Brian Babineau/Getty Images
The Boston Celtics have had a disappointing start to the season, going 9-8 despite a loaded roster and major expectations after their young guns led them to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago.
“I really can’t put my finger on (why disappointment has lingered),” Horford said. “But I do feel like there’s a lot of expectations and things from everyone and I think maybe when we don’t fulfill those, guys tend to get down. And that’s an area that we have to grow as a group.”
Morris also suggested that inexperience for some of the younger players was a contributing factor:
“Obviously (the mood’s) not as best as it could be. We’ve got a lot of young guys, man, and I think they get down on themselves when stuff’s not going the right way. And it’s just an adjustment.
“I don’t think it’s the pressure (getting to the young guys). To me, the pressure was last year, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think it’s that. I just think they’re just not as successful as they want to be early on and I think it’s just getting to them as it would a young player. I think multiple guys don’t have the best energy, obviously it’s going to snowball on the team. I wouldn’t say it’s just the young guys. I would say (across) the board our energy hasn’t been great.”
The team’s young core includes 20-year-old Jayson Tatum (16.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG), 22-year-old Jaylen Brown (10.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and 24-year-old Terry Rozier (8.4 PPG, 2.1 APG). That trio was instrumental in the team’s deep playoff run last year, as two of the team’s stars, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, missed the postseason due to injury.
But working Hayward and Irving back into the mix has presented its own share of difficulties, with Hayward being moved out of the starting lineup this week in favor of Aron Baynes. And while the Celtics last year were resilient and gritty, playing with a certain level of fearlessness and confidence that belied their youth, this year’s edition seems to feel the pressure.
Last year, the Celtics weren’t expected to make much noise in the postseason given their youth and the fact that LeBron James still ruled the conference. But given the team’s impressive depth and the departure of James to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics came into this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and as one of the few teams with any semblance of a chance against the Golden State Warriors.
Early on, the Celtics haven’t met those expectations, while the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks appear significantly improved from a season ago and the Philadelphia 76ers added Jimmy Butler to give them a superstar trio alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The top of the East is suddenly stacked, a fact that doesn’t seem lost on the Celtics.
The team’s offense has stagnated, with an offensive rating of 104.3 (27th in the NBA) and a shooting percentage of 43.6 (also 27th). The team’s defense continues to be elite (102.1 rating, tops in the league), preventing what could have been a worse opening to the 2018-19 season, but the Celtics won’t reach their true potential if they don’t solve their offensive woes.
That upside is arguably greater than any other team in the East. But Morris believes it will be hard for the Celtics to find their footing if they don’t first tweak their collective attitude.
“I feel like we have to come in here and … continue to work hard,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for us right now. As a whole, I think our energy towards each other, towards the game, towards everything could be a lot better.”