Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON -- There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to trying to make sense out of what happened to the Boston Celtics in Sunday’s drubbing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. 

It was a loss that’s concerning on many levels, but none might be more alarm ring-worthy than head coach Brad Stevens’ assessment of the Spurs loss being part of a disturbing trend associated with this team. 

“We’re getting exposed by good teams,” he said. 

The playoffs are around the corner and guess what? 

Boston will be playing nothing but good teams. 

In the meantime, Boston has eight games left in the regular season.

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There will be opportunities for them to regain that big-game swagger that has been a character trait of Brad Stevens-coached teams which has factored into them getting to the playoffs each of the last four seasons. 

In Stevens’ second year with the Celtics, those games down the stretch proved vital to Boston getting into the postseason as the eighth seed after winning each of their last six games. 

But had that team fallen short of the postseason, that would have been OK because that Celtics team wasn’t supposed to be a playoff squad so quickly. 

That team hit the end-of-the-year stretch playing with house money. 

This squad?

More like a house of cards that’s seemingly on the verge of getting blown to smithereens at any given time, even more so of late when facing good, playoff-caliber teams. 

 

Those are the teams that for years, Boston has managed to play up to their level and at a minimum compete against to ensure that whoever wins will come away having felt they earned the victory. 

But lately, the Celtics don’t seem to have that same mojo against the best teams that we saw earlier this season. 

There’s never a good time for that, obviously. 

But if you were to pinpoint the worst time to be falling into that abyss of bad play … it would be right about now on the cusp of the playoffs. 

Based upon recent games against quality, playoff-caliber opponents, there are plenty of reasons for even the most optimistic Celtics fan to have their doubts about this team and how it will fare in the playoffs. 

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Eight of Boston’s last nine games against teams in playoff position at the time of their matchup, ended with a Celtics loss. 

And if you break those eight losses into two subgroups — the first four and the last four — you’ll notice some disturbing trends. 

In the last four losses to teams in playoff position at the time they played (San Antonio, Philadelphia, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers), the average margin of defeat is 14 points. 

The four games prior to that against teams in playoff position at that time (Houston, Portland, Toronto and Milwaukee), the margin of defeat was 10 points per game. 

And the level of collapse on Boston’s part has increased as well.

In the first four, Boston played with a lead for 21 minutes, 44 seconds, which breaks down to 5:26 per game. 

In the last four, Boston led for 57 minutes, 58 seconds, or 14:29 per game. 

Even if you took out Boston’s loss at Philly, a game that the Celtics were in front of for 40 minutes, 49 seconds before losing, the average time of their lead for the other three would still be significant.

And make no mistake about it. 

The Celtics know all too well that they need to get better against all teams, but especially the good ones — the kind of team they will face in less than a month in the postseason. 

“Certainly we want to play our best basketball against the best teams,” said Boston’s Gordon Hayward. “We’ve shown throughout the course of the season to be able to do that. We’ve had some tough ones recently. It’s not anything to dwell on; I think try to learn from it and get ready for the next one. We have to finish out the season strong and then you’re on to a clean slate.”

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