After a blowout loss to the worst team in the Eastern Conference, Brad Stevens had very little good to say about his team. There was one silver lining.
“What we take from this game is we clip up how that group that came in at the end and played together and pressured the ball and were communicative,” Stevens said. “If our team can play more like those last five minutes, we can be as good as we can be. If not, we’ll be average.”
In a 104-91 loss to the Washington Wizards, Stevens only commented positively on garbage time minutes that featured two two-way players, two sophomores, and a rookie.
“Positives? It ain’t many positives (right now), I’m gonna be honest. We just are not good right now,” Kemba Walker said. “But it’s very controllable.”
There were a few, including Walker himself. After a three-game stretch where he shot 11-of-44 from the field, Kemba bounced back with 25 points in Washington on 9-of-18 shooting. For the first time in a week, he had his entire repertoire going: the three-point shot, his pull up mid-range game, and rim attacks. “He played with some heart in a lot of situations tonight and was the loudest voice on the team all afternoon,” Stevens said of his point guard.
Jaylen Brown was himself, too. After a hot start in December and January that made him a surefire candidate for the All-Star Game, knee tendonitis forced him to miss two games on the west coast and his shooting percentages dropped nearly ten points. In the Sunday matinee, he matched Kemba’s output with 25 points, aggressively attacking all three areas of the floor.
However, Brown recognizes that the team as a whole isn’t playing well. Boston has lost ten of their last fifteen games since Kemba Walker’s return. Some of that is playing the fewest home games of any team this season. Some of that is weathering a rash of short and long term injuries. But even with all things considered, this is a low point for the Celtics.
“It could be (rock bottom). It’s up to the mentality of everybody,” Brown said. “We come in everyday and prepare to work. If you let it be rock bottom mentality. that’s what it’s going to be. We come to play, to let it show, but today, we weren’t very good.”
The final three weeks before the All-Star break will serve as important proving grounds for the .500 Celtics with 9 out of ten games versus teams in the playoff hunt, including a matchup against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. That 10th game is a rematch against these very Wizards.
“I could care less what people think. That is not what this is about. This is about us getting better,” the always upbeat Walker said. “Every year is different. We have new guys, young guys, and that’s on us, myself, and the guys that’s been around. We got to change some things. We will.” Without practice time and a Marcus Smart return nowhere near, Boston has a long honey-do list after the weekend loss.
After giving up 114 points to the Wiz, the Celtics defense dropped to 10th in the league with a 110.0 defensive rating. That’s uncharacteristic for a Brad Stevens’ team and an obvious area of improvement.
“Ball movement” has been a buzzy term around the team after the team dished out 30 assists against the Raptors and followed that up with 15 against Detroit and 14 in D.C. When asked about the team’s passing, Brown took a long pause, stared blankly off camera, and replied, “no comment.”
Jayson Tatum had his worst game of the season, hitting just three of his fourteen shots for six points. That won’t happen again, especially in a duel against good friend Bradley Beal who effortlessly dropped 35.
“We know we aren’t playing the way we are capable of playing,” Walker said. “We need to fix it and soon.”