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Bulpett: Celtics have time, ingredients to find right mix

I’d be very worried about the Celtics.

I’d be very worried about the defense that is numerically fine overall but seems to come and go with the direction of the wind in critical times — a defense that started off well but has, alas, given up triple digits in now six straight games.

I’d be very worried about the seemingly inexplicable way their offensive cohesion goes from remarkable to absent in the blink of a quarter.

I’d be very worried about their problems trying to squeeze too many worthy players into too few minutes.

I’d be very worried about the uncertainty these players appear to be having with their roles, now that their touches are fewer.

I’d be very worried about the distribution of shots among the starters and whether Gordon Hayward or Jayson Tatum is getting enough focus to fairly extract their best games.

I’d be very worried about the lack of consistent focus that has caused them to fall behind by 20 and 22 points in Utah and Phoenix, respectively. The Suns were weak enough mentally to allow the Celtics to come back and win; the Jazz were strong enough to avoid such a fate.

I’d be very worried that the Celts often need to take a hit before they respond.

Yeah, I’d be very worried about all this stuff … if this were March 11 instead of Nov. 11.

Prior to last season, with just four players returning to the roster, we wrote that it might take until St. Patrick’s Day for the Celtics to find their groove. We noted that in this season’s preview and added that things “should be well in order long before that” this time around.

There is still time to meet that mark, but it’s clear the Celts are struggling to hit a stride. When they’re not trying to make an individual statement and singlehandedly change the club’s fortunes in a given game — something they’ve shown to need from Kyrie Irving — they are still “thinking” their way through the game. And when it comes to NBA offense, a mind is a terrible thing. By that, we mean that successful offense at this level has to be mainly instinctive. Conscious thought is the enemy of a flowing attack.

Brad Stevens repeatedly says that he’s looking for his guys to simply make the right play — the play that presents itself based on the positioning of the defense or the opposing personnel (read: mismatches). But while the C’s should be doing better at the simple stuff, the intricate workings will take longer to master. The cutback on training camp time and the need to provide his players rest, even with a regular season schedule that’s allowed more breathing room the last couple of years, has curtailed Stevens’ influence.

But all the offensive reps the Celts can muster won’t make much of a difference if they continue to let a few missed shots in a row lessen their resolve on defense. Clanging jumpers off the iron can get into one’s head, but it shouldn’t get into that person’s effort at the other end of the floor.

It all suggests that this group hasn’t found its collective self yet.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, and Stevens sure as hell hopes not.

Without overtimes, there are just 65.6 hours in an NBA regular season.

But there is too much talent here to believe that things won’t improve significantly in the coming weeks. It may take some rotational tweaks, but the physical abilities are within the roster.

To paraphrase a former president, there is nothing that is wrong with the Celtics that cannot be cured by what is right with the Celtics.

 

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