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Celtics’ failure against Hornets signals ugly trend of old habits: ‘We don’t want to become that’

Boston’s talent is clear, but so is their inability to get out of their own way.

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Boston Celtics v Charlotte Hornets Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images

For three games in a row, the Boston Celtics have fallen into old habits. The same old habits that plagued them throughout the 2023 playoffs. The same old habits that prevented them from winning the 2022 NBA Finals. The same old habits that have followed them throughout the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown era.

Against the Toronto Raptors, a 16-point lead turned into a one-possession win. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, a 10-point lead was whittled down the same. And against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night, it was an 18-point lead that met the same fate.

“It’s the first time we blew a lead, and we have to go back and understand why we did it,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “And it comes from taking plays off and not finishing possessions.”

Boston’s loss to Charlotte was the first time they blew a lead and lost. But it was not the first time they blew a lead. The Celtics have been making life hard on themselves as of late in the same way they have in years past.

The Hornets snagged 17 offensive rebounds on a night where the Celtics turned the ball over 13 times. And when the game came down to a final few possessions, Boston choked while Charlotte made clutch plays.

Jrue Holiday’s missed free throws were matched by a strong LaMelo Ball drive to the hoop. Jaylen Brown’s contested jumpers were met with a Gordon Hayward cut behind an unaware Jayson Tatum. A pair of missed Tatum layups were checked by a big-time three with seven seconds left in overtime.

“We are talented, and because of that sometimes you can win games just based off of that. We don’t want to become that,” said Kristaps Porzingis. “We want to be a team that shows up and plays the same way no matter who we’re playing against.”

Through the first 11 games of the season, the Celtics were riding on talent, but there was a formula brewing. Post-ups mixed in with their three-point-heavy offense, a scramble defense emphasized by a lethal full-court press, and a blossoming two-man game forming between Brown and Porzingis. They went through stretches where they won on talent alone, but they were successfully working toward an identity.

All of that went out the window in the past three games.

The same post-ups they were going to were replaced by dribble-heavy isolations. Their scramble-first defense got too scrambled, and it led to missed rotations and ball-watching on rebounds. Two-man games were subbed out for hero-ball.

Cold spells happen throughout the course of a season. Every team goes through them. But this has been more than that. It’s been a trend. And a familiar one, at that.

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