Celtics

Blakely: Celtics find themselves broken at the break

Blakely: Celtics find themselves broken at the break

BOSTON – There weren’t many Celtics players who showed up for the postgame scrum with the media following the 129-119 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

That’s not surprising.

There weren’t that many who showed up to play, anyway.

Some will chalk it up to just being a bad game for the Celtics, while others might point to the absence of Marcus Smart finally catching up to them.

The reasons for the loss are all over the map, but the one thing we know is this: the Celtics got punked by the Clippers, pure and simple.

L.A. got whatever shot it wanted and attacked the paint at will to escape with a 10-point win in a game that wasn’t that close in terms of control.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been sounding an alarm of concern most of this season.

“I think teams have outplayed us,” Stevens said after the disappointing loss prior to the All-Star break. “You know I don’t think – I’ve said all along, I don’t think we were all 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; that was the case again tonight.”

Maybe Stevens is right.

Maybe the Celtics aren’t as good as their 40-19 record might indicate.

Those of us who see the resilient fight, the never-say-it’s-over brand of basketball that has become synonymous with the Celtics for most of this season, are indeed searching for answers as to how a team that was so dominant defensively, has fallen off so quickly with no clear-cut signs of improvement.

The 129 points they gave up to the Clippers was a season-high.

The previous high?

That was just three days earlier when the Celtics lost 121-99 to the Cavaliers.

So, for those keeping score at home, Boston has given up 121 points or more in each of their past two games after having failed to give up that many in the Celtics’ previous 57 games.

“I think that the theme here is our defense needs to be better,” Horford said. “We’re a group that we’ve built what we have so far based on the defensive end and we’ve taken a big step back on that, it’s obvious, the past few games.”

And while the Celtics have plenty of time to get back on track, you can bank on this All-Star break providing the players with time to heal, both mentally and physically.

“There’s two main things that you can control in this game,” said Kyrie Irving. “And that’s attitude and effort and if you’re not doing that at a very high level and staying poised and trying to make the best decisions for the team, you know it’s hard to play against. [There are] great teams in this league, so that’s definitely a point of emphasis for our team going forward.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

What will be the dominant storylines surrounding the Celtics this season?

What will be the dominant storylines surrounding the Celtics this season?

BOSTON – The barrage of questions for the Boston Celtics players will begin with Media Day on Monday.

As one narrative after another develops surrounding these players this season, they begin with some storylines clearly defined as issues that will be ongoing all year.

So, what are folks going to be talking about as it relates to the Celtics this season?

GORDON HAYWARD/KYRIE IRVING

Having missed all but the first five minutes of last season, Gordon Hayward’s return to the floor will be monitored closely, both by the Celtics and fans. And while Kyrie Irving did play 60 games last season for Boston, he did miss the team’s entire postseason run due to an infection in his left knee. Reports from both his teammates and coaches indicate that both Hayward and Irving are good to go to start the season.

MORE A. SHERROD BLAKELY

JAYSON TATUM

Drafted with the third overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum developed a lot quicker than many anticipated. For stretches during the regular season and the playoffs, Tatum shined brighter than any other Celtic, which you don’t anticipate being the case for someone so young on a team so deep. So what’s he going to do for an encore?

BULL'S EYE

Speaking of a deep roster, that depth remains one of the key reasons why so many anticipate this Celtics team to be the last one standing in the East. Their across-the-board talent, experience and no LeBron James in the East are all factors that put the Celtics as the team everyone in the East is aiming to knock off.

BRAD STEVENS

One of his greatest strengths has been getting the most out of what he has been left to work with roster-wise. This season is a little different from the standpoint of him having a team that on paper, should be one of the best in the NBA. That leaves very little room for Stevens to work his coaching wizardry and get more out of this group than expected. Still, it’s a good problem to have.

IRVING'S FREE AGENCY

No topic will dominant the discussion surrounding this team more than Kyrie Irving’s free agency. Several teams are expected to make a run at him, and Irving has given no indication as to which way he’s leaning as it relates to his future beyond this season. Try as folks will, Irving is not going to allow his impending free agency become an issue inside the locker room, in part because he’s just one of several Celtics on the cusp of free agency next summer. While he’ll certainly love the company, Irving’s future in Boston or elsewhere, will be the most talked-about topic surrounding this team all season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Who will be the Celtics' leader on the boards this season?

Who will be the Celtics' leader on the boards this season?

BOSTON – This Celtics team is built to play position-less basketball, a style that lends itself to offensive mismatches.

But the downside lies in rebounding, which can be more difficult with players on the floor for whom board work may not be one of their strengths.

That brings us to the Celtics, who showed most of last season that they can find success on the boards even with players who may not traditionally be viewed as big-time rebounders.

So, who will be the chairman of the boards for Boston this season?

AL HORFORD
He led the team in rebounding last season at 7.4 per game and comes in as the odds-on favorite to repeat. The 32-year-old’s versatility to play both around the basket and on the perimeter will keep him on the floor a ton. And that will give him the best shot at making his presence felt on the glass, which will be one of the areas Boston has to find success to have the kind of season they believe they're capable of delivering. He had 14 double-doubles in points and rebounds last season and came within one rebound of a double-double on 10 other occasions.

DANIEL THEIS


This is my pick to lead in rebounding, if it’s not Horford. Minutes more than anything else are what I believe would keep Theis from leading this team in rebounds. As a rookie last season, he led the team in rebounding percentage (.160) while grabbing 4.3 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game. The 26-year-old started to show signs of becoming a 3-point threat, which bodes well for his chances at seeing as much playing time or even more, this season. And with increased minutes come a more impactful role, a role that will surely include him doing a strong job rebounding.

TERRY ROZIER


When you think of rebounding, 6-foot-2 combo guards don’t come to mind. But Rozier has already shown himself to be among the better rebounding guards in the NBA. With Boston having so many perimeter threats on the roster, that creates gaps and seams towards the rim that Rozier could easily slip into and do what he does as well as any guard in the NBA not named Russell Westbrook – and that’s rebound.

JAYSON TATUM
His length, deceptive athleticism and basketball smarts make him a player who could factor in the team’s rebounding efforts on a grander level this season. With Gordon Hayward (ankle) back in the mix along with Kyrie Irving, there’s a very real possibility that Tatum could be looked upon to become a better rebounder after averaging 5.0 per game last season. The key to Tatum’s improvement in this area will lie in his rebounding percentage numbers. Although he was fifth on the team in rebounds per game last season, his rebounding percentage (.091) was seventh among players who began the season in Boston and played more than half the season. Improvement in this area would do wonders for the Celtics.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE