BOSTON -- This was supposed to be the Boston Celtics’ season of destiny.
Instead it's looking more like a death march with the team’s stretch of futility continuing on following Sunday’s 115-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Boston (43-31) has now lost four straight which stands as the Celtics’ longest losing streak of the season.
Now the argument that Boston was missing players with injuries (Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams III) will be a common justification to help explain how thoroughly throttled they were by the Spurs.
But missing open shots, not boxing out for rebounds and playing shoddy defense for the bulk of the game against a team like the Spurs, will get your butt kicked every time regardless of who is available.
This was an embarrassing loss not because the margin of defeat, but the margin of compete level that was even more lopsided than the final score.
Here are three pointers to take away from yet another disappointing performance by the Celtics.
Hayward start over Brown
With Jayson Tatum (back) out, Brad Stevens decided to start Gordon Hayward ahead of Jaylen Brown.
It was a surprising call considering how well Brown has been playing, and it being Hayward’s first game back after missing the previous three due to being in the league’s concussion protocol program.
But the move worked out well for Hayward who gave Boston’s starting five a much-needed offensive punch before finishing with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds along with three assists.
However, the move didn’t exactly work out in Brown’s favor.
He would tally just seven points, which was only the fourth time in the last 14 games he has failed to reach double figures off the bench.
DEFENSIVE DISAPPEARING ACT
It can’t be said enough how disappointing Boston was defensively against the Spurs. Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge had it going all game with a blistering 48 points for San Antonio on 20-for-31 shooting in addition to grabbing 13 rebounds while dishing out six assists. But it wasn’t the stats that Aldridge tallied hurt the most; it was how easily he got them all game long.
Having no Al Horford hurt, obviously. Horford does the best job of any of the Celtics when it comes to defending Aldridge.
But Aron Baynes who usually plays at an elite level defensively, had arguably his worst game defensively as a Celtic.
He was about as insignificant defensively as we’ve seen him since coming to Boston.
And while he’s not the most fleet-footed player, he looked a step or two slow even by his usual standards which isn’t that big a stretch considering it was his first game back following a foot injury that many - including head coach Brad Stevens - was going to keep him out for a significantly longer period of time.
But at no point did Baynes do anything of significance to make Aldridge the least bit uncomfortable on the floor. Aldridge is just too talented a player to have so many open to lightly contested mid-range jumpers and shot attempts at the rim.
However, Baynes’ troubles were more symbolic of the Celtics’ entire defense which seems to be going from bad to worst as we inch closer towards the playoffs.
He has said on more than one occasion that so much of what this team does starts with him.
And when he’s not making shots, gambling on defense - and losing badly - it reflects poorly and unfortunately for Boston, becomes contagious.
He had a double-double of 11 points and 12 assists, shooting just 5-for-17 from the field.
It was his 21st double-double of the season, and maybe the weakest of the bunch.
Because his numbers on this night rang about as hollow as the cavernous hole we see as the Celtics defense.
There are eight games left to play and while that’s not enough time for them to change the identity of who they are as a team, they can at least start trending in the direction of being more competitive.
Because the crap show we’re witnessing now … this team won’t get out of the first round of the playoffs if they don’t find a greater compete level AND FAST!!!
Boston will hit the road for a Tuesday night matchup at Cleveland, at 7 p.m.
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