On Sunday, the Boston Celtics dropped their second straight game to the Orlando Magic, falling 95-92 without Jayson Tatum in the lineup. Even without their superstar MVP candidate, the Celtics should have been able to handle the Magic, like good teams do. But for Boston, it was another miserable offensive performance, as the team notched their fourth loss in five games; if it weren’t for their overtime win against the Lakers, the Celtics would be riding a five-game losing streak.
Late in the game with less than 10 seconds left, the Celtics had possession and trailed 93-92. While making the pass inbounds, Grant Williams forced an errant pass to Marcus Smart, overthrowing it, and allowed the Magic to get the steal. Boston then intentionally fouled, Orlando hit their free throws, and with 5.3 seconds left, the Celtics failed to hit a shot to tie the game. It was a disaster-class of a final possession, and instead of having a chance to hit a game-winner, the Celtics sealed their fate with self-inflicted errors and poor decision-making.
A lot has changed for the Celtics in the last eight days. pic.twitter.com/z6FuEpvYm9— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 18, 2022
“We got to do a better job,” said Marcus Smart of their execution. “We were supposed to get the ball in to Al, Al was supposed to get it, and I came out. I was coming back to the screen...we can’t put ourselves in this situation.” While late game execution was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, the Celtics made it more difficult for themselves with horrid shooting from three, and compounded their slump with careless turnovers.
Over the past five games, the Celtics offense has fallen off a cliff, becoming a bottom-3 team in points per game (104.6 PPG), field goal percentage (41.6% FG), three-point percentage (28.6% 3P), and dead last in offensive rating (101.0). The most frustrating aspect is Boston ranked 9th in defensive rating for these games (109.5), something that the team has begun to turn around as of late. After such a hot start to the season, the Celtics offense is dragging their performance down.
“We are pressing, Smart said. “I think we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. Coming into the season, everybody’s expectations were so low...everything’s so high for a long period of time, I think we kind of expected to continue to play like that. It’s not gonna happen. You’re not going to shoot the way we’ve been shooting, playing the way we’ve been playing all the time. We’re gonna have games like this...we’ve just got to go and have fun and play. We definitely have been pressing these last couple of games, trying to be perfect, and understanding that we’re not perfect, and just go out there and play.”
Boston’s historically great offense was bound to have some regression — that’s just the law of averages. But the falloff has been jarring, and it’s something that Joe Mazzulla and the team will have to work through collectively in order to grow further. On what he’s been doing to help his teammates, Smart said, “just trying to constantly instill confidence in my guys, give them their flowers. For us, it’s hard enough. We’ve got everybody in the world telling you what you’re doing wrong. So the guys you go to work with every day, you don’t need them on the court telling you what you did wrong. I’m trying to praise them, let them know what they did right, to do more of it, including myself.”
Expectations for the Celtics were significantly lower at the start of the season due to Robert Williams missing time, losing Danilo Gallinari, and the entire fiasco with Ime Udoka. But now, the situation has changed dramarically, with Boston now firmly in the crosshairs of every team they play. With that kind of pressure surrounding this group, adversity was an inevitability; now, it’s time to see how this team responds, and whether or not hardship will galvanize them further.
“You see it on our faces. It’s not fun...we just got to get back to that, and relax and play, myself included,” said Smart. “I’ve been playing like butt these last couple of games. And I’ve gotta be better.”
The Celtics will have a chance to get right on Wednesday as they welcome the Pistons to town at 7:30 pm EST tipoff.