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Celtics flop vs. undermanned Lakers marks only true brand of unacceptable loss

Failing to execute is frustrating, but pallatable. Failing to try is unacceptable.

Boston Celtics vs LA Lakers Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

When the Boston Celtics got blown out by the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Against the Bucks, they were fighting on both ends, but Milwaukee was hot, and they couldn’t hit the side of a barn. Against the Clippers, their shots weren’t falling, and after a half of impressive defense against a top offensive team, they got worn down.

Those losses happen. Even to the best teams in the NBA.

In their ugly win over the New Orleans Pelicans, their poor start was a result of bad execution, not a lack of trying. They were slipping in their defensive coverages and allowed the Pelicans to get too much space. They recovered and got the win.

Those games also happen.

What happened against the LeBron James-less, Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night cannot happen. It does happen, but it can’t.

“We didn’t play as hard as they did. They played inspired,” Joe Mazzulla said. “There were 70 minutes and 35 shots available for multiple guys, and guys on the Lakers team took advantage of it. And we just didn’t play as hard as they did.”

From the opening tip, it was clear that the Celtics didn’t come to play. They were getting outworked, outhustled, and outclassed in every aspect of the game by guys who were eager to prove themselves.

Mazzulla has spent the past week preaching the importance of avoiding entitlement, and that’s exactly what the Celtics displayed against the Lakers.

Los Angeles was walking by the Celtics on offense, getting to the rim without any pressure, and grabbing offensive rebounds as if Boston was handing out free samples at Costco.

The Celtics didn’t fail to execute their gameplan, and the Lakers didn’t play an up-tempo, motion offense like the Indiana Pacers did on Tuesday. Boston just didn’t try hard enough. And therein lies the issue.

“Very frustrating. Tonight was a rough night [that] we take full responsibility for,” said Brown. “And it started with that first group. We weren’t very good tonight. We came out lackadaisical, and it’s the NBA. You come out with that mentality, you can lose. And that’s what we did. We lost.”

No team has ever won all 82 games. Losses are inevitable. Heck, blowout losses are inevitable. The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors lost nine games, and four of them were by 15 or more.

But for a team like the Celtics, it’s not about the stat in either column of the standings. It’s about what led to it.

Boston Celtics vs LA Lakers Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets loss was frustrating because the Celtics failed to execute their offense effectively in the final five minutes.

The Indiana Pacers loss was frustrating because the Celtics failed to slow down Indiana’s high-powered offense when Tyrese Haliburton was sidelined for the second half.

The Oklahoma City Thunder loss was frustrating because the Celtics’ slow start hindered their ability to finish the job when it mattered.

This loss was frustrating because it looked like the Celtics weren’t taking the game seriously.

“Just a bad week at work,” Jayson Tatum said. “Everybody got a job. Nobody has great days every day. And we’re no different. This is our job. We would love to be perfect. We would love to win every game and make every shot but that’s just not the case. But we got to be better and look ourselves in the mirror, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Turnover after turnover, missed rebound after missed rebound, Boston let the undermanned Lakers run them off their home floor. They were getting any shot they wanted, roaming freely behind the three-point line.

Yet, as has been the case all season, the Celtics refused to get bogged down by individual wins and losses.

“Disappointing? I mean, I’m pissed, but like, what are you going to do about it?” Mazzulla said. “Like I said the other night, if we hang on to this one, then we won’t be ready for practice on Saturday. We won’t be ready for Memphis.

“And so, yeah, I’m pissed. But, like, it’s about what you do. So, when you’re pissed about it, I’m not going to sit there and continue to, like, think you’re just going to figure out how to continue to work.”

This loss was different from all the others. It was a matter of effort rather than execution, and despite the unavoidable slog of January, Boston’s effort is the one thing that can never wane.

If the concern level for the Celtics was at a two before, then it’s a four now. The meter doubled due to their inexplicable laziness against the Lakers, but it’s still tame. Boston is still 37-12, and they still hold a 4.5-game lead over the second-place Bucks, but if there were any game that needed to be used as a learning experience, it’s this one.

“I’m not concerned by it. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not concerned by it,” Mazzulla said. “I think it’s unacceptable. Doesn’t mean that I’m concerned. We’ll work through it.”

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