Just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for the spiraling Celtics, Mavericks star Luka Doncic somehow found a way, sealing Boston’s fate with the dagger of all daggers.
While Brad Stevens tried to maintain an air of optimism in the aftermath of Boston’s latest gut-wrencher (which was somehow less crushing than their previous loss to New Orleans), Kendrick Perkins could only see the glass as half-empty, sharing an unusually grim sentiment in his post-game remarks Tuesday night.
You know the Celtics’ season has gone off the rails when the usually effervescent Perk can’t find a silver lining. It’s hard to fathom the Celtics, a conference finals participant as recently as last year, sinking below .500, but that’s where Boston’s tailspin has taken them. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, there are plenty to be had with Stevens, GM Danny Ainge and embattled point guard Kemba Walker all warranting criticism. Perkins, who, on top of his other media assignments, now serves as a studio analyst for NBC Sports Boston, is inclined to pin most of the blame on Stevens, believing the coach has lost the Celtics’ locker room.
Early in his Boston tenure when the Celtics were in the beginning stages of their Post-Big-Three rebuild, Stevens was credited for doing more with less, squeezing the absolute most out of a roster full of scrappy overachievers like pint-sized Isaiah Thomas, ponytailed perimeter presence Kelly Olynyk and defensive pest Avery Bradley. But as expectations heightened and Ainge became increasingly brash in his roster tinkering (the Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving experiments were largely failures), the Celtics seemingly plateaued, watching their title window shrink as playoff disappointments piled up.
Boston’s swoon is a concerning sign, not just for the franchise’s future but also for Stevens’ own job security as questions mount over whether the 44-year-old, once touted as a coaching prodigy, has the temperament or in-game savvy to lead a championship-caliber team. The Celtics’ offense hasn’t looked particularly creative of late and Boston’s continued fourth-quarter struggles are another indictment on Stevens.
Perkins is quick to point out players don’t fear Stevens, which was never a concern under Doc Rivers, who preached accountability at all costs. And while Rivers’ confrontational approach didn’t mesh with everyone (he and Rajon Rondo shared something of a “love-hate” relationship), players tended to respond to his tough-love stylings. With complacency at an all-time high, it might be time for Stevens to scrap the whole good cop routine and tell players what they need to hear amid the team’s worst slump in years.