When a team with little elite talent begins to win, we look for another explanation for the surprising performance lineup changes, rental change shifts, schematic adjustments. However, sometimes we can criticize the intangible effect of good chemistry; of such teams we can say, "Whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
Kind of a backhanded compliment, but it could be worse: Mathematics could tilt the other way. It seems to be the case right now in Boston, where a loaded Celtics team that entered the season is expected to devote to the NBA's best record, continuing to stumble upon the rocky path to supremacy in a post-LeBron Eastern Conference .
CIRCUITS Enter Monday's matchup with the burning Brooklyn Nets coming from a weekend to forget (and without Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart ). First, they were drilled on national television on Thursday by the barely -500 Miami Heat in a game that featured Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris shoving each other in a timeout . Then, after two days of dismissing Boston, Boston fell for a certain decision under – 500 Orlando Magic on Saturday.
Boston collapsed in the fourth quarter against what was the NBA's third worst final rally, then complained back from a nine point deficit in the last two minutes to earn a chance to force overtime or go to victory by 2, 9 seconds to go. Irving did not seem very excited about what the head coach Brad Stevens pulled into the huddle …
… and after Celtics came away with a contested jumper by Jayson Tatum who went wrong …
… Irving pressure hardened Gordon Hayward on why he did not drive the designed game a pass to Al Horford popping over the 3-point arc, which could then deliver and screen to Irving cut towards the basket out of the backcourt and instead looked Tatums road:
Irving's frustration was transferred from the court to the visiting dressing room at Amway Center. After scoring 15 of his 25 points in the fourth to get Boston back in striking distance, only to finish the game as a observer to Tatum's baseline fadeaway, simple Irving first; For a while he sat "by his creator just staring straight ahead" did not even go to shower until it was good, as most of his teammates had already left the arena. When asked about the last game, he replied, "Next game … JT got a good look. Move on."
However, his tone changed when asked what is behind Celtics & # 39; up and down this year – the sluggish 10-10 start, the eight-match winning touch, boosted by a lineup change, coaster ride of a 7-7 record in the last month. Taken as a whole, the Boston profile has a contender: a top 10 offensive mark (rising even higher when Irving is on the floor) and a top five defense making for the league's second best net rating, a list that goes 10 deep with starter-caliber performing artists, and a trainer is widely respected as one of the best sports in the sport & # 39; s and-o & # 39; s tactics. So why did a team that added two healthy All-Stars (Irving and Hayward) to a core that pushed LeBron's Cavs into a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals had such a hard time in a rhythm?
Asked that 26-year-old ball actor with the task of returning Celtics back to the NBA finals for the first time since 2010 acted in his Sim to a boiling kettle.
Irving highlighted the lack of experience in some corners of the roster: "When it gets hard, you have to think. You have to do the right thing. You can't gamble and think it will be the winning game. You must be able to play the full 48 minutes, no matter what goes on, and keep your head high when making mistakes. "(One place was a 15-year-old veterinarian who used to play with Irving, probably smiling and nodded .]
He talked about the value of game-by-game preparation and seeing "the big picture": "These are things I don't think some of my teammates have confronted Just every single day, it's not easy to be great, so the things you do that you've made your entire career, be able to coast past in some situations, and you've gone away with your youth and things Being in a championship club, you can't get away with it. "
He discussed the difference between To strive to become a candidate and enter a season that was already expected to be one: "We had nothing to lose last year. We had nothing to lose and everyone could play free and do what they wanted and no one had expectations. We were supposed to be at a certain time, we passed it. Young guys had to be at a certain time, they passed it. We come in this season, expectations, and that's right. Everyone from the coaching staff to the players, it's very right every single day, so it's new. It is hard. "
Irving pumped the brakes slightly on Monday morning and told reporters that he never questioned [teammates] publicly," and that such comments were born of a burning desire to win, not evil . But whether Kyrie names the names – and for what it's worth, it sounds a bit like not being able to get away with certain things at a championship level, as he told Jackie MacMullan for a story about Brown's early season otherwise it's hard to see something pointing to his wider line of question marks, perhaps echoing with veteran linchpin Al Horford after the loss in Orlando:
Al Horford said postgame "We are playing hard for stretches. For some time. But we don't play hard and it's hard to win if you don't play hard all the time. "
– Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 13, 2019
What lies behind these lapses in effort remains an open questions, although it may be one with an extremely human response. In a league where depth is more important than ever, Boston remains burdened with an overweight.
Stevens will find the balance between showing Irving as his signature creator, while allowing Tatum to grow into a highlighted offensive performer. He has to bring Hayward together as a complementary contributor while finding sufficient shots and opportunities for Brown and Terry Rozier to shine in their roles as seventh and eighth men.
He must hold everyone involved enough in error to remain locked in defensive, where the Celtics have gone without Aaron Baynes; Boston has allowed 108.6 points per day. 100 possessions in the 12 games since losing the big man to a broken bone in his left hand, up from 102.9 points per. 100 possessions before his injury (and only 97.3 points per 100 possessions with Baynes on the court). He must do it without allowing fractures and fractions to develop in the wardrobe … and considering the Morris-Brown incident and Irving's pointed postgame comments, the cracks appear to be showing.
It happens when you are under pressure halfway through a season that seemed to be destined for 60 victories and a no. 1 seed, Celtics sits at 25-17, six games behind the top-seeded raptors. But there is pressure, and then there is print and it seems that what comes under Irving's skin most – that a team to prepare for June, for the melting of the brightest spotlights and The biggest phases allow themselves to be tracked in January.
"It's hard, you know, so I think what we are facing now is nothing to be at the stage trying to get a gold trophy," he said after the loss in Orlando. "It's hard now. What do you think it's going to be when we get to the finals?"
That "when" can be the highest word, Irving spoke in a resounding answer, and it speaks to the state of Boston . Celtics lack nothing; With Irving, Horford and Hayward healthy, they have everything they need to be exactly as we all expected them to be. At the moment, it looks kind of like the problem. When can a team be less than the sum of its parts? Maybe when it has too much of a good thing.