The Celtics haven’t lived up to their preseason hype and a 118-95 loss to the Raptors, their worst of the season, brought locker room issues to light once again.
“We just need to play harder,” Celtics forward Marcus Morris told reporters after Tuesday’s loss. “We got too much talent on this team to not be able to respond when we get down like that. We’ve still got a long season to go, it’s not the playoffs yet.”
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“For whatever reason we’re not fighting, continuing to fight at that level like we’ve done in the past,” Celtics center Al Horford observed to The Boston Globe. In a recent interview with Stadium, Horford admitted that distractions have a way of sneaking into the locker room.
“You really try not to talk about it too much, but it’s there,” he said.
While speaking with reporters following the loss to Toronto, Celtics guard Marcus Smart said the team was “just not together,” while Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens said his squad “took shortcuts” in their disappointing performance.
A tough one for us here in Toronto but now it’s onto the next one. pic.twitter.com/6I1Yg2lK0x
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 27, 2019
Mercurial point guard Kyrie Irving was asked about those comments during Tuesday’s postgame media scrum.
Irving addressed Stevens’ remark by responding, “I don’t know, that’s up to Brad.” When asked about Smart’s comment, Irving said, “That’s Marcus’ opinion. (I) respect it.”
With widespread speculation on Irving’s free agency and his back-and-forth comments regarding his decision-making process, it’s not hard to see that drama seeping into the locker room.
According to Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania, the public comments only scratch the surface of Boston’s chemistry issues.
The Celtics have held player-only meetings and have challenged each other behind the scenes, according to Charania. Charania says that there have even been verbal confrontations between Irving and some of his teammates, like Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown.
But for all their issues off the court, the Celtics have largely taken care of business on it.
They are 37-24 through 61 games and aren’t in any real danger of missing the playoffs, and despite this season’s drama, the advanced numbers don’t show a massive statistical drop-off from last season’s 55-win campaign.
|Season Splits (via NBA.com)||Offensive Rating||Offensive Rating Rank||Defensive Rating||Defensive Rating Rank||Pace|
Even Boston’s individual players have largely produced at the same level as last season.
|Player Differential From 2017-18 to 2018-19 (via NBA.com)||Kyrie Irving||Jayson Tatum||Jaylen Brown|
|Points Per Game||-0.9||+2.4||-1.8|
Tatum has shown improvement on a per possession basis while Brown has slightly regressed due to his role change. As for Irving, he’s remained a superstar offensively.
Stats like those prove that Boston is capable of limping through the regular season, but the true danger lies in the postseason.
The Celtics, who are currently slotted as the fifth seed, have a tough path ahead if they want home court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.
Here’s Boston’s splits at home and on the road this year.
|2018-19 Season Splits||W-L||Points Per Game||Opponent’s Points Per Game|
The Celtics went 7-3 against Eastern Conference contenders in the first half of the season, but six of those wins came at home. Boston is now 7-5 against those contenders after Tuesday’s loss to Toronto, and both of its losses after the All-Star break came against contenders (Milwaukee and Toronto) on the road.
Boston has also been terrible against Western Conference teams this season, going just 10-11 against teams from the West as opposed to their 27-13 mark against the East.
The Celtics face a four-game Western Conference road trip starting March 5 against the Warriors, and the results of that trek will reveal whether or not Boston has grown as a team.
In order to achieve that growth, a true leader will have to emerge — a role that Irving previously shared his thoughts on during a recent interview with Stadium.
“Leadership is very lonely at times because the amount of pressure,” revealed Irving. “When you’re identified as that leader, sometimes you want it, sometimes you don’t.”
And with less than two months left in the regular season, Boston desperately needs that leader — whether it’s someone like Irving or Stevens — to appear.
Because while the Celtics will make the playoffs, they only have 21 games to prove that their locker room dysfunction won’t lead to a postseason implosion.
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