has carried on from one team to the next in his five seasons in Boston, it's their competitive spirit.

They may not have been the most talented teams, but you knew his guys were going to scrap and claw while suffering through a few setbacks – some worse than others - along the way.

But this season is different.

Even with Gordon Hayward going down with a season-ending (we think) left ankle injury, Boston has shown itself to be a resilient bunch by winning at a ridiculously high clip.

And in doing so, their success being undermanned has created a set of expectations that they can come back from any deficit and find victory.

But the real comeback for fans was the sobering back-to-earth reality of Monday’s loss, a game in which a team that has been as successful as the Celtics this season can lose if they’re not careful.

Still, we’re talking about the team with the best record in the East getting handed its first blowout loss of the season - in December.

Since 2008, only three other Celtics teams went this deep into the season before suffering their first loss by 15 or more points.

And of those three teams, two of them (2008 and 2010) went on to the NBA Finals.

Disappointed with the loss to the Bulls still?

I am.

But knowing how the Celtics have finished in recent years when they’ve avoided the big beatdown for as long as they have this season, it’s a little easier to move on from whatever-the-hell-that-was we saw last night in Chicago.


Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Oklahoma City All-Star Paul George knows the Boston Celtics team he and his Thunder teammates will face tomorrow night, won’t be at full strength.

But he’s wise enough to know if you focus too much on an opponent’s key losses to their roster, that same team can potentially hand you a loss which is the last thing the Thunder need right now in what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.

MORE - I.T. isn't ruling out return to C's

Currently fourth in the standings, only four games separate teams No. 3-8. Only Houston (56-14) and Golden State (53-17) have secured a postseason berth. 

Which means the Celtics won’t catch Oklahoma City sleeping on them heading into tomorrow night’s game. 

“We are going to address it the same way regardless of who's in there,” George said. “We got to pick these games up. We lost the game on our floor earlier this season.”

But that was early in the season when the Thunder were still trying to figure out how its newly formed core of Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, could mesh.

Oklahoma City has gotten stronger as the season progressed, and are one of the hottest teams around with six straight wins, the most recent being a 132-125 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Toronto. 

Meanwhile, Boston (47-23) has lost its last two games and three of four so from a momentum standpoint, the Thunder have every reason to feel as though they’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. 

And they also have added motivation from their Nov. 3 matchup with the Celtics in Oklahoma City that ended with a 101-94 win for Boston. 

Westbrook had 19 points and 11 assists in that game but shot 7-for-20 from the field. Carmelo Anthony had 14 points but did so on a woeful 3-for-17 shooting. And then there was George’s 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

“We have to show who we are,” George said.

Who they are, is a team that’s fighting for home court in at least the first round of the playoffs where they are currently fourth in the West. 

And their success in the last six games has been fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor. 


In that stretch, Oklahoma City is averaging 116.2 points which ranks second in the NBA during that span. Defensively, they are allowing 104.5 points which is the 10th-fewest allowed in the last six games.

“Just making the right plays, offensively and defensively” is how Westbrook described the team’s recent run of success. 

And the Thunder have every intention of keeping it going against a beat-up Celtics squad that they know they can’t take lightly. 

“Again, we are playing really well,” George said. “A step back if we lose no matter who's in or who's out would hurt us.”


Ainge: 'Setback' wrong word to use about Hayward

Ainge: 'Setback' wrong word to use about Hayward

When is a setback not a setback?

When Danny Ainge says, "You know what? Sometimes I talk too much," Ainge told the Boston Herald over the weekend. "'Setback' wasn't the right word, so let me rephrase that because it's not exactly true to say it - or say it that way.

The Celtics president of basketball operations, in his weekly radio interview with Toucher and Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub and simulcast on NBC Sports Boston, used that word when he was describing how Gordon Hayward is coming along in his recovery. 

"He had like one setback for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and a half ago," Ainge said on the radio last week. "We were progressing a little bit too fast, we thought."

Ainge clarified that to the Herald's Steve Bulpett. 

"What happened is he went on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill] the first day and he felt some soreness," he said. "It was the first day he tried the AlterG, a long time ago. He just wasn't ready for it at that point. That's all it was."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been adamant that Hayward, recovering from his gruesome leg and ankle injury in the season opener, will not play for the Celtics this season. On Sunday, Stevens, via MassLive.com's Jay King, characterized Stevens' soreness as a "small" issue.