Avery Bradley’s absence is hurting Celtics, but they do need a few patches elsewhere

Poor rebounding, lackluster defensive effort has become all too familiar during recent stretch.

Isaiah Thomas argue a call with referee Eric Dalen during overtime of Boston's 127-123 loss to the Trail Blazers Saturday.

COMMENTARY

Semi-quick thought on the state of the Celtics as they brace for Wednesday’s matchup with bearded wonder James Harden and the ain’t-no-stoppin’-us-now Houston Rockets …

That GE patch that will adorn the green-and-white jersey next season is pretty much the least-offensive thing I’ve seen from the Celtics the last couple of days, including those hideous gray third jerseys that look like something an over-40 men’s league team on a budget would purchase in bulk.

The patch? Meh. It is small, off to the side, and totally unobtrusive. Sort of like the Celtics’ defense lately.

Depending upon how many Rockets chip in to aid Harden’s inevitable triple-double Wednesday, it’s possible that the Celtics defensive woes may have finally cratered in their 123-108 loss to the chippy Washington Wizards, who showed up in all black and lit up the nets in Technicolor.

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Whether that was the low, or whether there’s a lower low ahead during this three-game losing streak, the basic reason for the Celtics’ struggles on defense is obvious: Avery Bradley, a first-team All-Defensive selection a year ago and probably the most complete player on the roster, has missed seven of the last eight games with Achilles’ soreness.

As great as they can be, Bradley Beal and John Wall don’t combine for 58 points if Bradley is dogging one of them for 32 or so minutes. The Celtics are being appropriately cautious with Bradley’s injury, but it is alarming. We saw how fast things fell apart against the Hawks in the playoffs last year when he was decked for the series by a hamstring injury in Game 1.

But Bradley’s absence doesn’t fully explain why so much has fallen apart for the Celtics, who not long after winning 13 of 15 games suddenly look like a team with multiple frustrating flaws. I adore Al Horford as a player. I believe observers who take issue with what the Celtics are paying Horford know next to nothing about the subtleties of basketball. But I cannot defend Horford having two rebounds in 33 minutes Tuesday night. Anna Maria Horsford could have collected more than that.

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The Celtics don’t rebound well, which was expected entering this season. There are leaks in their defense all over the place, which was not.  And a big part of their charm, last season and for much of this one, was their unity. They played hard and together and sometimes even unselfishly. I’m not seeing a lot of that over the last week.

Marcus Smart got a lot of grief Wednesday for his outburst on the bench at the end of the game, when at least half-dozen assistant-coach types, some of whom I’m never seen before, bickered with him before he headed to the locker room with a couple of minutes left. It was immature, and you know the Wizards reveled in it, but you also know it comes from the right place.

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Smart cares. He wants to win, desperately, which causes him to do some brilliant things (this is a one-game losing streak if the refs didn’t botch his strip of Damien Lillard at the end of the Blazers loss) and some boneheaded ones. It’s why Danny Ainge loves him — they’re kindred spirits that way, though it would be nice if Ainge could loan him his old jump shot. Smart wasn’t being selfish. He was raging against what he seemed to see as selfishness manifested in defensive laziness against a team of loudmouths he really wanted to silence.

I’ll take that guy on my team, always. Right now, with Bradley out, I’d take two of him. Actually, make it three, since Harden is on the docket next and it’s not about to get any easier.

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