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Should any team fear the Celtics? The last two games have shown the answer is no

Jayson Tatum continued to struggle offensively, scoring 6 points on 3-of-14 shooting.
Jayson Tatum continued to struggle offensively, scoring 6 points on 3-of-14 shooting.Nick Wass/Associated Press

There are a plethora of excuses available for the Celtics here, but in today’s COVID-19 environment, no one is going to buy any reasons why they didn’t give maximum effort Sunday against the Washington Wizards, especially not the Wizards.

Washington has been decimated by COVID-19 protocols and is among the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, and all the Wizards needed to do was put together a brief flurry at the end of the first quarter to essentially put the game away in a disheartening 104-91 loss.

It’s not that the Celtics missed shots or that Jayson Tatum looked like he needed a vacation day, it was that at certain times players just didn’t compete or show effort. Tatum was one of the main culprits, shaking his head in disappointment after missing a shot and then being slow to cover a racing Rui Hachimura, who scored an easy layup on the other end.

The last two games, losses to the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference, are a prime example that downtrodden teams aren’t going to lay down, let alone fear the Celtics. They are an average team, a .500 record with 10 losses in the past 15 games.

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A team with a win against the Clippers in Los Angeles and the Warriors in San Francisco also lost to the Kings, Pistons and Wizards in that span. Sunday wasn’t about execution, it’s about a team that appears to be tuning out its coach and lacks cohesion.

Jaylen Brown, the mouthpiece of the team, has said, “I don’t have anything to say about that” or “no comment” a few times over the past few games. It seems he knows what the problem is, but he doesn’t want to air dirty laundry and cause even more issues.

Jaylen Brown goes to the basket during the first half of Sunday's loss to Washington.
Jaylen Brown goes to the basket during the first half of Sunday's loss to Washington.Nick Wass/Associated Press

“It could be (low point that we could build from), it’s up to the mentality of everybody,” Brown said. “How we come in every day, prepare to work. If you let it be a ‘rock bottom’ mentality then that’s what it’s going to be. You come to play, you need to show (up). (Sunday) we weren’t very good.”

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When asked if the team was tired mentally and physically, Brown said: “I don’t really have too much to say, we just wasn’t very good today.”

When asked about the team’s lack of ball movement the past two games, Brown said: “I have no comment.”

And then Brown, as he has in the past, expressed his confidence in the franchise: “I have faith in this organization and team, our coaching staff. We sucked. We haven’t played well over the last few stretch of games for whatever reason but I believe we can turn it around at any moment.”

Is this just hope or is there something concrete the Celtics can do? First there needs to be a more balanced effort. Brown and Kemba Walker combined for 50 points, while their teammates scored 41 points on 12-for-51 shooting.

Tatum scored a season-low 6 points in 23 foul-plagued minutes and just didn’t seem engaged, despite the fact his buddy Bradley Beal was scoring with ease. And he gave up on a handful of plays defensively because he was discouraged by his offense.

Jayson Tatum goes to the basket against Washington's Moritz Wagner in the first half of Sunday's game.
Jayson Tatum goes to the basket against Washington's Moritz Wagner in the first half of Sunday's game.Nick Wass/Associated Press

Secondly, the Celtics just aren’t playing smart basketball. Far too many fouls early in quarters, leading to the opposing team living in the bonus. In one stretch the Celtics made a run to cut it to 14 in the third quarter, and Grant Williams responded with two off-ball fouls that resulted in four free throws and the Celtics were done.

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What appeared to be an aberration Friday against the Pistons is now a problem, and the Celtics can’t look to the soft part of their schedule because this was the soft part of their schedule.

The Celtics have to figure out what kind of team to they want to be. Do they want to be a team that gives maximum effort every night, plays smart and takes it chances or do they want to complain about the schedule, fatigue, the officiating and injuries and lose as much as they win?

It’s really up to them.

“It’s us, as a whole, we have to be better,” Walker said. “We have to do a better job. Some very disappointing losses. We’re just not playing the way we’re capable of playing and that has to be fixed, and soon.

“We’ve got to change some things and we will. I’m very confident that we will change things and will continue to get better. It will change. It’s not a great feeling the way we’re playing. It can’t get no worse than this. We’re going to fix it, for sure … We just have to play harder. We’re not playing as hard as we know we can.”

That’s on Brad Stevens, who needs to make some lineup changes if he agrees with Walker that the Celtics aren’t giving a full effort at all times. The Celtics need to win on nights when Tatum and Brown aren’t dominant. They need to grind out games like Sunday and play tougher when shots aren’t going down instead of committing lazy fouls or going under screens on elite 3-point shooters like Beal.

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Tatum has to find more ways to contribute even when he is not scoring. And Stevens needs to figure out a consistent rotation. He played rookie Aaron Nesmith 28 minutes after he played a total of 15 minutes since Jan. 25. Stevens is grasping at straws and it’s going to take some soul searching over the next 48 hours to change the course of the season.

Because they’ve gotten nothing accomplished so far through the first 26 games.


Gary Washburn can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.