The Celtics slouched through their third straight loss Thursday after a win streak three times as long, and interim head coach Joe Mazzulla raised an intriguing point: these guys look bored.
“Being a great team is really, really hard,” Mazzulla said directly after the 120-117 overtime loss to the Knicks. “You have to work at it everyday. You’ve gotta do the small, boring things all the time.”
A three-game losing streak is nothing to sweat over with these 35-15 Celtics, unless they’re the kind of team that overlooks sweating the small stuff.
A great team shouldn’t be neurotic, but they should be obsessive, and that includes a compulsive preoccupation with the process and craft.
“Sometimes that can be hard over a long season. You can’t get bored. You can’t get bored with the simple things,” Mazzulla said.
The coach dismissed any notion the team is suffering from a case of the blahs of being midseason with eyes on another Finals run, but did point out what continues to haunt them since their loss in June on the big stage: turnovers.
“Our offense put us in tough spots in transition, in the end of the third quarter and the fourth quarter where we had 22 points off turnovers. You can’t guard turnovers. You can’t guard layups at the rim. We had multiple possessions at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth where we turned it over,” he said.
The Celtics’ reads at the rim have also been inconsistent after being a calling card most of the season.
Stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum acknowledged a lack of urgency at times in Thursday’s loss.
“We played hard at points, we played like we were supposed to at times in the game, just not enough of those moments,” Tatum said.
He then reflected on where the team is in the season, stating, “It’s a balance, all things considered we still got the best record.”
“Human nature plays a part,” he added.
Of course, nobody expects these guys to be cyborgs. Like a basketball game, the NBA regular season is a series of streaks and slumps, riding out highs and managing injuries. The Celtics were without Marcus Smart for all three losses, as well as other key players in the previous two drops.
But it’s disheartening to see another game where the stars are plagued by mental errors manifesting themselves through 13 turnovers and – yep – two missed free throws from Brown that could have sealed the deal. These are no longer growing pains. Put away the zit cream, the Celtics’ puberty is over.
Nobody doubts they’re a good team. They’re the league’s best. But great? That’s where details matter.