BOSTON — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens offered a scathing critique of his team through three exhibition games, declaring that he "couldn’t be more unimpressed” with Boston’s play thus far.
Stevens matter-of-factly detailed Boston’s lackluster efforts on the heels of a 102-95 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden. And while his players downplayed the notion of panic, they couldn’t help but admit the Celtics haven’t exactly looked like the surefire Finals contender that they’ve been widely pegged to be.
"We’re not as good as advertised right now,” said Stevens. “So at least we know that.”
Cleveland blitzed a Kyrie Irving-less Boston team with a 32-point first quarter and led by as much as 21 during Tuesday’s game — the exhibition opener for the LeBron James-less Cavaliers.
Boston is now 1-2 on the exhibition season and will wrap up its four-game preseason slate with a rematch in Cleveland on Saturday night.
Celtics players admitted Stevens’ assessment was fair but tried to downplay the notion of panic.
“It’s fair words. It’s early though,” said Jaylen Brown. "I mean, let’s not overreact. It’s a fair assessment from Brad but, at the same time, let’s not jump ship. Let’s just continue the course. It’s preseason.
"With expectations comes reality. We’ve got to perform to the level of the expectations we’ve received. Through the first three games we haven’t. But we’re still trying to figure stuff out. We’ve got to find a rhythm. Our chemistry with that first unit — there’s a lot of talent on that first unit and nobody wants to step on each other’s toes. But at the same time we’re not helping each other execute. I think we’ll figure it out. I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll figure it out. I think we just need to take a deep breath, and smile, and continue to get better each and every game.”
Veteran Marcus Morris likewise downplayed concerns and suggested the team will get on the same page.
"I don't see [reason for concern]; It's preseason,” said Morris. “We have a lot to look forward to this year so I can understand [Stevens’] concerns. At the same time, preseason is for learning and things like that. I think we'll get back on the right page.”
What exactly is ailing this Celtics team? Offensively, Boston has often looked disjointed, and shooting 24.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc hasn’t helped (Boston missed all 12 3-pointers it took in the first half of Tuesday’s game and finished 5 of 31 beyond the arc overall).
Defensively, Boston has been plagued with sloppy technique that has contributed to a whopping 30.7 personal fouls per game. That’s allowed opponents to live in the bonus and shoot 37.7 free throws per game (Boston is attempting only 23.3 free throws per game).
Marcus Smart thinks it simply comes down to effort.
"We’ve been lackadaisical, we have to play harder,” said Smart. "[Stevens] just felt the last couple of games we haven’t held up and he was fed up with us.
"We have to get back to being us. We’re not doing things in the defensive end. We were being lazy. Guys were switching onto guys instead of guarding their own guy, and we want somebody to do the job for us and that’s just not us, and rightfully so Brad wasn’t happy and he let it be known.”
Stevens noted Boston’s small-ball lineups have struggled and said the team would evaluate its lineup and rotations given those woes. He brushed aside the suggestion that trying to reintegrate injured players could be causing some of the first unit struggles.
"I don’t think it should be an excuse for doing things right,” said Stevens.
The sixth-year coach wants his team to work together to fix what’s ailing them and not try to lean on talent.
"No shot we dominate off talent alone. No team does that,” said Stevens. "You have to play together, you have to play the right way. If you have really good players and they all do that, then you can have a special year.”
Morris didn't want to lean on the suggestion that this team can simply flip a switch when the regular season tips on Oct. 16 with a visit from the Philadelphia 76ers but admitted it’s only natural for players to ease their way into the new year.
"I know that happens with me, because I’m like, 'Psh, it’s preseason. It doesn’t count.’ But like I said, we’re chasing something special. So we’re going to use every game as a building block of getting better.
“We’re the favorites in the East. We need to show that. We need to show competitive nature, we need to show togetherness, we need to show hustle. … Guys are watching. I don’t care if it’s preseason or not, everyone’s watching and expecting to see us playing well. As a unit, we need to.”