After the Boston Celtics suffered their worst defeat of the season Sunday afternoon, a 104-91 score at the hands of the Washington Wizards, who entered Sunday’s game with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, star Kemba Walker was simply faced with his team’s poor health.
We just need to play harder, Mr. Walker said. Here’s how. We don’t play hardball. We don’t play as hard as we can.
When you play hard, great things happen. And right now, our game is still inconsistent. So, like I said, we’ll keep watching the film, learning from our mistakes and improving.
For the first time in six years, the Celtics finish the season with a score of 0.500 or worse. Add to that Friday’s loss at home against Detroit Pistons, the worst team in the East, before rebounding in Washington with a win over the Celtics.
An optimist might try to downplay Friday’s result because it’s the second half of a game against a rested opponent. There was no such excuse on Sunday, as the Wizards advanced 3-14 with Russell Westbrook in the lineup and controlled the game the entire time, especially in the second half.
While the Celtics ran out of time to make the final score look respectable, the Wizards, who started Sunday’s game 29th in the NBA, led by no less than 20 points for much of the second half, while Boston made jump after jump.
Walker and Jaylen Brown each scored 25 points, hitting 21 for 39 from the field and 6 for 12 through 3-pointers, but their teammates couldn’t score a basket. The rest of the Celtics were 12 for 51 (23.6%) Sunday, going three for 23 from three-point range.
From the middle of the second quarter to the start of the fourth, Boston trailed for nearly 21 minutes, with 13 consecutive misses by everyone but Walker and Brown.
It’s possible, Brown said when asked if this weekend could be a stumbling block for the Celtics. It all depends on the mindset of each of us about how we come each day and how we prepare for work.
If you let it become a state of mind, it will be. If you come to play, you’ll see. And we weren’t very good today.
Without Marcus Smart, who missed the last two weeks with a calf strain, the Celtics lacked depth – especially on the wing – and were exposed to the punch.
Aside from rookie Peyton Pritchard, who impressed and secured a spot in coach Brad Stevens’ rotation, no one on the bench was able to score consistently. Veteran Jeff Teague, brought in as Walker’s replacement, was terrible, shooting a ridiculous 28.6% from two point range. In the last two games he played, Walker was a good paper pusher.
While Mr. Pritchard quickly won Mr. Stevens’ trust, Aaron Nesmith, the Boston lottery player, did not. He played Sunday and finished with five points and five rebounds in 29 minutes, but has been conspicuously absent from the rotation this season, despite the fact that Boston is always short on wingers.
With that in mind, the 29 minutes Nesmith spends on Sunday represent 20 percent of his time on the field during the season.
After the game, Stevens pointed out the trash talk where Boston’s bench had a game to make the final score respectable, something to build on in the future.
When asked what needs to be improved if the Celtics want to play like they used to, Stevens answered that there was a lot to consider. We just need to get better at controlling the things we can control by playing together on both ends of the field.
If our team can play more like that in the last five minutes, we can be as good as we can be. If not, we’re in the middle…. We have to play well to win. It’s not like we’re going to throw balls and win the game. We have to play well, so if we don’t play well and take care of the little things, we have no chance.
After this weekend, the Celtics – who have lost four of five and seven of 10 games – will try to get back to average, but it won’t get any easier with MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets’ visit to Boston on Tuesday.
Because Boston needs the next 48 hours to prepare for the game, Stevens, like Walker, said that everyone outside of the team’s regulars who wants to see the field will have to play hard.
I think we should look at everything, Mr. Stevens said. I know we talked a lot about lineup and consistency, who plays and who doesn’t, how the guys who really move the ball or the guys who really make the point and really execute hard should probably be a priority, in terms of play, for our best players. And I think that’s where we need to start, because this is clearly a problem.
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