First, there was the team meeting.
Next, there were public disputes.
Then, things hadn’t been fun “for a long time.”
Now? It would seem that emotions are completely scattered.
The Boston Celtics have endured the ultimate rollercoaster of a season, one that began with the highest of expectations but has been trapped in a state of vexation. The peaks have been high, but the valleys extremely low.
And right now, Boston may be at their lowest.
The Celtics have lost four straight to the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers to open the second half of the 2018-19 season. They sit just fifth in the Eastern Conference. They have often looked disinterested or unavailable — their poor play compounded by a lack of communication and a frustration that has continued to build over the course of the season.
At times, the team has looked dominant, energetic and engaged – as many predicted they would be before the season – but, in what has seemed more and more like an inevitability, the wheels just fall off.
In a very uncharacteristic fashion, the Celtics have simply backed down when things get tough. Where they once would counter opponents with an unmatched toughness or determination to win, Boston now does little to put off other teams or sustain their own successes. Where they once put in the necessary hard work, they are now taking too many short cuts.
Even as they continue to watch their chief Eastern Conference competition ascend — even the Indiana Pacers sans-Victor Oladipo — the Celtics seem to lack urgency.
For obvious reasons, that can’t continue if the Celtics want to win it all. Boston is a talented team, but their recent play has shown that a reliance on talent alone isn’t enough. Something has to be done to rectify that reliance and get the Celtics back to who they have been in times this season and over the course of the past few years.
But what can the Celtics do?
Just as an early season swap galvanized the team after an unexpected 10-10 start, perhaps another lineup change is in order. Marcus Morris, after a more than superb start to the season, has predictably regressed to his norm, while Marcus Smart has fallen back into his poor shooting patterns. Meanwhile, as Terry Rozier has struggled mightily compared to his stellar playoff performance a season ago, the bench has struggled to score in Morris’ and Smart’s absence.
Head Coach Brad Stevens could also mix up what he does on the sideline. While he is more than content to let his team find their own way through the rough patches, maybe a quicker time out or a louder, less reserved tone could be of use as the Celtics look to navigate their issues on the court.
Or maybe, the Celtics need to get together and really clear the air. The problems the Celtics have faced have morphed throughout the season and, while previous team meetings may have addressed those issues then, it may be important for the players to start a dialogue over the problems they see, both individually and as a team.
Whatever they choose to do in the end, it is clear that something has to be done, and something major. Stevens, the coaching staff and the players need to get together and find a way to shake things up and get themselves to re-engage.
Is there time for a change like that to take hold? Certainly. After their unspectacular start, the Celtics ripped off eight straight wins immediately after they moved Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown to the bench. Now they have another 20 games to revamp, find out who they are, what they want to do and who they want to be before they make a go at the postseason. They face off against some of the best teams in the NBA — the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers litter their remaining schedule — and will have more than enough opportunities to show the NBA world what they can do. They are a deep, talented squad, one more than capable of flipping the proverbial switch in the season’s final stretch.
But is there even a switch to flip at this point? Many, after the lethargy and lack of energy the Celtics have played with as of late, would probably say no.
The mission from day one was clear: play at the highest level, compete for and, ultimately, win a championship. But now? The Celtics seem as unclear on that as anyone else. Right now, they are their own worst enemy; if they can clean things up, reconnect with one another and play the type of basketball many — and they themselves — know they are capable of, their regular season performance could be rendered moot.
But if they can’t? Expect some angry, if not disappointed, players in Boston, followed by some apprehension on what the future may hold.
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