Reeling Celtics Aim to Reboot During All-Star Break

BOSTON - The Boston Celtics surrendered a season-high point total Wednesday night, as they fell 129-119 to the LA Clippers at TD Garden. It marked the second straight game Boston had given up at least 120 points, its third straight loss (all at home) and its ninth defeat in the last 15 games.

The good news for the C's is that All-Star break has officially arrived, and it's safe to say that it couldn't have come at a better time for them.

Boston will have plenty of homework entering the break, as it must work on improving its defensive habits so that it's ready to tackle the final stretch of the season. The Celtics started off brilliantly on that end of the floor, having boasted the best defensive rating in the league for the majority of the season, but recent slippage in that department has caused them to hit a rut and lose what was once a strong hold on first place in the Eastern Conference standings.

"We're a group that's built what we have so far based on the defensive end," said Al Horford, whose second-place Celtics now sit two games behind the first-place Toronto Raptors. "We've taken a big step back on that in the past few games, so I think the break came at just the right time for our group. We need to really get healthy, get re-focused, and get ready to have a great second half of the year."

One reason why Boston has slipped defensively is that it is has been missing two of its top perimeter defenders in Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin over the past three weeks. But that's certainly not the only reason.

Effort - or lack thereof - has been the primary cause of Boston's declining defensive trends, and Kyrie Irving says that needs to change as soon as the team exits the break.

"If you're not [giving effort] at a very high level and staying poised and trying to make the best decisions for the team, then It's hard to play against great teams in this league," said Irving, who logged game-highs of 33 points and eight assists during Wednesday's loss. "That's definitely a point of emphasis for our team going forward."

The Celtics will need to use the next eight days wisely so that they can reset their minds and bodies for the stretch run. That was coach Brad Stevens' message after the game.

"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," said the coach. "It's going to be a tough ending if we don't change a little bit."

Irving is fully aware of the consequences if the Celtics don't change, which is why he's choosing to work during his upcoming time off.

"For me, as one of the leaders on this team, this is not really a break for me," said Irving. "As late as the All-Star break is this season, there are 23 games left, so the stakes are at their highest. Teams are trying to sneak into the playoff positions and teams are starting to shape into what they want to be going into the Playoffs. That's where my focus is. Obviously, in the last month or so we've had some slippage, so my focus is how to get the group to be better."

Stevens alluded to the possibility of making some rotation adjustments in an effort to shake things up for the betterment of the team.

"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 into the next week."

In the meantime, the Celtics have some homework to do. They'll need to use their break wisely, balancing work and rest, while mentally preparing themselves to make some changes on the defensive end so that they can finish off the regular season in a similar fashion to the way they started it.