Celtics-Knicks preview: C's trending in wrong direction


NEW YORK -- The sun rose this morning and the Boston Celtics (26-8) found themselves no longer alone atop the NBA standings when it comes to defensive rating, as they now share the top spot with the Oklahoma City Thunder (100.8).

It serves as only the latest reminder that this Celtics team, while still considered one of the best teams in the NBA, is steadily trending in the wrong direction.

They will get another shot at getting back on track tonight against a New York Knicks team has a certain Jekyll-and-Hyde quality about themselves when it comes to playing at home versus on the road.

On the road, they rank among the worst teams in the NBA with losses in nine of their 11 games away from Madison Square Garden.
But at home, they’ve done a complete 180-degree turn having amassed an impressive 14-5 record in front of their fans. 

It presents yet another challenge for a Celtics team that has not been at the top of its game lately.

The problems you see on the floor with Boston now don’t appear to be major ones, other than the fact that there are more and more of them creeping into their play, more consistently.

In the fourth quarter of Boston’s 90-89 loss to Miami on Wednesday, Marcus Smart drained a 3-pointer with five minutes to play that brought the Celtics within 79-75.

On the ensuing Miami possession, Josh Richardson drove past Jayson Tatum which then put Jaylen Brown in a tough spot – switch out on Richardson or stay with the man he was defending (Kelly Olynyk). Brown stayed with Olynyk, giving Richardson a free lane to the rim in which he led to a 3-point play for Richardson.

The frustration on that play was evident on the face of several players, and led to Celtics head coach Brad Stevens taking Brown out of the game but re-inserting him quickly afterwards.

It was the kind of sequence that, with the score and time being what they were, often results in a Celtics defensive stop that triggers a victory.

Not on that play, not on this night.

“It was a miscommunication. That was it, just passionate about it,” Brown said of the late-game gaffe. “I was more mad at myself than anything. I just came back … I got to come back in and try and help our team win. But it was just a miscommunication. I was frustrated at myself.”

He’s not alone.

There is growing frustration because these little mistakes and breakdowns are becoming more and more the difference between winning and losing games. And it doesn’t matter how well Brad Stevens draws up plays or calls out assignments. 

Being put in the right position to succeed is one thing; executing is an entirely different matter.

“We can’t always rely on coach,” said Jayson Tatum. “There are five guys out there playing and you got to communicate with each other.”

Of course, there is a logical explanation – not an excuse, but explanation – for what we’ve seen of late from the Celtics.

It’s called their 82-game schedule, which will be halfway completed by Jan. 3.

After having played five games in seven nights last week, tonight the Celtics are playing the third of what will be four games in six nights.

But again, the Celtics refuse to acknowledge the impact of their schedule on their play, consistently pointing to the bottom line which is lately, they’re just not getting it done consistently enough at either end of the floor.

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