A team meeting was called in the wake of Friday night’s defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, which left the Celtics with an 18-13 record heading into Sunday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets,
BOSTON — They have reached the point in this maddening season where a dreaded team meeting had to be called.
So if it wasn’t obvious before, it now is – the Celtics are a team with problems as the midway point of the season approaches.
Any time a team meeting is convened, like the one the Celtics had following a 120-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night, there are trouble spots that need to be addressed.
The Celtics gathered in their locker room after a third straight defeat, keeping the doors closed for more than a half-hour, and opened the discussion about what ails them.
Sure, they are playing without three key rotation players in Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, but even so, what happened in the losses to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday and the Bucks was not pretty.
They trailed the Suns, one of the worst teams in the NBA, by as many as 13 points and gave up 21 offensive rebounds in a 111-103 loss.
And after taking a 10-1 lead over the Bucks in the opening minutes on national television, the Celtics fell apart, getting outscored, 64-38, the rest of the half.
It was an ugly scene during the first half when the Celtics trailed by 26 points, allowing one player after another to get to the basket, and the boos at the TD Garden were loud.
When it was over and the Celtics had dipped to 18-13, it was time to talk, hoping to make things better when the homestand continues tonight against the Charlotte Hornets (6:05 p.m., TV: NBC Sports Boston; radio: WROR-105.7 FM). Horford is listed as probable after missing seven games with a sore knee while Morris is questionable with a knee ailment.
A lack of aggression on defense is combining with some chemistry issues and too much one-on-one basketball to land the Celtics in the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference. Kyrie Irving even described part of the problem as selfishness.
“At this point, it really comes down to that cohesion, really being able to trust the pass, trust what we’ve got going out there,’’ said Irving. “Obviously, there’s some selfish play going out there where obviously we have some really talented guys, but we’re better as a team when we’re moving the basketball, and if it gets down to the end of the shot clock that’s when we start shooting our iso plays rather than if we have nothing in transition shooting with 16 or 17 on the clock, or guys shooting fadeaways, something like that.
“I get caught up in that as well. For me, it’s a hard challenge, because there’s a balance that I have. I literally can do anything I want out there any time I want, but at the same time it’s what can I do for my teammates to be more successful. I have to be very conscious of that.’’
The thrilling ride of a season ago is in the rear-view mirror, and young players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are not taking the next step after growing their games in the long playoff run of 2018.
There is also the matter of Gordon Hayward still struggling with his game after the gruesome injury on opening night in October 2017.
Losing to the Bucks, the team with the second-best record in the NBA, is no shocker, especially with three top players sidelined. But some of the things that went on in that defeat were not pretty. The Celtics have given up 111 rebounds the past two games while grabbing only 73.
“It was just the team trying to get on the same page, get everything together,” said Brown of the meeting. “We’re trying to do something special and make sure we’re all clicking on the same cylinders.
“We’ve got to play to a certain level and we haven’t been playing to that level, so we got to talk. Today was the time we chose to talk.’’
Irving has taken on the role of leader in his second year with the Celtics and his frustration is obvious.
“It’s just trusting one another, so that’s an everyday thing,’’ said Irving. “I know everyone would like to think like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ It’s just not easy. It’s an everyday job. I’ve been saying it since the beginning of the season.
“It’s not going to look pretty. It’s not going to look great at all times. But the biggest thing for me is just patience and also being honest with one another about how we feel and being able to talk to one another without anybody taking it personal.
“Sometimes being in the journey, it can seem like there’s some dark clouds going on. You’re challenged and you don’t know what to do and that’s fine. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve dealt with my own challenges in trying to be more consistent on the defensive end, do things for myself that would be more beneficial for our team as a whole.
“Truth is, I’m not necessarily playing the minutes I want, the role that I would want the role that selfishly I want for myself. That all goes on the back burner in terms of being patient with what I have to do to grow as a leader of this team and help these other young guys be more prepared for what they encounter as they get older in this league and what they’re going through right now.’’
Thirty-one games in to a season that began with so much promise, the Celtics find themselves looking for answers in a team meeting.
Jim Fenton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JFenton_ent.