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Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: After lackluster performance, Celtics look to close preseason strong

The Boston Celtics were universal in their displeasure with their performance in a 102-95 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which Boston’s starters trailed by as many as 20 on multiple occasions.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted the team’s struggles weren’t limited to Tuesday’s game.

“We were minus-11 in the first two games too,” Stevens said. “So we have to play better. I don’t think, certainly overall in the first week, that has not been effective. …

“We’re not as good as advertised right now, so at least we know that.”

A major issue — if “issue” is the right word for preseason performance — has been effort. Boston’s core players haven’t been playing up to their potential on either end, tossing up tough shots early in the shot clock and letting defensive assignments sneak back door or missing rotations.

That’s pretty normal for a team sleep-walking through the preseason, particularly a team that expects its season to extend into June.

Still, it’s a little concerning for some — particularly Stevens, who has been preaching about not skipping steps. Asked about what was gong wrong after Tuesday’s game, he gave a litany of examples.

“I would say wide open layups, wide open threes, wide open shots, fouls, directing the ball, being able to get into the body of the ball handler without fouling,” Stevens said. “Being able to pull over a pick-and-roll and be in the right spot. Pretty much everything. I mean, we got a lot of work to do. It’s pretty clear.”

One of the few players who gave regular-season effort to a preseason game was Marcus Smart.

“I am a little frustrated, but that’s how I’m wired,” Smart said. “I understand other guys, but at the same time, we don’t have two weeks for preseason. We have four games, and we have to get back to work. Those games are practice for us. Preseason is practices. We have to come out just like we would in practice and go hard in those games, just like we would in practice. It’s just a different face. It’s not the same people every day. It’s a different team, a different play, different sets, nobody knows your sets and things like that. We just have to use that and take advantage of it.”

On Saturday, the Celtics have their final tune-up before a week of practices that ramp up to the regular season, taking on the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

“We need to defend harder and better,” Stevens said. “And we need to really continue to improve our reads on the offensive end of the floor. Those are the two things that I’ll be looking at close. Obviously we’ll be down some bodies so I’m a lot more concerned about how we play possession-to-possession than the result tomorrow night.”

OTHER NOTES

– Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will both be out. Irving is nursing sore ribs, while Hayward has experienced lower back soreness. According to Stevens, his repaired left leg has felt great.

– On Thursday, Stevens said being uncomfortable is a good thing for a basketball player. Smart agreed.

“It builds your character,” Smart said. “It builds you as a player, as an individual, you know, having that adversity and it being tough. You have to figure it out, and it always keeps you going. It always keeps you guessing. It keeps you on your toes, and that’s always a good thing to have, especially with this league, because anything can happen and you’ve got to be prepared for anything. So having games and having moments like these do help you towards the end to reach your rainbow.”

The Celtics take on the Cavaliers at 7:30 p.m.

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