Utah Jazz

What's causing Celtics' struggles? Jae Crowder reveals what he thinks

What's causing Celtics' struggles? Jae Crowder reveals what he thinks

Something is missing with the Boston Celtics this season, and one of their former players thinks he knows what that is.

The Utah Jazz beat the C's at TD Garden on Saturday night to sweep the season series. Former Celtics and current Jazz forward Jae Crowder talked to reporters after his team's win, and revealed what he thinks Boston is lacking over the first month of the 2018-19 campaign.

“When you’ve got so many guys that can score the ball, you really don’t want to get down and defend,” Crowder said, per the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett. “You really don’t want to get down and dive for balls. You really don’t want to fight through screens every play. But championship teams do that. Look at the Warriors. They have guys that can do that. They have guys that want to do that. They understand their roles, and they do it at a high level.”

Crowder remains bullish on the Celtics' chances, though.

“They’ve got a lot of pieces,” Crowder said, per Bulpett. “They’ve got a lot of pieces that have to gel together. That’s not going to happen overnight. It’s very do-able. I mean, the Celtics are a tough team. And when you’ve got Brad leading the way, I feel like anything is possible for them.”

Crowder isn't necessarily wrong about the hustle and grit, and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens did say after the Jazz loss his team needed to be tougher mentally. But the C's have been a very good defensive team this season. They lead the league in defensive rating and even over their recent stretch of five losses in the last eight games, they still rank seventh in defensive rating. 

It's going to take time for the Celtics to gel at both ends of the court, as Crowder noted. Adding two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the fold isn't easy, and the ripple effect their addition to the lineup has on the other players, most notably Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, also is an adjustment.

There's plenty of time for the C's fix the issues ailing them. They just need to avoid frustration and stick with the process. There's too much talent on the roster and coaching staff for Boston's fortunes not to turn around soon. 

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What to like, not like about the Celtics' loss to the Utah Jazz

What to like, not like about the Celtics' loss to the Utah Jazz

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics were in catch-up mode during most of their Saturday night home loss to the Utah Jazz. It was a game that dropped Boston to 9-7 overall and raised some serious concerns about where this team is now and more important, its direction going forward.

“We have to build a tougher team mindset than we have,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after Saturday’s loss. “I mean, we just don’t have that mindset yet that we need.”

While no one is panicking, there is a clear and undeniable heightened level of concern within the locker room.

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But with most defeats, there are a few silver linings to latch on to as well as areas in clear need of fixing.

So, about last night …

WHAT WE LIKED

BOARD IT UP: Rebounding continues to be a choose-your-own-adventure proposition for the Boston Celtics, showing signs of being dominant one night and dormant the next. Saturday night was one of the Celtics’ better nights when it came to rebounding the ball, winning the rebounding battle 51-45. It wasn’t like a late-game surge when the game was out of reach, either. Boston was either tied or led in rebounding after each quarter except the first. To do that against a Utah team that has been among the best rebounding clubs this season is a definite positive.

YABA, DABBA DO!: Guerschon Yabusele didn’t get on the floor until the game was out of reach, but Celtics fans – and the coaching staff – certainly had to like what they saw. In nine minutes, he had nine points and a couple rebounds as well as two steals. It was the kind of performance that, if we see Yabusele on the court more consistently in the coming days, we’ll come back to as being the jumping off point for his emergence as a contributor this season.

KYRIE IRVING: He didn’t torch the Utah Jazz like he did the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, scoring 20 points against the Jazz compared to 43 against the Raptors. But what Irving did that stood out was his shooting. He got his 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting, giving him a season-best three consecutive games in which he shot 50 percent or better from the field.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

COSTLY FREE THROWS: There’s a pretty long laundry list of things that did not go Boston’s way in Saturday’s loss, most of which the Celtics had control over. Of all those things, nothing stood out more than their struggles at the free throw line. For the game, Boston wound up shooting a season-low 55 percent from the line. That number would have been a lot worst if not for head coach Brad Stevens emptying the bench as the game seemingly got away from them in the latter stages of the third quarter and all of the fourth, which is when Boston’s reserves knocked down their free throws, which raised Boston’s free throw percentage to the above-.500 threshold.

LIVE AND DIE BY THE 3-BALL: Three-point shooting continues to be a feast or famine proposition for the Celtics this season. The Celtics connected on a season-low 15.2 percent (5-for-33) of their 3-pointers against the Jazz. Boston’s struggles weren’t just a starter or reserve-based issue, evident by Boston’s first unit connecting on just three of its 16 three-pointers taken, and the second unit (2-for-17) proving to be even worse.

IRVING ISLAND: For far too many stretches of play Saturday night, Irving looked very much like a man on an island surrounded by an ocean full of sharks donning Jazz jerseys. He scored 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting. And it’s not like Irving was not being a willing passer. He had a team-best 64 touches against the Jazz, passing the ball 45 times but only tallying just three assists in large part because teammates were missing open to lightly contested shots.

WHAT'S NEXT

Boston hits the road to face a 7-8 Charlotte team on Monday that has lost three of its last four games. The most recent loss was an overtime defeat to Philadelphia in which Kemba Walker scored a career-high 60 points. As we’ve seen repeatedly this season, opposing team’s best scorers have seemingly had a field day knocking down shots against the Celtics. And like Boston, the Hornets will also look to make their mark from long range as they come into Monday's game averaging 12.2 made 3’s per game which ranks 5th in the NBA.

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Brad Stevens: Celtics need 'tougher mental mindset'

Brad Stevens: Celtics need 'tougher mental mindset'

BOSTON – This Boston Celtics team was built to compete for a title in large part because of the talent that Danny Ainge and company assembled.

We’re 16 games into the season, and it’s not the talent that’s in question – it’s the team’s mental toughness.

Saturday’s 98-86 loss to Utah, Boston’s second defeat at the hands of the Jazz this month, wasn’t about another team having a great night at both ends of the floor.

It wasn’t about a superstar player having a game for the ages.

The Utah Jazz, playing the second night of a back-to-back just like the Celtics, simply played a more physical game.

And when it mattered, it was their mental toughness that prevailed.

Following the loss, it’s clear that the team’s inability to sustain any level of mental toughness for a long stretch of time, was among the many things at the forefront of his thoughts.

“We have to build a tougher team mindset than we have,” Stevens said. “I mean, we just don’t have that mindset yet that we need.”

And that is a disturbing commentary when you consider that this team by and large, is the same team that Stevens had a year ago.

Actually, this group should be even better when you consider Kyrie Irving is in a much better state health-wise, and Gordon Hayward is continuing to inch closer to the All-Star player we knew prior to suffering a season-ending injury in the season-opener last year.

Despite the rise in overall talent, Boston (9-7) finds itself just two games over-.500 when so many anticipated they would run away with the Eastern Conference now that LeBron James has taken his talents to La-La land.

“We have to find ways to be good every night,” said Boston’s Gordon Hayward. “I felt like, we found a way to win (Friday) night (versus Toronto). It was an emotional win for us. Great teams bring it the next night. So, we have to be better.”

The concerns about mental toughness for this team manifest themselves, at least they did on Saturday, in how they handled a slew of missed shots that were open as well as contested looks.

Heads began to slump, eyes began to roll and for no significant period of time were they able to put their shooting troubles aside and do what you’re supposed to do in those situations – keep playing rather than sulk.

Boston shot below 40 percent from the field in every quarter except for the second as they connected on just 38.5 percent of their shots for the game.

Making a bad game even worse for Boston, was that their best scorer Kyrie Irving was in major foul trouble. He picked up his fifth personal foul in the third quarter at the 5:12 mark.

He returned in the fourth quarter and wound up leading the Celtics with 20 points, but that wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the struggles of just about every other Boston scorer which is evident by the team’s No. 2 scorer for Saturday being Jayson Tatum who had just 10 points.

Regardless of whether you buy the mental toughness as an issue theory, one thing is abundantly clear with this Celtics team.

The things that they do well, are not being done consistently enough or with the kind of focus and fight that championship-caliber teams display.

And with those struggles have come what appears to be a gradual erosion of the team’s overall confidence.

“Maybe there’s something there, with that,” Stevens said. “I think there’s a lot of things that it could be, but at the end of the day, you know, you build confidence through doing hard things over and over and over, because that’s your focus. That’s your intent. Your job is your focus. You know what you’re supposed to do.

Stevens added, “you perform every assignment, you do it physically, you do it tough, and then all of a sudden, the ball goes in. It’s just kind of funny how it works. The game honors it.”

The bright spot: If there's a coach equipped to get the Celtics back on track, it's Stevens. Just ask his former player, Jazz forward Jae Crowder.

"Whatever they’re lacking, they can build as the season goes on," Crowder said Saturday night. "They just have to believe it, and believe in Brad. He’s able to bring that out of guys."

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