PORTLAND — Prior to the season, the Boston Celtics were expected to be one of the best teams in the NBA, but Brad Stevens warned reporters (and, presumably, his players) over and over that wins don’t come easily in the NBA.
But Stevens, one of the few people who can reasonably say he could have predicted a start like this, was left at something of a loss for words after the Celtics closed their five-game road trip with a 100-94 loss at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers, dropping their record to 7-6.
“Just thoroughly outplayed,” Stevens said. “I don’t know what else to say. When we’re desperate and urgent, we’re pretty good. We’ve got to do a better job, and I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that we start games that way.”
Stevens was quick to shoulder the blame for the team’s struggles.
“You find your flow by making the next right play and playing hard, that’s it,” Stevens said. “When you’re in the game, you have a job to do on that possession, you do it. Then if you do it really well over and over again, you have a good team. We’re not there yet and so that, to me, is well-coached teams get there. We’re not a well-coached team right now, that’s pretty obvious.”
Jayson Tatum wasn’t so sure.
“I mean, everybody plays a part, but there’s only so much Brad can do,” Tatum said. “We have to go out there, hit shots, follow the game plan, and stop guys from scoring. There’s only so much he can do from the sideline.”
The Celtics’ offense has gone through stretches of brilliance, even when the shots don’t fall. Per the NBA’s stat site, Boston leads the league in the percentage of its shots that are open. But the Celtics are just 28th in field-goal percentage on those shots, suggesting the team is creating good looks and just not knocking them down.
“That’s kind of a good thing that with our record and we shoot the lowest open shots, that’s a good thing,” Tatum said. “We’re going to hit open shots eventually. It’s still pretty early, but not trying to make any excuses. Guys will figure it out, everybody here is a professional, doing it for a little while. We’ll figure it out.”
Where Boston’s identity feels like it has slipped is on the defensive end. The Celtics have gotten picked apart at times. In the first half, simple pick-and-rolls beat the Celtics time and time again. In the second, the shoddy rotations came back to bite them when Al-Farouq Aminu buried the Celtics with a pair of big 3-pointers.
“It’s just a matter of stopping guys,” Tatum said. “That’s what we’re known for, so we have to get back to that.”
Whatever Stevens’ role is in that facet of the game, he believes he isn’t doing enough.
“I’d like to see us like find some consistency at some point,” Stevens said. “We’ve started some games — the Denver game we started off great, Utah game we started off great, Phoenix and tonight were disasters. So I think that it’s not consistent, whatever are issues are. We’ve talked about the offensive struggles in the first six games, the defensive struggles in the last six. We were a little bit better tonight and, you know, we gave ourselves a chance to win the game and, to Aminu’s credit, he was 1-for-5 going into those last two 3s and the one was from about 28 feet and so you have to tip your cap off to him. But we can’t keep putting ourselves in this position. …
“We’ve got to play better. It has nothing to do with shooting. Coach better, play better.”