Celtics

Once scary-good on the road, Celtics off to a nightmarish start away from home

Once scary-good on the road, Celtics off to a nightmarish start away from home

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.

This season?

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.

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.

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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics had a terrific celebration planned for Grant Williams' first 3-pointer

Celtics had a terrific celebration planned for Grant Williams' first 3-pointer

Even the best-laid plans go awry when you're too excited about your teammate making his first career 3-pointer.

Celtics rookie Grant Williams finally hit a deep ball Monday night in the third quarter of Boston's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, ending an 0-for-25 spell to begin his NBA career and causing his teammates to go wild on the bench.

It was a hilarious celebration for a cool moment -- but not the celebration the Celtics had planned.

Backup point guard Brad Wanamaker told the Boston Sports Journal's Brian Robb what should have happened after Williams' first 3-pointer.

If you watch the video, Wanamaker actually stuck to the plan and "passed out" on the sideline, but the rest of his teammates were too excited (shocked, perhaps?) to remember to follow suit.

We appreciate the effort, Brad.

According to Williams, his teammates' celebration also included some colorful language.

"A lot of it was graphic," Williams told reporters when asked what the Celtics were yelling at him after his 3-pointer. "Especially Carsen (Edwards), you know. But outside of that, it was a good moment, just because they were celebrating me."

It helped that the C's were cruising to a 110-88 win over the Cavs, giving them full latitude to celebrate Williams first deep ball however they wanted.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker had every reason to think that his night was over going into the fourth quarter. 

Boston had a commanding lead against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that’s considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. 

But as the game got a little too close for head coach Brad Stevens’ comfort, he turned to Walker.

And Walker responded with a barrage of 3-pointers that left the Cavs as nothing more than collateral damage in the wake of Boston’s 110-88 win. 

Walker finished with a game-high 22 points which included a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put the Cavs (5-18) away for good. 

Boston led by as many as 29 points in the second half, only to see that lead down to as little as 14 points in the fourth with seven minutes to play. 

That’s when he called on Walker who came up with one big shot after another. 

And the way Walker responded in the fourth quarter when called upon by Stevens was a reminder of just how important it has become for the best players to be locked in from the opening tip-off to the final horn - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Said Stevens: “I just told the team afterwards, ‘If you want to be special then model after Kemba because Kemba sits over there thinks his night’s done, gets put back into the game, drills three 3’s and ends it.

Stevens added, “Special is not for everybody.”

Having spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker knows exactly what the Cavs were thinking as they steadily chipped away at Boston’s lead.

Understanding the mindset of a team and players on the comeback trail has helped Walker appreciate and embrace the need to always stay on top of his game and ready to go - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Walker understands how a player can lose focus on the game and become relaxed down the stretch in what appears to be a blowout in the making. 

“It’s possible,” Walker says before adding, “But at the end of the day you have to stay engaged through the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast. Teams can score in bunches really fast. You have to stay engaged.”

Which is exactly what he did. 

That not only helped Boston get the victory on Monday, but also served as a great example for the team’s younger players on how to handle themselves when things get sidetracked after going just the way they want them to for most of the game. 

“He set a great example, what he’s done in this league for a very long time,” Tatum said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”

And a leader on this team. 

“As one of the leaders I feel I have to stay engaged,” Walker said. “Just like … you never know what to expect.  This league, guys can score so fast and easy. You just never know when teams will come back. It can get a little nerve-racking and Brad felt he had to put me back in. I knew once I got in there, I had to be more aggressive, look for my shot a little more and that’s what I did.”

Blakely's Takeaways: C's home dominance keying hot start>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.