PORTLAND — The Boston Celtics’ sixth loss — a 100-94 final against the Portland Trail Blazers to close out a five-game road trip — felt a lot like the five that came before it.
The Celtics started poorly and fell behind big. They rallied a few times, and even tied the game at one point, but Portland’s shot-making down the stretch stopped the comeback in its tracks.
Boston went through cold stretches and put together stretches that looked like a championship contender. Wash, rinse, and repeat the same quotes.
“We have to start the game off better. We just, we might be just a little bit too cool when we start,” Jayson Tatum said, repeating a phrase Jaylen Brown dropped after the Celtics nearly lost to Phoenix. “When we come back, we’re in desperation mode. We play like that the whole time, we look pretty good.”
Brad Stevens tried to take responsibility for the inconsistencies, but much of the Celtics’ struggles seem to trace back to simple missed shots, despite his protests to the contrary.
“We come out and clearly we outmatch teams at dang near every position,” Irving said. “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. So it comes with discipline. It comes with understanding. It comes with experience of just being on a team like this. We can’t have empty possessions, so whoever is shooting the shot, if they feel like it’s a great shot, then we all have to feel comfortable with it.”
Irving added that additional experience might help. Al Horford, a 12-year veteran, is by far the most experienced player in the locker room. Much of the rest of the team is made up of players on rookie deals — Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye and others.
“I think it just comes with, just some experience,” Irving said. “Looking at this locker room, me being in my eighth year and being a ‘veteran’ as well as Al and Baynes. 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, when you want to play, when you want to do what you want to do. It’s all about attitude and effort. That’s all it is.”
Irving thinks the 1-4 stretch was necessary to remind the Celtics how difficult it is to win in the NBA.
“We needed this,” Irving said. “We’re not as good as we think we are. I said it at the beginning of the season. The excitement is done. It’s real basketball now, so it’s not just about the potential of the team or where we’ll be at the end of the season. It’s right now and taking care of what presently is in front of us. We have challenges. We have barriers to get over as a team and individually. I’m going to be the most patient out of everyone. I’m not going to get too frazzled, too high or too low or stuff like that. It’s a long season. I just understand that for us to be special we just have to get through some challenges.”
“It probably will help us, the reality check that we might not be as good as everybody said we are at this moment,” Tatum said. “So we gotta get back home, I know everybody wants to go back home, and we need to figure some things out.”