Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics have no answer for Otto Porter Jr.

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics have no answer for Otto Porter Jr.

Teams knew when they played the Boston Celtics, they were going to be in for a long night. 

Regardless of the opponent, the Celtics brought a feistiness to the game that gave them a shot at winning every night. 

After Wednesday’s 119-93 loss at Washington, their third straight loss and second blowout defeat in a row, there are legitimate questions about whether this team still has that level of mental toughness. 

WIZARDS 118, CELTICS 93:

“We’re in a funk right now,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “One thing I think is, we can’t hold our heads (down). We’re not the hardest playing team (anymore). That’s what made us good, is us playing harder than other teams, being scrappier, getting all the loose balls. 

Thomas added, “rebounds don’t come to us no more because we’re not playing hard.” 

That was indeed the case on Wednesday when the Wizards dominated the boards by a 54-31 margin.

And that lack of effort has nothing to do with injuries or inexperience or any other reasonable explanation as to why Boston’s defense has sunk to the bottom of the NBA landscape. 

Teams want it more than the Celtics, and it’s been that way throughout most of this still-young NBA season.

Thomas said he’ll have to look at the film to see exactly what he needs to do better at, and that of his teammates. 

But he has seen enough to know that they can’t turn this around until they turn up their effort and compete level.

“That’s the feeling I have right now, that we’re not the hardest-playing team and that’s what makes us special,” Thomas said. “That’s what made us win 48 games last year and made teams not really want to play against us. We don’t have that swagger anymore.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday’s game.

 

STARS

Otto Porter, Jr.

The Celtics had no answer for Porter who dropped 13 points in his first seven minutes on the floor. He would finish with a career-high 34 points and 14 rebounds in addition to dishing out four assists. 

Isaiah Thomas

Thomas didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (6-for-18), but stayed aggressive most of the night. He finished with a double-double of 23 points along with 10 assists. 

 

STUDS

Marcus Smart

After a slow start shooting the ball, Smart found his rhythm in the second half and finished with 20 points off the bench.

Avery Bradley 

The scoring numbers continue to look good for Bradley who had 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting. But Bradley, who came in as the team’s leader in rebounds (8.7) per game, had three boards but maybe more than anything else, didn’t make much of an impact defensively. 

Marcin Gortat

He finished with a near double-double with 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting with nine rebounds. His work around the glass was one of the keys to Washington putting together a dominant 33-10 advantage in second-chance points.

 

DUDS

John Wall

He had a nice scoring game with 16 points with seven assists, but turned the ball over five times. More than that, he lost his cool when the game was already in hand and it will cost him. He was ejected in the fourth quarter with 5:24 to play after fouling Marcus Smart by wrapping his arm around his head and tossing him to the floor. He’ll likely be hit with another fine for his role in the incident which came less than 24 hours after he was fined $25,000 for “inappropriate interaction with a game official.”

Celtics defense

Brutal. Absolutely brutal. No stops. No rebounds. No chance to win, it seems. It’s hard to imagine they will play any worse than they have the last two games, but with this team anything is possible. Injuries have hurt them, obviously. But injuries aside, they should better than what we’re seeing. 

Celtics injury report: Kyrie Irving out for Tuesday vs. Cavaliers

Celtics injury report: Kyrie Irving out for Tuesday vs. Cavaliers

The Celtics will be without Kyrie Irving on Tuesday when they visit the Cavaliers.

According to the C's injury report released Monday afternoon, Irving will be held out due to loan management. Robert Williams is listed as doubtful with a low back contusion, and both Al Horford (left knee soreness) and Jayson Tatum (right low back contusion) are questionable.

Irving was asked following Sunday night's loss to the Spurs if going back to Cleveland meant anything to him, to which he responded, "No, not at all." Tuesday night's matchup marks the Celtics’ seventh game in Cleveland since Irving was dealt to Boston (1 preseason, 3 regular season, 3 playoff). He’s played in one game there: Opening night 2017.

The Celtics ride a four-game losing skid into Cleveland as they hope to get back on track vs. the lowly Cavs, who sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.

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No simple fix for Celtics but clear something has to change

No simple fix for Celtics but clear something has to change

BOSTON — One of the more curious aspects of the Boston Celtics’ maddening 2018-19 season has been Brad Stevens’ penchant for letting his team play through its struggles.

That’s long been Stevens’ philosophy but it’s been amplified by Boston’s inconsistent ways, both in the micro (in-game, when opponents go on big runs) and macro (sticking with lineups, rotations despite underwhelming recent returns). 

It reflects the unwavering confidence that Stevens has in his players but, in the absence of results, it’s fair to wonder if this team simply needs a shorter leash than those past teams that Stevens could let fight through what ailed them.

We’ve seen instances of Stevens being more aggressive with his timeouts lately in hopes of quelling the staggering amount of 12-0 type runs that opponents seem to routinely launch. But Stevens has remained reluctant to alter his starting lineup (outside of injuries and rest, at least) and it’s fair to wonder if time is running out on any potential experimentation that could have been done before the postseason arrives.

After Sunday’s latest eyesore of a loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Stevens was asked directly about the lineup and maintained that it’s something he thinks about often but also suggested that any lineups he’d like to explore are further limited by player availability.

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Stevens was asked if there had been any thought to going back to the original starting 5 — Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford — which would offer Boston its most skilled and versatile five-man group, albeit one that struggled mightily out of the gates of the season.

"I think about that every day. But I don’t know if it’s the original starting lineup,” said Stevens. "I don’t know if it’s better rotations. I think you’re always thinking about [lineup tweaks]. And, inevitably, you can make a case for everything. And you could go through every game this year and make a case and look at it because we have a lot of guys that are fairly alike. 

"The one thing as we move forward, we are going to need, based on our matchup, to settle on the best things for each series. I don’t know that that will be our starting lineup that we’ve been starting. But I’m more worried about the last 42 minutes than the first 6, so I do think that’s another factor in that.”

There’s a lot to digest there. Let’s start with Boston’s current preferred stating 5 that features Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris with Irving, Tatum, and Horford. That original lineup flip in late November spurred some of Boston’s best basketball of the year and, especially as Hayward and Brown started to thrive in bench roles, seemed to offer the sort of great potential that encouraged Stevens to endure these bumps.

But as the Celtics have fizzled since early February, so too has that starting group. Boston’s starting 5 has logged 162 minutes together in 12 appearances since the All-Star break — no other lineup has played more than 26 minutes together in that span — and own a gruesome net rating of minus-6.7 in that span, which includes a defensive rating of 112.1 (or 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse than Boston’s season rating). The Celtics are 5-7 in those games.

Stevens has routinely noted that the first six minutes of games are not a concern for him. Maybe they should be. Since the All-Star break, the starting 5’s net rating in first quarters is minus-7.9 over 70 total minutes, which includes an anemic offensive rating of 96.8. While it’s undeniable that decent starts don’t always ensure Celtics success — see all the double-digit leads the team has kicked away recently — it simply feels like this team is overdue to explore tweaks that might force it outside the malaise that exists now and potentially restore the level of defensive intensity that’s gone missing.

The notion of shuffling Morris and/or Smart back to a bench role shouldn’t suggest they are at fault for the team’s inconsistencies, in much the same way that Brown and Hayward shouldn’t have been the fall guys earlier in the year. Morris is marred in an obvious shooting slump that, much like many of his teammates, has bled into his defensive consistency. They need him playing at a high level in the postseason, regardless of role. But as Brown and Hayward make strides with their own play — particularly with a much-needed dash of aggression towards the basket — it’s simply interesting to wonder how the team might respond to a re-infusion.

As Stevens is quick to point out, we all obsess too much over who starts games. What matters is how it all works together. But it’s clear, right now, that this current iteration has sputtered and something needs to give.

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Sometimes teams just need a change. There seems little harm in experimenting when you consider the wheels have already come off and this team is grinding down the Mass Pike with sparks flying from both axles. What complicates matters is that there are only eight games remaining and Stevens must balance finding rest for his players before the postseason grind starts. 

True as ever, this team never quite makes anything easy on itself.

It was interesting to hear Stevens acknowledge that he’s likely to tweak lineups when the postseason arrives. This isn’t all that unexpected, not from a coach who famously deployed the likes of Gerald Green and Semi Ojeleye in must-win playoff games in recent seasons.

Some of Boston’s best basketball recently has come with two-big lineups. It’s a tiny sample size but, since the All-Star break, Horford and Aron Baynes own a net rating together of plus-39.7 in 26 minutes of floor time, with a glitzy defensive rating of 93.1. 

It speaks again to Baynes’ impact, particularly for a Boston team that has lost a bit of its defensive identity while Baynes has navigated an injury-plagued season.  It feels like Baynes is going to be quite important to Boston in the postseason, particularly considering the bigs they might encounter.

Finding other two-man units that inspire confidence recently is tricky, though it’s worth noting that the Hayward-Tatum (plus-19.7, 176 minutes since Feb. 1) and Hayward-Irving (plus-13.6, 191 minutes since Feb. 1) pairings have both been stellar during Boston’s funk. It seems to scream for Hayward to rejoin the first unit to see how that group reacts to his presence.

Based on his play, Brown deserves to elevate as well but, if considering his bench impact at the moment, it’s understandable if he stays in a backup role.

Ultimately, there are no easy answers here. It’s fair to wonder if Boston’s problems are more mental than necessarily who’s on the court. As Stevens pointed out after Sunday’s loss, he’s never coached a team that’s solely reliant on whether it makes shots to dictate its intensity level. 

“I don’t want to be a team, and I’ve never been a part of a team, that was solely reliant on whether you make shots or not,” said Stevens. “And, right now, in the last month, that’s our deal. We’re just relying on whether we make shots. 

"Instead of being a buckle-down, get stops, find a way to win. Nothing better than winning when you’re 5 for 35 or 7 for 35 from 3. That means you’ve figured out what’s important and you’re going to play to that every night.”

Stevens needs to figure out what groups give this team the best chance to restore its identity and play consistent two-way basketball. There’s no obvious, quick-fix solution but this team cannot continue to hope that the arrival of the postseason will trigger the urgency that the regular season has so clearly lacked.

Something needs to change, or the results will stay the same.

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