C’s Split Back-to-Back as Defense Falls Flat vs. Hawks

The Boston Celtics entered Wednesday night’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks hoping to build from an encouraging 112-99 win over the Denver Nuggets from the night before. Instead, Boston found itself once again dealing with its nemesis of the season: inconsistency.

Despite putting forth such a promising defensive effort Tuesday night, the Celtics could not carry any such momentum into the second game of their back-to-back, suffering a 122-114 loss to a Hawks team that was coming off of four consecutive losses.

It marked the second time in less than a week in which Boston won the first game of a back-to-back over a quality opponent in convincing fashion, before dropping the second game to a team that had been struggling. Such was the case last Thursday and Friday when the C’s trounced the Toronto Raptors, 120-106, only to fall to a last-place Detroit Pistons team, 108-102, one night later.

Of course, playing so many games in such a short span has a whole lot to do with Boston’s inconsistency. That, and the fact that it continues to deal with significant injury absences, as starters Daniel Theis, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were all sidelined against the Hawks Wednesday night.

But that’s all part of the challenge that comes with this crazy, unpredictable 2020-21 season.

“It’s a tough schedule,” said Brown, who logged 22 points and dished out seven assists. “A lot of games – our second back-to-back this week, and just trying to get up every single game and come with the same intensity and tenacity. Tonight, we were a little bit sluggish, I was a little bit sluggish and it kind of carried over. And that's just the challenge of this year, and all of us are trying to embrace that challenge together with the ups and downs and not make excuses because everybody's going through the same thing.”

The Celtics haven’t been able to string together consecutive wins since Jan. 24-25 and have gone 4-8 ever since. But they are encouraged by the fact that all four of their wins during this stretch have come against high-quality opponents: the Warriors, Clippers, Raptors, and Nuggets, respectively.

“Our team gets up for those big-time games, and at the end of the day, that’s what you want,” said Tristan Thompson, who logged 14 points, seven rebounds and a season-high three steals. “You want guys ready to compete against the top teams in our league, which is a good thing. The problem we’re running into right now is keeping it at that level on a consistent basis.”

Maintaining consistency in the win-loss column is almost entirely dependent on a team’s ability to maintain consistency in the energy department, which is exactly what the C’s are striving to achieve at the moment.

“We’ve got to bring the energy from within,” said Thompson. “Of course, having our fans in the arena would definitely give us a boost of energy, but the reality is we don’t have that right now, so we’ve got to do that collectively as a group. It’s gotta come from all 15 guys. We can’t rely on the coach to give us energy. We can’t rely on the fake sound. It’s got to be all of us collectively, and that’s what we’ve got to string together right now.”

The Celtics have proven themselves capable of stringing wins together, as they did in early January when they won five straight games. But they’ve been fighting through a lot more adversity over the last few weeks, making such a streak difficult to replicate.

“We want to go on runs like we did earlier in the season, but it’s just growing pains, fighting adversity,” said Jayson Tatum after tallying 35 points, six rebounds, six assists, and two steals. “I believe it’s going to make us more together and make us tougher in the end, but I think this is just a part of it. But we’ve got good spirit. We’ve got a good group. We care. It’s just tough right now.”

It has been tough, but the Celtics believe that they’ll eventually be able to push past these inconsistent times as they continue to learn how to overcome various obstacles.

“We are trying to put the pieces together,” said Brown. “I think that we've won a lot of games and played tremendous against some good teams, and against some other teams we haven't. But we've just got to find some consistency.”

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