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Jayson Tatum on the Celtics’ struggles against the Lakers: “Just a bad week at work.”

Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics stars expressed their disappointment with a loss to the undermanned Lakers, but also noted that stretches of bad basketball happen. 

Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

After Anthony Davis and Lebron James were announced out with injury, the Celtics seemed poised to deliver another easy win in front of their home crowd in a nationally-televised game.

But, for those who are intimately familiar with how the NBA plays out — such as the players themselves — it was quite clear that an easy win was not inevitable.

“Me and Jrue (Holiday) pregame looked at each other like, ‘Phew, it’s going to be a tough one’,’’ Kristaps Porzingis said after the 114-105 loss to the Lakers. “We know these kinds of games are tough. It can go smooth at the beginning for a team like us. But it can be a tough night, and tonight was one of those nights that was a tough night.”

It’s a long-standing NBA phenomenon: when star players sit out, the rest of the team becomes empowered. Number three options, like Austin Reaves, get the opportunity to become primary scorers; last night, Reaves, who averaged 15.5 points per game, exploded for 32 points on 10-18 shooting. And guys who haven’t been in the rotation, like Jaxson Hayes, finally get a chance to shine. Hayes finished with a 16 point (6-8 FG), 10 rebound double-double.

And D’Angelo Russell, who has been dealing with trade rumors and was relegated to the bench earlier this season, put together one of his most well-rounded performances of the season: 16 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Celtics came out of the game lackadaisical, turning the ball over 10 times in the opening period, missing defensive assignments, and playing poor transition defense. In turn, the Lakers, one of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams, hit 19-36 three-pointers. The Celtics fell behind by 14 at the half, and while they made a couple of pushes, they were never able to take a second-half lead.

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

Joe Mazzulla has made clear on multiple occasions this week that he wants this team to embrace the struggle, that poor performances happen. He’s also made clear he won’t tear apart players to the media – you can like that approach, or you can hate it, but it’s one he hasn’t wavered from in his one-and-a-half years as head coach.

“Stretches of bad basketball happen,” Mazzulla said. “You work your butt off every day to minimize those but stretches of bad basketball and you can’t sit here and act like we’re too entitled for it to happen to us. It happens.”

Porzingis spoke on how teams often over perform in the absence of their top performers: “This is the NBA. This is almost like a script,” Porzingis said. “You’re going to lose this type of game and fans are going to think it’s the end of the world, and we lost to the Lakers without AD and LeBron, like, end of the season. Boom. Done.”

It’s certainly not the end of the season – the Celtics (37-12) remain the best team in the league. Despite losing three of their last five at home, they also maintain the best home record (22-3). That doesn’t mean they’ve been playing their best basketball; in their least 10 games, Boston has the league’ 14th-best offense, and after being undefeated at home for most of the season, they’re 2-2 so far in this seven-game homestand.

But it also doesn’t mean that the sky is falling. Last year, the Nuggets – who went on to win the NBA championship – went 7-9 in their last 16 games. In 2022, the Warriors lost 12 of 17 games in a tough post-All Star break stretch.

Every contender has bad losses, bad stretches are inevitable. The key is how this Celtics team responds.

“I’m not happy about it but I’m not concerned by it,” Mazzulla said. “I think it’s unacceptable. But it doesn’t mean that I’m concerned. It’s unacceptable but it’s a matter of holding guys accountable and working through it.”

Mazzulla was asked whether he would tell players that they should feel embarrassed after such a letdown performance.

“We’re playing poor stretches of basketball, we’re not playing well and we sucked tonight,” Mazzulla said. “There’s a difference between saying we sucked at something between like ‘you should be embarrassed.’ I think that’s very harsh.”

Porzingis, while undoubtedly disappointed in the loss, noted that losses can also be uniquely valuable.

​​”This quote always works for me, ‘You win or you learn,’” Porzingis said. “You learn more from your losses, 100 percent. If you win, a lot of times it covers some of the stuff.”

Mazzulla just wants to look forward: first, to a productive practice on Saturday, and then to Sunday’s game against the Grizzlies.

“To think we’re not going to go through difficult times during an 82-game NBA season is not the right way to look at it,” Mazzulla said. “So am I pissed about losing? Yes. But am I ecstatic about the opportunity for us to grow as a team? I’m even happier about that.”

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