That crashing sound you hear is the Celtics falling off their perch atop the NBA standings. They’ve lost 6 of their last 11 games and are no longer leading the league in winning percentage (even slipping briefly behind the Raptors in the East), defensive rating, or any of the other fun metrics that fans have been gleefully quoting all year.
Much has been said and written about the source of their struggles. A lot can probably be blamed on the heavily loaded December schedule (allowing for time to travel to and from London next month). That’s probably fair considering that they’ve played 5 more games than the Raptors. So there’s a chance that things will even out in the second half of the season.
The other possibility is a little more straightforward. The Celtics were most likely playing above their heads during the 16 game winning streak and the law of averages is catching up to them. They probably aren’t as bad as their recent struggles would indicate and the reality is somewhere in that grey area in the middle.
This is pretty much how a team missing an All Star and playing 5 rookies in their rotation should be playing. Some of the major drivers that fueled the winning streak (specifically defense and rebounding) are either slipping or nearly abandoned. Determining how much of that is effort and how much is fatigue or injury is hard to say. Was the unexpected rebounding early in the season just a mirage or will it come back when they have time to rest their weary legs?
I don’t think that things are so bad that they’ll hover at .500 for the rest of the year. This group can get back to playing at a high level if they can rest and focus. With longer breaks, more time to prepare, a little more health luck, and perhaps a minor trade or signing, they should be able to finish strong. Which is exactly the sort of thing that Brad Stevens led teams do each year.
Jayson Tatum in particular is just going to keep getting better by increasing his usage (even if it means his efficiency takes a slight dip). They’ll need more consistent contributions from young-ish players like Jaylen Brown (currently out for tonight’s game), Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier. Each seems to be better than they’ve played lately.
Most importantly, the entire squad needs to maintain focus and energy throughout the game. That’s not easy when you have so many games crammed together but it is still the task before them.
If you ask Kyrie Irving about it, he’ll give you one repeating message. “Everything will be fine.” (via the Herald)
“Obviously, there are some things that we can control out there that we need to become better at — offensive rebounding, making sure that we’re sticking to the game plan, and that right there falls on the responsibility of all of us. As one of the leaders on this team, I’ll continue to demand it, and I know Brad (Stevens, the C’s coach) will be continue to do that as well. It hasn’t been one of the best stretches for us, but we have a resilient group. That right there is enough for us to continue to go on and make progress in the right direction of what we want to become. We’re all still developing our relationships and our roles.
“Obviously, when we won 16 in a row, it was all great, and then now, we have all this going on, it’s part of the game. You can’t change your approach or anything about the way you approach it, and everything will be fine.”
Next game is tonight. Hopefully everything will go... fine.