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Forget the 20-game rule, this team is bad

More of the same from last season means no grace period for the Boston Celtics.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve long been a proponent of holding off judgment of a team until 20 games into the season. There is usually not enough data to overcome small sample size discrepancies.

Well, forget all that. Light that 20-game rule on fire because this team stinks.

I don’t say this lightly, being a card carrying member of the Pollyanna Silver Linings Fan Club. But we have more than an ample supply of data when you factor in last season. The same issues that plagued the team all year long are back again. As much as we wanted to blame COVID and injuries and the schedule, at some point, you are what your record says you are.

Inconsistent effort shouldn’t be a thing seven games into the season. Finishing games poorly and falling into poor habits aren’t traits of a solid basketball team. Losing three straight games (including 2 straight to the same team) is a sign of bad things happening.

Last year, the Celtics were a .500 team. This year they’re 2-5 with a lot of quality opponents coming up. The next team on the dance card is the rebuilding Orlando Magic and against all logic and common sense, I could very well see this Celtics team not taking their opponent seriously. That’s the team’s identity right now.

The core group of players is the same as last year. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and both Williams’ with a sprinkling of Payton Pritchard and Jabari Parker. Adding veterans like Al Horford, Dennis Schroder, and Josh Richardson hasn’t solved anything. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this team is wasting some inspired performances from Horford, who has looked fantastic for the most part.

If you had told me in preseason that Tatum and Brown would be averaging over 25 points per game, Horford and Rob Williams are contributing, and Grant Williams is having a solid bounce-back season, I’d have been pretty happy with that. But context is everything and everyone has struggled to right this ship.

This team has the personnel to be a good (if not great) defensive team. Instead, they are one of the worst. Some of that falls on Ime Udoka’s system implementation (are we done with the extended preseason yet?). Most of that falls on effort and focus.

Nobody is excused here. Tatum has looked brilliant at times, and selfish, whiney, and disinterested at other times. Brown is only good every other game. Marcus Smart is himself, but even more so somehow. The guy with the least to hang his head about (Al Horford) was the one trying to take all the blame last night. No wonder team captains haven’t been named — there’s nobody at the tiller of this ship.

Is this all an emotional response to a bad stretch? Sure. Is there a chance that this team can turn things around and make all of this just a bad memory? Yup. The talent and potential that I saw in preseason is all still there and there’s a lot of games left in this season. It is more important to finish strong than to start strong.

Here’s the thing though. I don’t trust this team to turn things around. After last season, they don’t deserve the benefit of doubt. This is a bad team until they prove to us that they aren’t. In fact, I might need a 20-game sample size (of playing really well) before I’m willing to change my mind.