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When the Celtics left Boston on Dec. 2 to begin a five-game trip out west, they knew that the following eight days would be their toughest stretch of the season to date. And that’s exactly how it turned out to be.
The first two nights of the trip started off fine with a hard-fought, 137-130 loss in Utah followed by a 145-119 blowout win in Portland. However, the Celtics hit some turbulence once they entered the Southwestern portion of the country, where they logged three consecutive losses to both Los Angeles teams and the Phoenix Suns.
After wrapping up the trip with a 111-90 loss to the 21-4 Suns Friday night, the Celtics expressed frustration in their overall effort – particularly over the last three games – and the need to regroup once they land back in Boston.
In fairness, the Celtics had to deal with adversity right from the start, as second-leading scorer Jaylen Brown missed the entire trip after reaggravating his right hamstring against Philadelphia on Dec. 1. However, head coach Ime Udoka wouldn’t let that excuse his team’s play, considering how they’d been able to fill the voids of injured players throughout the season up to that point.
“Guys have been in and out all year and we’ve played a certain way, and we haven’t [played in such a way] the last three games specifically,” Udoka said. “Jaylen being out, you don’t throw somebody in and it’s all peaches and cream. You still have to play the game, and play with the proper respect and effort, and we didn’t do that the last three games. So we’ll look at a lot of things coming off this trip.”
Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams both agreed that the first place they all need to look is in the mirror.
“It’s completely on us as players to take ownership, put a stop to something if you don’t like it,” said Williams, who logged 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks Friday night. “Can’t blame it on anybody else.”
Tatum added that starting with himself, “Everybody just needs to be a little bit better. Obviously we gotta work together, but everybody’s just got to look in the mirror and do a little bit more, just be a little bit better and I think that would benefit everybody.”
Tatum said that the main issue over the last three games, and especially Friday night, was how the team let turnovers and missed shots turn into a snowball effect. How they reacted to their offensive miscues impacted their ability to get back on defense, which enabled Phoenix to get rolling.
In those situations, Tatum says, “I think we just gotta regroup. We gotta realize what’s happening at the time, understand that we can’t change whatever happened on the last play and just be mature enough as a group to regroup, say whatever happened, happened, and just move on.”
It would be beneficial for the C’s to apply such a mindset for the entire road trip, as they’ll have a chance to reset when they get back to Boston to begin their longest homestand of the season. They’ll host the next five games at TD Garden, where they’ve only lost once since Nov. 1.
With that being said, these next five games will be just as tough as the previous five. The Celtics will start off by playing the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks Monday night, and then they’ll have a three-day gap before facing the league-leading Golden State Warriors. After that, they’ll host a pair of Atlantic Division rivals, facing the Knicks on Dec. 18 and 76ers on Dec. 20. And finally, they’ll match up against the surging Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 22 before heading to Milwaukee for Christmas.
“It’s tough losing three in a row. It’s tough, and especially coming in the fashion that we did,” Tatum said, wrapping up his remarks on Boston’s forgettable West Coast trip. “But we can’t change it and we just gotta get back home, get back in front of our fans, and take it one game at a time.”