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Lack of urgency starts to vex Celtics

A day after flying home from a 1-4 road trip, the Celtics had what Brad Stevens described as a “back to basics” practice yesterday afternoon.

But after watching his team regularly fall behind by 20 points and getting its only win in Phoenix in overtime (after a Marcus Morris trey at the buzzer), the subject naturally turned to lineup alterations and the like.

All that is still on the table, but, if there are changes, they may not be dramatic.

“We’re still talking about it,” Stevens said. “Obviously the easy question and the easy thought is always who starts, and I think it’s just as much rotations in the game that we need to be better with — and maybe find some groups that play a little bit better together. I thought actually in the Portland game we saw some of that in the second half.

“The hard part right now is, when we play really urgent and desperate, we’re pretty good. We’re just not there enough. So it’s hard to really pin that on a lineup, on a person, as much as we just have to be better.”

As for why that urgency is too often absent, the coach said, “I think one of the things that we all have to make sure that we do is remember how hard it is to win. And I think, as a coach, your job is making sure that everybody’s accountable for all those controllables, and I would say that I need to be better. So I would say that we all play a role in it, but that’s my job. So we’ll be better.”

The fact is the C’s are playing exactly like a team that heard all offseason how good it is and let that talk go to its collective cranium.

“Well, certainly it hasn’t been an obstacle as far as us getting ready to play the season and everything else,” Stevens said of the hype. “I think certainly the changing of roles and . . . again, I think our accountability across the board just needs to be better. But that starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job, and I will.”

That may just be a coach valiantly taking a hit that might be aimed elsewhere, but Stevens explained what makes him think he’s not been as good as needed in his job.

“Just not playing the game the right way consistently enough on both ends,” he said. “And I’m shocked at our defensive rating. I can’t believe it. It doesn’t look like the best defense in the league to me, but maybe that’s a result of all the high scoring games early in the year. And then offensively when we’re desperate and urgent, we’re damn good. And when we’re not, we’re, ooh, we’re bad. So we need to do a better job of making sure we play the right way all the way through, and I think, again, what I’ve spent the last 48 hours on is that’s a coach’s responsibility.”

The starts have been a problem, one that has stumped the players, as well.

“I don’t know what it is,” said Gordon Hayward. “At least, for me individually, I don’t come out of the gates thinking, ‘Oh, we’re going to walk through this game.’ For whatever reason, it just happens. Maybe we’re just not as sharp. I don’t know what it is. But we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to be able to play like we do when our backs are against the wall.

“I think we just have to go into games and just play with more energy, I guess. Somehow we always seem to find it when we’re down big or we really need it. We’ve got to play like that from the get-go. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is.”

Jaylen Brown said he is “Hopeful. No panic. I’ve got unwavering faith so I feel like we have to keep working, keep getting better, and see where things go from there.”

Added Brown of the Celts’ poor starts: “I don’t know. You can attribute it to a lot of things: lack of effort, waiting, a lack of assertiveness. We’re just waiting around, waiting for someone else to do it instead of going and doing it ourselves. I don’t think it’s too much of the frustration.

“I just think we have to get on the same page. We’ve got guys who are not on the same page. I think what’s on the other end of this will be good, so we just have to continue to stay with it, keep fighting and not lose hope and continue to get better.”

The next chance to put that on display is tonight against Chicago.

“You can say this road trip is a wake-up call because we played five games and lost four.,” Brown said. We definitely have to pick it up, because we’re better than that. Even at our worst, I would say, we still could have won a lot of those games.”

Twitter: @SteveBHoop

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