When the boos first started in the second quarter, a concerned fan got to his feet and shouted, “Hey Boston, step the (expletive) up!!!”
He drew some attention from ushers for that, though it was unclear if they gave him a medal for making a reasonable request.
The Celtics, generally good for a half’s worth of effectiveness these days, played to their expected level in the second half. But against one of the Eastern Conference’s worst – a team that came in on a six-game losing streak – their first-half sins were too much to overcome in last night’s 117-109 loss to New York.
Under normal circumstances – at least for a team favored not so long ago to reach the NBA Finals – last night’s collapse might have been tagged as a wakeup call.
Or maybe the Celtics still are waiting for the phone to ring. They’ve been burned by a wide variety of scorers during their current 3-7 dirge, from Kemba Walker to, last night, Trey Burke’s 29-point performance.
“I just don’t know that we’re that good. Maybe it’s not a wakeup call if you keep getting beat,” said Brad Stevens, who in his usual calm phrasing called out his team last night.
“We have to play better. It’s not because we’re not capable of being good,” he said. “It’s not because we weren’t good at one time in our lives. You’re good if you play good and the results are speaking for themselves.
“It’s not one guy. It’s not two guys. It’s all of us,” the Celtics coach added. “We’re not playing with the same personality we played with last year. That’s the easiest way to describe it. And then the 50,000 issues that are below that, we have to tackle one at a time.”
Stevens noted there are multiple issues on this team at the moment – “a myriad of issues we have to fix.”
Kyrie Irving, who continues to bear far too much of the offensive burden on a team that is stocked with so much talent, has consistently been another voice of patience in this locker room.
But the Celtics guard may be reaching the end of that particular supply as well.
“We just can’t wait anymore, honestly,” Irving said. “From myself, everybody else as a collective, to our coaching staff, we just don’t have time to really be waiting to kind of see if guys are going to give that extra effort. Including myself, it’s just an accountability standpoint that we all have to have.
“And I think that we’re making steps in the right direction,” he said. “I just think that it’s tiring at this point when we show flashes of brilliance and then we put ourselves in a deep hole and then we’re consistently coming back. We can’t play like that. But I think we’re just showing signs of what we’re capable of, but we just have to do it consistently. Brad says that we need that toughness. Guys getting offensive boards, blocking shots against us. We’re going in there timid and not finishing. For us as a team, we’re playing our best when we’re aggressive. Getting to the rim, 3-pointers that are makeable. When we’re playing with that effort, I don’t think any team can beat us on the floor. It’s just that confidence that I have in the group that we have and we just need to showcase that.”
A case in point – the Celtics hit rock bottom with a 26-point deficit (57-31) with 3:32 left in the second quarter. Gordon Hayward, on the way to his scoring high (19 points) as a Celtic, scored 11 over that remaining stretch before halftime. Only then did the Celtics click, with four players scoring 19 or more points, while also shooting 39.2 percent overall and 30.3 percent from downtown.
“There are some guys in this locker room that are very resilient,” Irving said. “So they have that attitude of winners and when you’re going down by that much, there’s really nothing to lose but playing hard and living with the results after that.
“But we have to play hard from the jump. Teams come in here and they’re on the road and they feel really comfortable. Then we start paying attention to details and all the little things and voila, we’re in the game. I think that at this point, it’s just tiring. Like I said, there’s no more time to wait. It’s not that I’m pushing the panic button or anything like that, I just think that there’s no more time to wait for games to start off and then go down in a hole where even our home crowd has been antsy and guys are pressing and stuff like that. It’s a long game, but I think there are some controllable things in the beginning of the game that we can fix.”