BOSTON (CBS) — The woes continue for the Boston Celtics, who once again looked lifeless Sunday afternoon in a game that should have brought out the best in them.
James Harden and the high-flying Houston Rockets did whatever they wanted to the C’s on Sunday, handing Boston a 115-104 defeat on national TV. Harden scored a game-high 42 points with relative ease, while Eric Gordon hit eight of his 12 three-point attempts for 35 points. The Celtics trailed by 22 points at halftime and other than a last-ditch comeback effort in the fourth, looked more like a team bound for the lottery than a team bound for the playoffs. Sunday’s loss is their fifth in their last six games.
A five-game win streak ahead of the All-Star break is a distant memory, as the Celtics have now dropped seven out of their last 10 games. They’re holding out hope that they can “flip the switch” when the postseason arrives next month, but that is looking less and less likely by the day. Jeff Goodman, an NBA analyst at Stadium, joined WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Sunday night’s Sports Final to break down the team’s recent malaise, and said it’s pretty clear this team just doesn’t have any life to them at the moment.
“They were listless [against the Rockets], and they shouldn’t be. Coming off the All-Star break they just haven’t had any fire to them,” said Goodman. “They know they can play better, but they come out and don’t look like they’re playing with any energy, other than maybe Marcus Smart. They don’t look like they’re having fun playing with each other.”
Goodman noted that the team played better without Kyrie Irving on Sunday, which has been a strange ongoing trend throughout the season. Irving wanted to take a bigger leadership role this season, but he hasn’t been handling those added duties too well. After calling out younger teammates in the media earlier this season, Irving is now taking a “less is more” kind of approach to his postgame comments.
Irving didn’t have much to say to reporters following Sunday’s loss, essentially just saying the team needs to “play better” throughout his brief availability.
“It’s frustration. You could see it; he said maybe a total of 15 words. I asked him about the fact that he wants to be a leader, what do you have to do to lead? He said ‘win,’ but it’s more than that,” Goodman said of Irving. “He has to find a way to connect with this group and make them understand that it’s not about him, it’s about the team — everybody.
“I think some of it rests on the young guys too,” added Goodman. “Jayson Tatum wanted to take a step up, and I think he could. Jaylen Brown wanted to take a step up based on last year’s playoffs; Terry Rozier wants to take a step up. Well, you can’t all do that, not with Kyrie and Gordon Hayward back. … It’s everybody buying into their role. Al Horford buys into his role. Marcus Smart buys into his role. The other guys, they have to do the same.”
Goodman has known Brad Stevens for 15 years, dating back to his days at an assistant at Butler, and this is uncharted territory for the Celtics head coach.
“He’s never had to deal with this,” he said. “He’s never had to deal with this type of adversity and these types of egos, really. That’s the biggest thing; he had Rondo for a little, but now he has Kyrie and he has an ego. How do you figure out the buttons to push?
“It’s chemistry, not talent,” he added. “You know this team has talent. It’s all about chemistry and togetherness, playing for each other more than playing for yourself.”
Chemistry has been severely lacking throughout the season, and with the playoffs now just over a month away, the Celtics’ ability to “flip the switch” is in serious doubt.
“I don’t know if they are going to be able to flip the switch. The best-case scenario is playing Philly in the first-round, and they’ve had success against the 76ers. Maybe they feel good about it and have that edge,” said Goodman. “But it could unravel, and if it unravels and then Kyrie leaves, you’re talking about Terry Rozier as your starting point guard next year. It’s a totally different scenario than anyone though. And maybe even if they do play well, is Kyrie Irving still here?”
There is a world of questions surrounding the Celtics at the moment, and none of them seem to be any good. The schedule doesn’t get any easier either, as the C’s open a four-game West Coast road trip on Tuesday night against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Tune in to Sports Final and Sports Final OT every Sunday night on WBZ-TV at 11:35 p.m.!