BOSTON — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he will explore possible rotation changes after his team stumbled into the All-Star break playing maybe its worst basketball of the season.
For the second time in as many outings, the Celtics allowed a season high in points during Wednesday’s 129-119 loss to the LA Clippers. Boston, which got steamrolled by the rival Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, has now lost three straight, four of its past five and nine of its past 15 overall.
After spending much of the season atop the Eastern Conference, the Celtics find themselves two games back of the Toronto Raptors at the All-Star break. Boston once seemed like a lock for one of the conference’s top two seeds. But must pull itself from its tailspin, especially as LeBron James and the new-look Cavaliers show renewed vigor.
“It’s going to be a tough ending if we don’t change a little bit, and I’ll look at what I can change, as well,” a visibly discouraged Stevens said after Wednesday’s loss. “I think we’re probably due for some of that.”
Pressed on potential changes, Stevens said he’ll examine all aspects of Boston’s play.
“We’ll look at everything,” said Stevens. “Obviously, you’re always looking for small tweaks defensively and offensively but we haven’t gotten enough out of our rotations and subs and all those things. We’ll take a deeper dive into that.”‘
But Irving struggled to even look ahead to his upcoming All-Star appearance given the way that Boston has struggled recently.
“Going into All-Star break, I’m thinking about what’s happening after,” said Irving. “How we respond and what we’re doing after and where our focus is and where we are mentally.
“You gotta want it. I know I want that m—–f—–. Excuse my language.”
Irving will make his fifth All-Star appearance this weekend but didn’t want to talk about an exhibition.
“As you can tell by my mood, I’m not even thinking about All-Star break,” said Irving. “I can’t even think about All-Star or anything. I’m thinking about so many things right now, just from a standpoint of how to be better because I know what’s coming. I have to communicate that with our guys. And just prepare them better. So I gotta prepare for myself and then go from there.”
Boston’s 2007-08 championship season was an intense, pressure-filled ride to the title. The 2017-18 version? Kyrie Irving and the young Celtics have time on their side as they push for banner No. 18.
Isaiah Thomas said Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo hit him in the face three times and brought up his video tribute in Boston during Wednesday night’s game. The two had to be separated and were ejected late in the first quarter.
Stevens has consistently noted this season that his team might not be as good as it record has suggested, particularly after an improbable 16-game winning streak at the start of the season — this shortly after losing Gordon Hayward to a fractured ankle.
“I don’t think we’re all that we were cracked up to be during our 16-game winning streak and its probably hit us more in the last month than it hit us before,” said Stevens.
“We have no excuses. I told our guys excuses are contagious. Everybody else has been playing, too. … At the end of the day excuses are contagious, go play.”
The Celtics are hoping to get Marcus Smart back on the court when they open the second half in Detroit a week from Friday. Smart lacerated his shooting hand while punching a glass picture frame in Los Angeles last month. Boston, which still owns the best defensive rating in the league (100.9), hasn’t been nearly as crisp even before Smart got hurt. But Smart’s return should give them a needed jolt.
The question is whether Stevens will consider bigger changes, including potential tweaks to the starting lineup. Rookie forward Jayson Tatum and second-year swingman Jaylen Brown have been key contributors but have also had rough patches in recent weeks. Stevens has leaned on both Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris in starting roles next to Al Horford depending on opponent.
Asked for his message to his players heading into the break, Stevens said, “Go and do whatever you’re going to do but treat yourselves well, treat your body well, and then come back ready to compete at a level better than we did.”