It’s not time to panic, but everything isn’t peachy, and other thoughts on the Celtics
The Celtics returned home Monday licking their wounds from a 1-4 road trip that was a Marcus Morris miss away from being 0-5. It’s not time to panic, but everything isn’t peachy, either. Here are some thoughts, stats, and observations after 10 nights on the road with the team.
■ After Sunday’s loss, Kyrie Irving made a comment that has since caused a social media explosion.
“Right now I think it would be nice if we had someone that was a 15-year vet, a 14-year vet that could kind of help us race along the regular season and understand it’s a long marathon rather than just a full-on sprint,” he said.
It was an interesting comment for several reasons. Yes, the Celtics are young, but they’re not that young. Al Horford is in his 12th season, Irving and Morris are in their eighth seasons, and Aron Baynes is in his seventh. Furthermore, the Celtics do not have any rookies in their regular rotation.
Maybe Irving was just rambling, or maybe this actually was a subtle plea to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. The Celtics do not have an open roster spot, but they are expected to eventually, whenever they are cleared to move on from Jabari Bird.
I posted Irving’s comment on Twitter, and 12-year vet Jared Dudley was among those who chimed in. “Every team needs a guy like this!” he posted.
■ Jaylen Brown continues to scuffle on offense. He did not make more than half of his shots in any of the 12 games he played in. Overall, Brown is shooting just 36.4 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
After scoring 17 points in the Celtics’ win over the Suns — the lone victory of the road trip — the impossibly athletic forward said he had been settling for too many jump shots.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive,” he said. “I’m taking too many threes and remembering what got me here. I can shoot the ball, but I can get to the basket whenever I want. Just having that mentality of being aggressive and everything else starts to fall into place.”
In the next game, though, Brown was 1 for 7 on 3-pointers in a loss to the Jazz. And even when he is getting to the rim, life has not been especially easy. According to basketball-reference.com, Brown has made just 21 of 50 layup attempts this season.
Brown has made it quite clear he’s not yet comfortable playing in the three-wing offense that also features Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward.
■ Brown is not the only player who is struggling to make shots, of course. Some other grisly 3-point percentages: Marcus Smart (25 percent), Horford (27.6), Hayward (31.9).
■ Under Brad Stevens, the Celtics have developed an identity as a gritty, chip-on-shoulder, relentless group. This is his most talented team, but perhaps that has taken away some of its bite. Consider this quote from Irving:
“We come out and clearly we outmatch teams at dang near every position. We have a lot of good players. And when I say outmatch I mean in terms of the groups we have out there we pretty much have a mismatch every time out there down the floor.”
Smart is one player who clearly continues to give maximum effort in every moment, and Stevens understands the value in that. He inserted Smart for Tatum to start the second half against Phoenix, and he called on Smart again less than three minutes into the third quarter against Portland.
Stevens has hinted at some rotation shakeups, and maybe giving the team’s heart-and-soul a chance to set the tone from the start is worth trying.
■ The Celtics trailed by 20 points or more in each of their last three games.
■ Let’s take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important update from Evan Turner. Turner played for the Celtics from 2014-16 and endeared himself to fans and media with his humor and honesty before signing a massive four-year, $70 million deal with the Blazers. Whenever there’s a stop in Portland, Boston media rushes to the Blazers locker room to hear what Turner might say next.
On Sunday afternoon, I asked him about his statement on a recent ESPN podcast that Stevens will win an NBA title. Let’s just get out of the way and let Turner take it from here:
“You guys are going to bring me back [to Boston] one day, whether it’s GM or a president. I don’t know if Danny or them are going to be done.”
I’m not sure if Turner thinks the Boston media corps actually works for the Celtics. (We don’t.) But sometimes you just have to let Evan be Evan. He continued:
“Or just as one of the players. I’ll get my Sixth Man Award or something, and then I’ll go do the [Andre] Iguodala thing. I’ll get Finals MVP, and me and Brad ride off into the sunset together with [Stevens’s son] Brady. So I think obviously he’s probably just trying to figure out a way to get me back and go get that championship. That’s the only way I can see it working.”
Who are we to disagree, Evan?
■ The Celtics are ranked 12th in the NBA with a net rating of just 1.5, meaning they’re outscoring opponents by an average of 1.5 points per 100 possessions. They trail teams such as the Grizzlies, Thunder, Pacers, Clippers, and Hornets.
■ There was a bizarre stoppage at halftime of the Portland game. About two minutes before the second half was set to begin, the public-address announcer said there would be a delay because one of the baskets was “ajar.” Arena workers came out with a ladder and placed levels on the top of the backboard as they adjusted it.
Since that was the basket the Celtics had shot just 37.2 percent on during the opening half, it was fair to wonder whether they had been victimized by a random tilt. But it turned out that the malfunction occurred when Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic dunked the ball during the intermission. These structures are built to withstand things like halftime dunks, but whatever.
■ One reminder that might comfort some fans who are jittery about the 7-6 start. Two years ago, the Celtics won 53 games and secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. That year, they started . . . 7-6.
And it actually got worse before it got better, as Boston was just 13-12 before storming to a 40-17 finish to close out the regular season.
Struggles and successes are both magnified at the start of a season. Also, the fact that just two of Boston’s next 17 games come against teams with winning records will surely help.