The Celtics added offensive firepower and defensive savvy to their roster this season. But so far, they have been misfiring and out of synch.
A 99-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night was the Celtics’ second successive double-figure defeat. And unlike in their first game, a 120-107 result at Miami on Tuesday, the Celtics failed to produce a late rally that could have kept the crowd for the home opener interested.
“There’s a lot of things,” guard Rajon Rondo said of the Celtics’ struggles. “We’ve just got to start somewhere, and that’s the good thing about the league — we can start tomorrow.”
The Celtics, who face the Wizards Saturday night in Washington, again performed well below their potential for most of the contest, lacking cohesion and continuity. The starters struggled and the work-in-progress bench failed to provide a spark as the Celtics lost their first home opener since a 91-87 defeat against New Orleans Nov. 1, 2006.
“I don’t see the urgency yet,” coach Doc Rivers said. “At times, I think we thought we would show up, because we have a lot of players on the team, that would mean we would win. And when you make this many changes, I think our guys have to understand you have to invest into the team to become a team. And I don’t think we’ve done that yet. I think we will. I think guys, their minds — their spirit is right — we’ve got to get the minds right, too.”
The Celtics held an early lead, but after being outscored, 8-0, over a 1:25 span late in the first quarter, they never regained the advantage.
Jeff Green’s steal and layup tied the score, 18-18, with 2:37 to go in the first. Then, Milwaukee went on a 24-6 run spanning the first and second quarters, forcing the Celtics to play catch-up the rest of the way.
At halftime, Kevin Garnett had 4 points and Paul Pierce was scoreless from the field.
After trailing, 46-30, at halftime, the Celtics rallied somewhat in the third quarter.
“I wasn’t worried about the score,” Rivers said. “I was coaching a lot of things. I was trying to get us to be consistent in some of our coverages defensively, which we really never did. I was, in timeouts, saying, ‘Three passes,’ which I haven’t had to say in five years, probably. ‘Just make three passes, please.’ And then I was starting to look at minutes, because I’m fully aware we play tomorrow.”
Garnett scored 10 points in the opening 4:58 of the second half. His post play helped get the Celtics into the bonus early in the third quarter. And the Celtics’ increased defensive aggressiveness led to transition scores, two Rondo free throws cutting the deficit to 60-46 with 6:25 left in the quarter.
But after Garnett went to the bench, the Celtics failed to penetrate and seemed to lose their defensive intensity. Tobias Harris’s fast-break layup made the score 70-48 with 3:11 left in the third.
Then, the Celtics’ small lineup found a rhythm and Pierce finally converted his first field goal, a transition 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 72-56.
Pierce’s drive pulled the Celtics within 85-70 with 6:11 left, and Jason Terry produced his first points with a jumper 29 seconds later. But a Monta Ellis drive and Larry Sanders dunk upped the Bucks’ edge to 89-72 with 5:03 remaining. Things did not improve for the Celtics, as Terry’s pass was intercepted out of a timeout and Harris nailed a 3-pointer in transition.
Rivers sent in the reserves soon after another Sanders dunk made it 96-74 with 3:12 remaining.
“We missed a lot of open threes, a lot of open jump shots,” Rivers said. “I can live with all those shots, but then I thought we pressed after that. And that’s tough, it’s tough to do that. You’ve just got to stay and trust what we’re doing.”
Brandon Jennings (21 points, 13 assists, 6 steals in 29 minutes) was able to penetrate in Milwaukee’s half-court sets, and the Bucks capitalized on 18 turnovers to get their transition game going.
“We bobbled things all by themselves,” Rivers said. “So, one of those nights. But I still don’t like our urgency yet, honestly. And that’s on just the overall game. When you watch us play, I don’t like how we’re approaching the games. And until we do that, we’re going to struggle.
“I’m concerned all the time, but it’s early. If this was Game 30 and we were playing like this consistently, then I would be worried. If it was Game 30 and we’d been playing well and we play like this once, you live with it.”
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.