SALT LAKE CITY – The Celtics seem to be a perpetual loop of sorts with road game after road game having a familiar ending that, truth be told, this crew hadn't been all that familiar with up til now.
If there’s one thing you could bank on with this group - more nights than not - they would find a way to win or at least position themselves to win on the road.
Not so much.
The 123-115 loss at Utah on Friday night was the latest reminder of how this team, which looks a lot like the crew we saw a year ago that was just lights out when the lights came on away from the TD Garden, has lost its road mojo.
The loss to the Jazz was their fourth road setback in this still-young NBA season.
- MORE BLAKELY - Stars, Studs & Duds: C's can't cool hot Jazz shooters
To put that in perspective, Boston didn’t lose its fourth road game a year ago until Dec. 11.
Now, for a bit of perspective.
Boston has had a challenging schedule to start the season, with more road games than just about any other team (Minnesota has also played eight on the road, losing all of them).
But it isn’t just that they’re losing games; it’s how those defeats are coming about.
The reasons for the road woes are plentiful, ranging from a lack of effort at times, breakdowns in coverages or opponents just getting jacuzzi-hot shooting the ball.
But the real culprit, more than anything else, is their defense.
Despite some gaudy numbers this season which places them on the short list of elite defenses, Brad Stevens has consistently said – even when they were winning – that the team’s numbers defensively, by and large, were better than their actual play.
He was right.
In November, Boston’s defensive rating is 111.7, which ranks 24th in the league. For the season, they are fourth with a rating of 102.6.
- MORE CELTICS - Hawyard happy to see old teammates despite the loss
There has been a lot of talk about Boston’s offensive struggles and understandably so.
This team has have taken the approach to live and die by the 3-pointer (they average 37.3 attempts per game, which ranks third in the NBA), citing it’s essentially the shot that teams are willing to give them.
Still, as we’ve seen on this road trip, the defense has its share of issues to work through as well.
And those issues, while growing in number, are easily fixed.
They ultimately come down to effort, something the Celtics are learning first-hand has to be ratcheted up if they are to get back on track and maybe more important, start playing up to their potential.
Because good effort gives you a chance to win; great effort is required more nights than not in order to win.
And with this team, great effort has been in short supply.
That’s why you’re likely to see Marcus Smart’s minutes gradually creep up a bit because Smart brings a level of effort and intensity that no one on this Celtics team can match.
Boston, in its efforts to come back against the Jazz, had the look of a kayaker trying to paddle upstream. Still, it was Smart who seemed to break through with his shot-making – yes, Marcus Smart’s shot-making – along with his defensive and playmaking, which allowed him to tally his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 assists in addition to having a team-best plus/minus of +10.
You can’t expect Smart to be that impactful on a nightly basis, but the heightened effort level he played with is needed from others.
Otherwise, losses like Friday night's will only continue to multiply and transform the potential of having a special, dream-like season into a full-blown nightmare.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.