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Lack of effort plagues Celtics in loss to Pacers

Lethargic Celtics have lots of time to turn it around, so don’t fret.

Indiana Pacers (117) Vs. Boston Celtics (112) At TD Garden Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It’s normal for effort level to wax and wane throughout an NBA season. The 82-game slate is extremely difficult to physically and mentally endure, so it’s semi-unrealistic to expect players to bring max intensity and energy every time they step on the floor. It’s also normal for a team’s poor shooting to impact their ability to defend and rebound with aggression.

What isn’t normal is for a team who has lost 4 of their last 5 games to come into a game looking more lethargic than they’ve looked all season. If, ever, there was a time for the Celtics to bring a high effort level to a regular season game, it was Wednesday night’s matchup against the Pacers. But, they did nothing of the sort in the first half, and even their nice second half push wasn’t enough to overcome their atrocious first two quarters.

Slow to react

The film session reviewing Wednesday’s loss – especially the first half – is not going to be pretty. Some of the defensive/rebounding breakdowns are simply inexcusable for a team of the Celtics’ caliber.

On this play, Tatum and White are both slow to react to the Nesmith rebound. Tatum gets caught hanging out in the corner when he should instead be either getting back on defense or crashing the glass. Just a complete mental lapse – he’s in no man’s land. And White… well, White just doesn’t sprint as hard as he can or should to get back into the play. It’s as simple as that.

Here, Tatum and Brogdon both forget that once their team misses the shot, the other team is going to rebound the ball and try to push it down the other end. Especially against the Pacers, who like to get out and run on missed shots (they have the 6th highest pace in the NBA), this sort of lazy transition defense is not going to cut it.

On this play, White, Tatum and Brown show zero desire to put a body on Hield, even though he’s in very solid rebounding position. Long shots equal long rebounds, but Boston’s star duo plus White fail to recognize that, as they think their athleticism is enough to secure the board. It’s not and it rarely will be, especially against better teams.

This play is essentially a microcosm of Wednesday’s whooping. After Horford gets out-worked and out-jumped by Jalen Smith, Hauser, White and Brown are literally standing flat footed outside the paint while multiple Pacers players cut to the rim. Someone should tag both McConnell and Nesmith slashing to the rim, but nobody does and it results in arguably the most upsetting possession of the game. You just have to play with more effort and intensity than that.

Why I’m not that nervous

Yes, I know… it was ugly last night. I’m not trying to erase your memory or tell you that the effort level actually wasn’t that bad – that would be out of touch and flat-out false. However, I do think we’ll be more than okay when it’s all said and done.

Although frustrating, it’s understandable for a team to lack their normal level of energy when they’re missing shots. The Celtics are shooting just 29.1% from three in their last 6 games, and that impacts how willing they are to sit down in a defensive stance and guard. You can say that it shouldn’t – and I would mostly agree – but it’s simply human nature; teams and players are always more locked into the game, more communicative, and more aggressive when they’re making shots on the offensive end. And, when the Celtics get out of this shooting slump (which they will, I promise), their effort level is bound to improve, too.

The C’s have, as JJ Redick likes to call them, points of reference; they have moments throughout their first couple months of the season that showcase what they can look like when maximum effort level and intensity are given. They also have moments, obviously, where they are hitting shots (lots of them, by the way), so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to return to that form. They can use these points of reference to remember what they are capable of playing like. Quite frankly, though, it doesn’t really matter how the Celtics look right now. It matters, instead, how they look come playoff time.

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