After continuing a seven-game win streak into the new year, the Boston Celtics now have a new streak going, and it is not one they are very proud of.
This new streak began last Tuesday, Jan. 16, when the Celtics lost to the New Orleans Pelicans behind Anthony Davis’ monster night (45 points, 16 rebounds).
Two days later, Boston traveled to Philadelphia to face a young 76ers team, and once again was dominated by a big man, this one going by the name of Joel Embiid (26 points, 16 rebounds), and by the end of Thursday night the Celtics found themselves not only scoring their lowest point total of the season (80) but also on the losing end of two games in a row.
Hoping to break this small skid, the team then traveled to face the bottom seed in the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic, in hopes to finally get itself back on track before beginning a West Coast trip. But again, the Celtics did not prevail, losing a third straight game despite a heroic effort by point guard Kyrie Irving, who returned from a one-game injury absence to post 40 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Boston now finds itself in the midst of a three-game skid, and though it is not time to push the panic button yet, fans, coaches and players are looking for answers to their woes.
It came as no real surprise that the team began this losing streak against a Pelicans team that has proven to be a nightmare matchup for Boston in the paint, with Davis making NBA headlines because of his ability to dominate against a Celtics team that does not have a man on the roster that can slow him down.
The second straight loss was one that frustrated people, but could also be understood. Despite the Celtics blowing the Sixers out by 18 points just a couple weeks ago in London, the stat line did not show how aggressive and tight Philadelphia made it for a majority of that game, not to mention the other close matchups they’ve had against Boston earlier in the season. That, paired with the absence of Irving, left some distraught at the outcome, but gave us a legitimate reason to see one more number added to the loss column.
Sunday’s matchup against the Magic was where the confusion began to set in.
Going against an Orlando team that does not have arguably their best rebounder, Nikola Vucevic, available to play, set up what looked like an easy win for the Celtics during their 1 p.m. start.
Too much dismay, Boston could not find answers to a Magic team that won by eight points and held the lead for most of the game, even though they shot a dismal 28 percent from three-point range and 68-percent from the free-throw line.
Brad Stevens tried to provide some answers during the postgame press conference.
Stevens mentions during the presser that the Magic beat them by “shooting layups”, trying to make the notion that Orlando did nothing fancy to hand the Celtics their third loss in a row. In a literal sense of what Stevens said, the Magic have players like Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon who dominated them in the paint on the offensive side of the ball, with Orlando scoring 62 points in the paint over the course of the night. That, along with Orlando’s bench scoring 38 points compared to Boston’s eight, gave two glaring reasons as to why the Celtics could not come out as victors for the third straight time before heading out west.
Now even though Al Horford went out on a limb saying the team is “fighting for its life” right now, Kyrie gave a more modest answer to the teams current struggles, saying that they need to hit some adversity in order to grow as a team. Irving also mentions that the team has plenty of adversity ahead of them this year, pointing towards the tough matchups against teams like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and divisional foe Toronto Raptors during the last stretch of the regular season.
Just like Jaylen Brown said, the team just needs to get back to what they were doing before they began this losing streak: play smart offensively and dominate defensively. No need to make any drastic changes, no need to panic; but just get back into the rhythm of things.
Many teams face these kind of struggles in the middle of the season. Cleveland is the purest example of this right now; they have lost 10 of their last 14 games, blowing games to teams like Sacramento and Utah, and most recently gave up 148 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which tied a franchise record for most points allowed in a single game.
The meaning of this: DO NOT PANIC
These past three games are just a small sample size we are analyzing from the Celtics during a long 82 game schedule. Boston now heads onto their West Coast trip where they will face both Los Angeles teams, along with Golden State and Denver, before its next home game on Jan. 31 against the New York Knicks.
That trip begins tonight against the Lakers, who are on a roll right now, winning six of their last eight games. Though this looks to be a great bounce-back game for the Celtics against a generally poor Lakers team without an injured Lonzo Ball, nothing should be taken for granted at this point.
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