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Celtics Try to Right the Ship

December 23, 2018
Boston's Kyrie Irving shoots as Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo defends during Friday night's game in Boston. AP PHOTO Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Mark Murphy

Boston Herald

BOSTON -- Sometimes a team meeting is called after the ship has hit the ocean floor.

The Boston Celtics can feel good about that much after a horrible loss to Milwaukee on Friday night, and their ensuing/inevitable team meeting. They’re merely taking on water with this latest three-game losing streak. Charlotte is on the menu Sunday, followed by a Christmas showcase against their closest rival, Philadelphia.

Charlotte and Kemba Walker already have pasted the Celtics once this season. When last heard from on opening night, the Sixers’ Joel Embiid lamented that his team can’t seem to beat the Celts. But Embiid must like what he sees now that the Green’s eight-game winning streak is ancient history.

The difference between the two streaks -- save for the Celtics’ sudden big man injury crisis -- involves quality of opposition. Beyond New Orleans (twice) and Minnesota, the Celts beat up on NBA flotsam during the eight-game run. But they’re facing quality again, with Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix technically in that category considering how well the young Suns are playing.

And so the Celtics are back to navel-gazing, attempting to unravel what’s gone wrong. Brad Stevens said earlier this season his team had multiple issues, and a few new items have been added with Al Horford’s alarming absence because of recurring kneecap tendinitis and Aron Baynes’ broken hand. Horford has been upgraded to probable for Sunday’s game after missing the past seven.

The Celtics have been out-rebounded by 38 combined boards in the past two games, and they have allowed 32 offensive rebounds in the same stretch.

And then there’s the familiar issues, like discouraged play once shots stop dropping, players attempting to win games on their own, Gordon Hayward’s predictable inconsistency while coming back from injury, Terry Rozier’s reduced effectiveness off the bench (6-for-24 with six rebounds and eight assists during the losing streak), and a general sense that Kyrie Irving still has to do too much to help this team win.

There’s also a flourishing internet campaign to give rookie Robert Williams more playing time -- certainly more than the eight minutes he played against the Bucks -- and this might be an interesting short-term solution.

So there must have been a lot in that Friday night “discussion,” as Marcus Morris called it. Marcus Smart’s big complaint earlier in the season -- a lack of overall toughness -- was once again in the air.

“We just have to play harder,” Jayson Tatum said. “The last three games I don’t think we played as hard as we did the previous eight when we were winning. Playing hard usually translates to winning, so we just have to do that.

“I wish I could (say why),” he said. “It’s a long season, sometimes you play well, sometimes you don’t. We’re all humans in here, nobody’s perfect. But we try our best.”

Irving, who talked once again of sacrificing personal offensive glory for the betterment of the team, admits that many on the roster are once again catering to their more selfish instincts.

“At this point it comes down to cohesion, being able to trust the pass, trust what we have going on out there,” he said. “Obviously some selfish play out there where we have some really talented guys, but we’re better as a team sharing the basketball, and if it’s late in the shot clock, that’s when we start shooting our iso plays, as opposed to if we have nothing in transition shooting with 16 or 17 on the clock, or shooting a fadeaway, something like that.

“I get caught up in that as well. For me it’s a hard challenge because there’s a balance I have. I literally can do anything I want out there, but at the same time, it’s what can I do for my teammates to be more successful. I have to be very conscious of that.”

Asked if he was surprised by the team’s return to their issues from earlier in the season, Tatum said, “I don’t know if we’re there again, but we’re definitely not where we want to be. And that’s to be expected. We’ve got 49 games left. We don’t want to be as good right now. Save it ’til later on in the year.”

Tatum intended this as a joke, but right now, it also sounds like the truth.

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