Brad Stevens said after Sunday’s loss to the Rockets, “This game was lost in the first thirty minutes of the game.” The Celtics put up a good fight down the stretch, but because of sloppy miscues in the first half they were clawing back from behind pretty much from the initial tip.
Boston started the game turning it over five times in the first five minutes of the game. There was no urgency or intensity from them in a prime time match up. It was just the same lazy basketball that has created so many problems for the Celtics this season. And with James Harden as your opponent, there is not much room for error to begin with.
At the end of the first quarter, the Celtics had six turnovers. The Rockets took advantage and scored ten points off those turnovers. It was the early help that the Rockets needed to take control. They are the type of team who you can not give multiple easy possessions to score. As the league has seen for the last two years, it is near impossible to stop Harden or Chris Paul going full court with a full head of steam toward the basket.
Marcus Morris tries to get fancy and his turnover turns into an easy layup for Harden with Al Horford having no defensive answer backpedaling from the top of the key. Morris should never let Harden pick his pocket dribbling that far away from the basket.
Because of these turnovers, the home crowd was completely wiped out with the Celtics once again starting from behind. The struggles have been on display for the team early on in games. The Celtics have struggled in the first quarter since coming back from the All-Star Game. In these six games, they are averaging 3.5 turnovers and are only outscoring teams by 1.3 points which is a decrease from their season mark of +2.8 in first quarters. This first quarter slump continued again, and the Rockets shot out to a 33-23 lead.
It is crucial for this team to start the game out fully focused and maintain that focus until the final buzzer. Tonight, like many other games, the Celtics were forced to fight with their back against the wall attempting a heroic comeback instead of maintaining a lead. They can get away with these mistakes in wins over teams like the Wizards on Friday night, but the Rockets are not the type of team to keep the door open.
It is more of the same here with Paul getting the loose ball and Eric Gordon scoring two more points off of a Celtic turnover. These sloppy plays pave the road for their problematic path while the losses add up. It is time they change the care-free attitude that seems to happen whenever they lose a game. Yes, the playoffs brings a new style of mindset to the players, but the bad habits will build up in these regular season games.
With about 20 games left, these early problems are what the Celtics need to fix. They have lost five of their last six, and the schedule does not get much easier any time soon. The Celtics hit the road and head west with games against Golden State and Sacramento next on the docket. Both are two teams that love to get out and run in space, so if the Celtics want to gift them turnovers, then both teams will be more than happy to take the ball and push in transition.
All in all, the performance in Sunday’s game could be seen as a microcosm of the recent struggles. The team continues to come out of the gate flat time and time again, and it puts them in the precarious position to have to come back from. Even as the Celtics did play great in that final quarter, they would not need a 20-point comeback if they came out with more urgency. There must be some sort of accountability. Brad Stevens, even if he says “it is the team’s least concern,” needs to look into solving this problem before the playoffs. Whether this involves Stevens changing the starting lineup or the players changing their regular season mindset, something has to be done before the playoffs. This team still has a great deal of talent on paper to make a deep playoff run, but if they cannot change these struggles, then it will be a season of disappointment for the Boston Celtics.