Blakely: Celtics too content with losing

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Blakely: Celtics too content with losing

CLEVELAND Rajon Rondo became the latest to fall on the sword of responsibility for what's shaping up to be a season of disappointment for the Boston Celtics.

But pointing fingers, even if it's at oneself, is pointless now.

I have heard many questions via social media and emails as to whether this Celtics team wants to win bad enough.

That's not the question, folks.

The real question is when will they get to a point where they hate losing? Because right now, this crew seems more than willing to accept one setback after another, every night.

And that more than anything else has to be distressing both to Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge, the man who assembled this group.

Simply put, they are too comfortable with how things are right now, acting as if victories are suddenly going to start pouring out of the sky any minute.

There is a certain edge, a certain grind that teams that are more than just championship contender talkers but also doers, display.

For the Celtics, we saw it maybe five, maybe six times all season.

That's not going to cut it.

Ainge put this team together last summer with the intent being they could collectively make a run towards Banner 18.

Instead, all the Celtics do now as a group is consistently get run out the gym by lottery-bound teams like Detroit which beat them 103-88 Sunday night and in the process handed Boston its third straight loss.

At this point, the Celtics not "playing the right way" as Rivers puts it, represents just a fraction of what ails them.

Just as important is pride, something the Celtics have given their fans more than enough reasons to question as well. They don't bring the kind of in-your-face disposition to the game anymore, either.

While there's clear disappointment on the part of every player during a losing skid like this, there's no sense that they're angry enough to do something about it.

I totally get that they have a number of guys with poker faces where they show little to no emotion.

And while it may not be in them to get into a shouting match with a teammate, what they are putting on the floor now is as Rondo described, "embarrassing."

Both Rivers and veterans like Rondo have commented in the past about how a number of players in this locker room simply do not show emotions, regardless of whether things are going good or not.

While that's great to have on the floor, at some point you would think all the losing, often in heartbreak fashion, would motivate them to play with more consistency; galvanize them in a way that's unmistakeable.

If that can't happen, maybe Rivers is right to think that the C's may have to move some bodies in order to get players with a bit more fight in them, to be here.

There's no question that the C's bolstered their roster this summer with more talent than we've seen in a while around here. But the team's overall toughness leaves a lot to be desired as they continue to play a laissez-faire brand of basketball over and over and over again.

And while it manifests itself in games repeatedly, it starts inside that locker room.

"For me, it's too laxed; our locker room is too laxed," Rondo said. "Even though a lot of guy's personalities are laid back. But we all got to this level by competing. And right now, the talent we have, the record is embarrassing. Until guys get sick and fed up with it, I don't know if things are going to change."

Rondo goes on to make it clear that he still has faith in his teammates.

But Rondo is no dummy.

Something has to change; whether it's a trade or the demeanor of current players.

Because short of that, this team is going nowhere fast unless they start making strides toward playing better and sustaining that play for more than a few minutes or a few games.

"I don't think guys are honest with each other," said Rivers on Sunday. "I just don't think we have committed to being a good basketball team. I think this team wants everything easy; they want the easy way out. They just want to win easy. And I told them, 'the only way you're going to win easy is you're going to have to play hard. The harder you play, the easier the game becomes."

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”
 

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

BOSTON – Facing Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook with a fully healthy squad is tough. 
 
Doing so without your leading scorer makes the challenge all that much greater. 
 
That is where the Celtics find themselves heading into Sunday night’s game against the Thunder without Isaiah Thomas, who did not travel with the team when they left for Oklahoma City today. 
 
Boston’s leading scorer this season with 26 points per game, Thomas suffered a right groin injury against Houston on Dec. 5 and has missed the Celtics’ past two games because of it. 
 
He was hoping to convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to let him travel with the team, but Thomas acknowledged convincing Ainge was a long shot. 
 
“He’s not really in favor of me going,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to convince them to let me go. If I’m there, they know I’m going to try and play. I’m shooting for Wednesday [at San Antonio] for the most part. That’s more realistic than Sunday. Hopefully I can play on Wednesday.”
 
Boston has split the two games with Thomas out, beating the you-know-what out of Orlando 117-87 on the road, but dropping one at home 101-94 to Toronto on Friday night. 
 
As disappointed as Thomas is with not being able to play – it’s the first games he has missed since the 2014-2015 season – he understands the potential problems that could surface with an injury like this if he and the Celtics aren’t careful. 
 
“They keep wanting to be very patient with this,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to re-injure it. It is an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season. I don’t want that. On top of that, it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”
 
Among the other injuries Thomas was referring to, is a still-swollen finger on his left (shooting) hand. 
 
The injury was believed to have happened on Nov. 12 against Indiana. 
 
While it was painfully sore, it didn’t seem to be an issue in Boston’s next game against New Orleans when he scored a season-high 37 points. He followed that up with a 30-point performance in a 90-83 win over Dallas.