BOSTON -- Four straight losses for the Boston Celtics, each defeat seemingly worse than the one before.
The harmonious oohs and ahhs from the TD Garden faithful have a few new voices in the crowd now, belting out an increasing number of boos that can not be ignored.
Indeed, these are tough times for Celtics fans wading through the optics while trying to hang onto the (barely) still-alive optimism that this team will get their act together long enough to make a strong push in the playoffs.
No Celtic seems to understand or at the very least acknowledge this more than coach Brad Stevens.
“I think we’re to the point now where, rightfully so, we’ll be doubted,” Stevens said. “We’ve earned that and so it’s time to buckle up and respond to this tough run.”
One of the first areas in need of tweaking at this point is the always-delicate balancing act between playing sound, fundamental defense while also being an effective squad when it comes to scoring the ball -- in that order.
That order of sequence, more than anything else, is at the heart of many of this team’s across-the-board issues.
Far too often this season, the Celtics have allowed their offense to dictate their play defensively and not the other way around. When shots are falling, this is no problem. But on tough shooting nights, allowing the offense to lead the defense takes them down a path of poor play that, more times than not, will end in defeat.
“Ultimately we don’t need to ride the emotional roller coaster,” said Stevens. “We need to get a lot better. We’ve given up 115 or more in a lot of games here recently and our defense has to improve dramatically if we’re gonna make a push to ultimately get what we want in the next couple of months.”
For weeks, Stevens has struggled to make sense out of how the Celtics have -- statistically speaking -- been among the better teams in the NBA defensively, and yet look so bad for stretches on what seems to be a night-in, night-out basis.
Part of their lofty status defensively has to do with them playing at an elite level for the first couple months of the season. They've gradually gotten worse over time.
For the season, the Celts' defense ranks sixth in the NBA with a rating of 105.0. But they are a far cry from being among the league’s elite at the present moment when you look at what they've done since the All-Star break (110.2 defensive rating, 21st in the league) and in the month of March (110.3 defensive rating, 20th in the NBA).
Even with the underwhelming numbers defensively of late, as well as the losses piling up at an alarming rate, the Celtics are doing all they can to remain positive.
As the leader of this team, Kyrie Irving is well aware of how challenging this season has been for his teammates, with one stretch of adversity seemingly followed by another.
It raises questions as to how well or woeful they will be in bouncing back from this latest batch of bad basketball, which has them now riding a season-high four game losing streak.
“I don’t ever worry about how we respond; we’ve proven that,” Irving said. “We got a lot of proven guys in this locker room and they’re committed to winning and we have winners in this locker room as well. So, I’m never worried about that.”
While such optimistic talk sounds good, the reality is this team has done little to make anyone not on the Celtics payroll have faith that they'll turn things around and play at a level closer to their potential than what we’ve seen thus far this season.
Even with all their issues, that won’t temper the, “we-still-got-this” vibes that exude from their top players.
“You just gotta take a deep breath; we’re anxious, we wanna get some wins,” said Marcus Smart. “We wanna get back on the track of winning but we really gotta take a deep breath and get back on the things that really got us the reputation that we upheld into the season. It’s just being dogs on the court. It’s just making nobody wanna play against us and right now teams just feel like they could do whatever they want against us and that’s all on us. We gotta fix it, and we will.
Smart added, “I know we’ve been here plenty of times before saying the exact same thing. We’re gonna get it. We’re not worried about it. But we can’t put extra stress and more weight on ourselves so we gotta take a deep breath, just relax and just go out there and play ball.”
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.