Forsberg: C's show little desire to change their maddening ways originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Say this about the 2020-21 Boston Celtics, no team in the NBA is as elite at finding new ways to reach rock bottom.
If there was any lingering debate about the worst loss of the season — and there’s been a whole bunch of candidates --the Celtics submitted an entry Tuesday that’s unlikely to be unseated after the lottery-bound Oklahoma City Thunder and their not-old-enough-to-buy-beer starting lineup snapped a 14-game losing streak with a 119-115 victory inside TD Garden.
Remember when Danilo Gallinari raining double-digit 3-pointers on the Celtics felt like a low point? At least the casual NBA fan could pick him out of a lineup and the Hawks, it turns out, are a decent team (and one that might ultimately finish ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference standings). Heck, even that Wizards loss doesn’t seem *quite* as bad now.
The Thunder? They had lost on the second night of back-to-backs by an average or more than 30 points. They don’t even really want to win games. Boston, while shorthanded, was well-rested and had no shortage of motivation after an embarrassing loss in Charlotte two days ago.
Good luck picking out the most unsightly portion of the box score. Was it Oklahoma City’s 41-point fourth quarter? Or how the Thunder turned the ball over an astounding 27 times and still lead for the majority of the night? The Celtics missed 38 3-pointers and that’s with somehow padding their percentage (22.4) in the final seconds with a rally that, of course, fell short.
There are 10 games remaining in the regular season and the only thing we can confidently say about the Celtics is that nothing about what we’ve seen this season has inspired much confidence about what lies ahead. It felt like the team was already crossing its fingers and hoping for decent health but the team's general disposition towards this head-slapping season doesn’t suggest that health alone will be enough to change their ways.
The Celtics are not in the conversation among the league’s elite as the playoffs approach. Yes, we’ve been duped into pondering that classification after shorts stretches of inspired play. Heck, a six-game winning streak culminating with a triumph over the Phoenix Suns last week seemed like genuine reason to get excited.
Nope. Lucky the Leprechaun's pot was filled with fool’s gold. Again.
Not all the Celtics deserve blame for Tuesday’s eyesore. Jaylen Brown did his damndest to keep the Celtics hanging around and Payton Pritchard had one of his best games as a pro. But on a night the Celtics were playing without three starters in Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Robert Williams, most of the bench wilted with a golden opportunity to shine. Boston’s paper-thin depth was exposed yet again.
More concerning is that it just doesn’t seem to bother everybody on the roster. At least that’s what we’re left to deduce based on Boston’s effort level in these games. For what only feels like the 62nd time this season, the Celtics allowed an opponent to build a big early lead, offered little resistance when that opponent attacked the basket, and seemed to just assume it would make a charge while hoping perimeter shots would fall.
Boston did make a spirited run but the Basketball Gods wouldn’t have it. Even as the Thunder tried to give the game away, Boston wouldn’t take it.
We keep waiting for these low points to shake these Celtics from their doldrums. Sometimes it feels as if they’re just so weighed down by all that’s gone wrong that even they don’t always believe they are capable of salvaging the year.
It’s time for the Celtics to show a little pride, a little fight. They might never have their top 7 fully healthy before the postseason but, improbably, the No. 4 seed in the East is still within reach despite all their floundering.
Maybe seeding won’t matter. Boston’s postseason stay won’t be long if they don’t ultimately change their ways. But this team shouldn’t be content to just let this season slip away.
As Marcus Smart implored his teammates after one of the other rock-bottom moments (we’ve admittedly lost count at this point), the Celtics need to look themselves in the mirror and ponder who they want this year to be remembered.
Are they willing to actually fight to change the story of a season that’s been defined by its collection of health woes and bad losses? Or will that simply be this team's epitaph.