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Gary Washburn | On Basketball

Celtics must hold each other accountable to stave off lethargic lapses

Jayson Tatum (right) drives against the Spurs' Keita Bates-Diop during the second half of the Celtics' loss to San Antonio Friday night.Darren Abate/Associated Press

TORONTO — The question is whether the Celtics are really ready, really prepared to be that type of team that holds each other accountable.

Because that’s what it’s going to take to become more consistent, more reliable as a team. Friday’s loss at San Antonio was just the latest example of how unpredictable and flaky this Celtics team can be.

They trailed by 26 early in the second quarter, made a stirring rally to lead by 7 with three minutes left and then were outscored, 15-0, to end the game. The Celtics played the roles of three different teams Friday: uninterested and apathetic in the first quarter, Eastern Conference contender and defensive stalwart for about two quarters, and then cavalier in the final three minutes.

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Coach Ime Udoka honestly has no clue which of his teams will show up on a nightly basis and it’s beyond frustrating because this team promised in training camp it wouldn’t waste games as it did last season. Of the team’s 10 losses, six could be classified as wastes, with Friday’s perhaps the most demoralizing performance.

Celtics forward Grant Williams, outspoken and full of fire, called out himself and his teammates for their lackadaisical style. The Celtics missed 21 of their first 25 shots, again allowing an opponent to outplay them in every aspect before finally deciding to give maximum effort once they tasted their own blood.

“The biggest thing is understanding what it takes to win every single night, that intensity, that passion, that effort,” Williams said. “You have to put your foot on their throats and at times you don’t see that. From the start of the game, the start of the tipoff, we have to come out with more intensity, more of that oomph and that will set us moving forward and that’s something as a team we have to challenge ourselves to do.

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“We’re young and all these excuses over the past three years that I’ve been here and we’re trying to be better than that, trying to be more than that. That’s our next step is becoming that team where every single night you’re going to get their best and you have to beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves.”

But how will the players react to being called out, even privately, when they are going through the motions early? It’s unacceptable for the Celtics, with aspirations of a deep playoff run, to trail a 4-13 team by 26 points early in the second period. The Spurs entered Friday having lost six consecutive games by an average of 17 points. But suddenly they find magic and look like the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili teams? The common denominator is the Celtics. They refused to put an imprint on the game until they were being humiliated. It should never have to reach that point.

“It’s a collective; we have to hold each other to that standard,” Williams said. “Each one of us, when you see a person that may not be locked in that night or may not be playing with that intensity, you call them out on it. That’s the next step is understanding nothing on the court is personal. We’re here to be the best team we can be, the best team. It takes all of us. It’s not one person and it’s never going to be one person. It’s going to be the collective and that’s a step we have to take together.

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“We have to hold each other accountable and that’s what a team does. That’s what the best teams do. No matter when you look back over the course of years, you see that vocal presence, you see them getting on one another and that stays on the court. That’s something we have to be better at from the start of games.”

Perhaps an encouraging sign with the team’s leadership is Jayson Tatum, who has been accused of playing isolation ball or being offensively selfish, said he understands the fate of the team — and the blame — rests on his shoulders.

“It’s frustrating. It’s tough, being in my position, you’ve got to take it on the chin,” he said. “A lot of people look to [me] for I guess why certain things happen and we’re going through a little adversity right now, losing two in a row. I’m fine with that. I’m fine with being the reason or the blame guy. It doesn’t bother me at all. I understand it’s a long season but we’re going to figure it out. I’m certain of it. I know we have a lot of guys in there who are going to compete, that’s going to fight.”

The Celtics have said all of these things before. During last year’s tumultuous season, they fully understood their weaknesses and mental lapses. They promised to correct them but it never happened.

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This year, Udoka and a revamped roster were supposed to eliminate those issues, but they are still here. And it’s going to take the players holding each other accountable, perhaps not as strongly as Marcus Smart to make national headlines, but constructive criticism that can curtail these lethargic stretches that are costing the Celtics valuable games.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.